Celebration of a Life: Writing and Delivering a Eulogy
- Most eulogies start with an expression of condolences and a short biography.
- End your eulogy with heartfelt, personal anecdotes or stories.
- Turn to other friends or family for help or inspiration if you need to.
- Practice and time your eulogy by reading it out loud, and add or remove parts accordingly.
- Reading a eulogy is an important responsibility that should be approached with empathy and respect, which should also set the tone for your writing.
Funerals are for the living to honor and remember those who have passed. Whether the ceremony is formal or informal, the eulogy is an expected part of the memorial or funeral service. It may fall to you to write, or even deliver the eulogy. Writing under less stressful circumstances can be difficult enough. These are a few suggestions to ease the process, while honoring the deceased with a sincere and heartfelt tribute.
Find out how the service will be held, as well as other logistical information. More formal ceremonies may have one eulogy. A formal eulogy tends to follow a traditional format. Begin by offering condolences to the family and close friends. Eulogists traditionally start with an expression of sympathy. The obituary is also part of the opening. This is a factual recounting of the specifics of the person’s birth, life, education, work, and other information, as you might find in an obituary.
After you write the obligatory parts, the rest of it is a bit less formulaic. Start your writing process by thinking and writing notes on who this person was, and how you knew them. If you did not know them very well, talk to their relatives and close friends for ideas and guidance.
At less formal memorials, it is more likely that friends and relatives will each contribute a short speech on their relationship with the deceased. It will be easier to arrange your thoughts if you have some idea of how long you will be expected to speak.
For the sake of coherence, the eulogy is often based around a theme in the person’s life. This makes it easier to stay focused. You might start out with something like, “My father called himself a citizen of the world.” From there you can go on to talk about his travels, his knowledge of foreign languages and world affairs, his interest in particular regions, etc.
Think of specific ways they stood out, and give examples. Rather than just saying, “She was a fantastic dancer,” for example, you might talk about how many salsa contests she won, or how she used to practice steps in the garage for hours. Tell stories that illustrate some of the qualities you mention.
What issues, causes or ideas were important to them? Talk about what they valued and how they expressed their values in life. What were their passions, their hobbies, their favorite places? What were their greatest achievements?
Taking a broader view, think of how this person was influenced by the history they lived through. Perspective on the times that they grew up in, such as war, the Great Depression or other significant events, provides important context for anyone’s life. What did their life show you? What did you learn from them? How did they influence you and others? What positive things can those who knew them take forward to honor them?
Some possibilities for the conclusion could include a typical saying of theirs that sums up their character or approach to life. If they were religious, a quote with a relevant spiritual theme or from a sacred text might be appropriate. A short poem may also end the eulogy on a graceful note, for which there are many online resources to provide inspiration. Talk to others who will be speaking if possible.
Once you have finished writing, practice reading the eulogy aloud – preferably several times – to estimate how long it might take, and add or remove content if needed. Have others read it for feedback and suggestions.
At the ceremony, check sound and video before starting. There may be some people tuning in remotely, via Zoom or other livestreaming providers, so be sure that they can see and hear as well. The family may also be recording, so a test of all the relevant technology is a good idea.
Even if you are used to public speaking, reading could still be emotional. Have some water at hand in case you need it. Take deep breaths if you are feeling overwhelmed. It is ok to cry, but don’t let it stop you from finishing.
Introduce yourself, and state your relationship to the deceased. At larger ceremonies, attendees may not be acquainted with each other.
Read slowly, clearly, and with emotion.
Remember that this is a solemn occasion. A touch of humor is usually a welcome relief. However, if you don’t know the other attendees well, it is generally wiser to avoid oversharing, or any potentially embarrassing anecdotes or revelations. Check with family members if you have any doubts or questions.
Delivering a eulogy is a great honor, adding to the very last memories of a life story. Strive at all times to keep dignity, compassion, and respect at the forefront in everything you do on that day.