How to Write a Eulogy
It is a daunting task to distill the importance of a person's life to a single speech, and it's even more difficult if you were close with the deceased. Fortunately, a eulogy is only meant to be a small, sincere, and authentic testimony. Following these steps can get you closer to a polished piece.
- Start small. Don't try to cover an entire life in a short speech. Choose two or three specific memories that you feel are representative of the deceased. They don't have to be large and important; they can be small moments that highlight the deceased's kindness, sense of humor, patience, or generosity. The more specific, the better. Even though it might be a very narrow, unique memory to you, it will spark memories like it with those who hear it.
If it helps, pick a theme. This can be useful if you have too many ideas and memories to form a coherent narrative. Start with a minor story about how the deceased loved her cat, for instance, and then apply that trait (loved animals, a very good caretaker, protective of the environment) to a larger theme or life story. Or use one trait (baking, a distinctive laugh, a gifted firefighter, a twin) as a thread to tie different ideas together. If you can't think of a theme, spend some time looking through pictures and memorabilia to spark an idea.
If it helps, focus on traditional information. If you'd like a little distance and more information, consider a eulogy where you talk about the deceased's accomplishments and milestones. Birthdate and place, family members, childhood interests, education, career, marriage and the like can all make for a good structure. Once you have the biographical elements in place, you can sprinkle in more personal, intimate memories.
- Stick to the subject. It might be tempting to make a eulogy a flowery, poetic speech about the philosophy of life and death, but it doesn't need to be. People attend a funeral to mourn a specific person, not to hear a cut-and-paste speech that could apply to anyone. What makes a eulogy memorable is how well you remember the deceased, not how pretty your words are.
- Be mindful of time. There is no time limit on a eulogy, but remember that this is a difficult, emotional time, and that there be several people reading memories, poems, prayers, or stories. Erring on the short side is better, and a 5 to 7 minute eulogy is a good general target.
- Be appropriate. Regardless of the deceased's own proclivities, a eulogy is not the place for obscenities, raunchy stories, or scatalogical humor. The mourners who attend may range widely in age, beliefs, and cultures. If you're unsure if a story is appropriate, cut it.
- Be mindful of the deceased. Think of what the deceased would appreciate: Did they practice a particular faith or religion? Were they ambitious in their career? Did they prioritize family and community? Did they love helping people, making them laugh, or participating in politics? Focusing on the things the deceased cared about can help honor their memory in a way you know they would appreciate.
- Be mindful of the bereaved. Now is the not the time to reveal secrets or surprises about the deceased, nor to bring up memories that might be hurtful to others.
- Be mindful of yourself. This may be very difficult for you. Be aware that you may become overwhelmed by your own emotions while giving your eulogy. Sometimes starting with a light tone (an amusing story, a joke the deceased loved) can help you find and maintain your composure early on.
- Have someone look it over. Once you're done with your eulogy, have at least one other person read it and give you feedback.
- Practice it a few times. You don't need to memorize it, but getting a sense of how to make it sound natural will be useful. Practice looking up often as well, so that you aren't constantly staring at the page.
Index of obituary templates