Also called the homily, the eulogy is a speech that is given that acknowledges the unique life of the person who died and affirms the significance of that life for all who shared it. The eulogy can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member or a friend of the person who died. Instead of a traditional eulogy delivered by one person, you may choose to ask several people to speak and share their memories. There is also a growing trend toward having people attending the funeral stand up and share a memory of the person who died. This works well, especially at smaller or less formal gatherings.
If the person who will be delivering the eulogy didn’t really know the person who died, make an effort to share with him or her anecdotes and memories that are important to you. Ask yourself, “What stands out to me about this person’s life? What are some special memories I’d like to share? What were times when I felt particularly close to this person? What were some admirable qualities about this person?”
Often the eulogy is the most remembered and meaningful element of a funeral ceremony. Be creative as you discuss ways to share memories of the person who died. Try to avoid having someone who didn’t really know the person who died give the eulogy. While some have learned to give excellent, personalized eulogies, other clergy members may speak a few generic words about the person who died or resort to sermonizing about life and death in lieu of personalizing their message. If your family would feel comforted by a religious sermon during the ceremony, by all means, ask a clergyperson to give one. Just be sure to have someone else (or several people) deliver a personalized eulogy in addition to the sermon.
The word eulogy comes from the Greek eulogia, meaning praise or blessing. This is the time to give thanks for a person’s life and to honor his or her memory. This is not the time to bring up painful or difficult memories but to emphasize the good we can find in someone. You may privately mourn some of what you wished could have been different about this person, or your unique relationship with him or her; however, the public eulogy is not the time to do that.
Writing and delivering a eulogy is a loving, important gesture that merits your time and attention over the next day or two. Though the task may seem daunting right now, you’ll find that once you start jotting down ideas, your eulogy will come together naturally. Afterwards, many who attend the funeral will thank you for your contribution, and your eulogy will be cherished always by the family and friends of the person who died.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
Be brave. The thought of writing a speech and presenting it in public makes many people anxious. Set aside your fears for now. You can do this. Focus on the person who died and the gift you will be giving to all who knew and loved him or her.
Think. Before you start writing, go for a long walk or drive and think about the life of the person who died. This will help you collect your thoughts and focus on writing the eulogy.
Brainstorm. Spend half an hour (longer if you want) writing down all the thoughts, ideas and memories that come to you.
Look at photos. Flipping through photo albums may remind you of important qualities and memories of the person who died.
Don’t try to do it all. Your eulogy doesn’t have to cover every aspect of this person’s life. In fact, often the best eulogies are those that focus on the eulogy-giver’s personal thoughts and memories. Do try to acknowledge those who were closest to the person who died as well as important achievements in the person’s life, but don’t feel obligated to create and exhaustive biography.
Ask others to share memories. A good way to include others in the ceremony is to ask them to share thoughts and memories, which you can then incorporate into the eulogy.
Write a draft. Once you’ve brainstormed and collected memories, it’s time to write the first draft. Go somewhere quiet and write it all in one sitting, start to finish. Don’t worry about getting it perfect for now—just get it down on paper.
Let it sit. If time allows, let your eulogy draft sit for a few hours or a day before revising.
Get a second opinion. Have someone else—preferably someone who was close to the person who died—read over your draft. This person can make revision suggestions and help you avoid inadvertently saying something that might offend others.
Polish. Read over your first draft. Look for awkward phrases or stiff wording. Improve the transitions from paragraph to paragraph or thought to thought. Find adjectives and verbs that really capture the essence of the person who died.
Present your eulogy with love. Now you need to present your eulogy. You may well feel nervous, but if you can keep your focus on the person who died instead of your own fears, you’ll loosen up. If you break down as your talking, that’s OK. Everyone will understand. Just stop a few seconds, collect yourself and continue.
Speak up. It’s very important that you speak clearly and loudly so that everyone can hear you.