A eulogy is a speech or piece of writing that honors a person’s life and is usually delivered at their funeral or memorial service.
Family caregivers who spent considerable time caring for aging and ill loved ones are often responsible for funeral planning and may be called upon to deliver a eulogy. Speaking publicly about a late loved one’s life and sharing memories with surviving family members and friends can be very challenging while coping with the recent death. However, many people find the process of writing a eulogy and delivering it to be very cathartic and even healing.
Being selected to eulogize a loved one is both an honor and a responsibility. If you are considering speaking at a funeral or memorial service or struggling with how to begin the writing process, consider the following helpful guidelines for writing a eulogy.
- Consider the responsibility.
If someone suggests that you deliver a eulogy, think carefully about whether you are prepared to take on this task. It’s important to honestly ask yourself if you can handle getting up in front of your departed loved one’s family and friends to give a speech. The grieving process is different for each person and can bring forth a host of complicated emotions. There is no shame in deciding you cannot or do not want to deliver a eulogy. There are plenty of other ways to participate in a loved one’s funeral or memorial and honor their memory.
- Delegate funeral planning tasks.
If your loved one did not pre-plan their funeral, it’s likely that there is much to be done upon their passing. Don’t put the eulogy on the back burner while you handle all other funeral preparations. A good speech takes time to craft, and you will only have a few days at most to write, edit and practice it. If you find you have too much on your plate in the days leading up to a loved one’s service, ask for help from family and friends. Sharing the load will serve the dual purpose of allowing others to feel included while giving you more time to focus on writing a heartfelt speech.
- Pick a theme.
Choosing a theme for your eulogy will help give it structure and focus. You may decide to highlight your loved one’s passion for music, stamp collecting or fixing old cars. Or, you could stress their devotion to family, success in business or contributions to their community. The possibilities are as unique as the person you are honoring. Start with a brainstorming session to jot down favorite memories, stories, activities, places and things that you associate with this person. If you get stuck, try flipping through photo albums, watching home videos or reading old letters to jog your memory. Family and friends can be excellent sources of inspiration as well.
- Plan, polish and practice.
After you’ve finished brainstorming, choose a few of the best memories you’d like to focus on and create a brief outline of your speech. It can be very difficult to narrow down the material you want to use. Just try to shy away from summarizing your loved one’s whole life or making sense of their passing in this short speech. Instead, focus on a few memorable stories and examples that convey how important this person was to you and others who knew them.
From there, outlining will help you organize your thoughts, making the actual writing process easier and faster. Once you’ve written your first draft, be sure to go back over it with a fine-tooth comb. Sometimes taking a break between steps like writing and editing can help you return to the task with a clearer mind and fresher eyes.
When you’re comfortable with what you’ve written, practice reading the eulogy aloud in front of a mirror or to other family or friends to ensure it makes sense and captures the essence of what you’re trying to convey. Practicing will also help ensure you can get through the speech without becoming too emotional. Expressing your feelings about this loss is completely normal, but you want to make sure that you aren’t overwhelmed by emotion to the point where you can’t complete your eulogy.
- Lighten it up.
Just because you’re speaking at a funeral doesn’t mean that you must stick to serious topics. In fact, it’s often a good idea to include a humorous anecdote or quote in a eulogy. As long as you are respectful of your late loved one and their surviving family and friends, it is possible to mourn a loved one’s loss while reflecting on happier times. This is especially true if you are eulogizing someone who had a keen sense of humor or a cheery outlook on life.
- Check your facts.
Consult friends and family members of the deceased if you are unsure about a certain date or the details of an anecdote you wish to use in your eulogy. Also, avoid exaggerating events and modifying dialogue when telling a story; you don’t want incorrect information to mar an otherwise good speech.
- Recruit backup.
Despite your best efforts, you may become too emotional to deliver your eulogy as planned on the day of the funeral or memorial service. Make sure you have a few family members or friends at the ready to serve as backup speakers. If you get overwhelmed, one of these people may be able to finish reading your speech for you, or they can share their own memories of the deceased. This will take some of the pressure off you and may help you remain calmer.
While eulogies are popular at funerals and memorials, they are not required. After all, there is no one “right” way to honor a late loved one. You may decide that you are comfortable writing a eulogy but request that someone else deliver it. Perhaps you’d rather recite a poem that reminds you of your loved one or read one of their favorite religious passages. You may decide that you’d prefer to reflect on this person’s life privately instead of speaking publicly about it. Whatever you choose, above all be gentle with yourself and others at this delicate time.