Being asked to deliver a eulogy for a family member or close friend is one of life’s greatest honors. The fact that the family invited you to speak on their behalf attests to your close relationship with the deceased and the family’s trust in you.
If this is your first time delivering a eulogy, you many wonder where and how to begin. Even if you’ve eulogized another friend or family member in the past, you can probably use a refresher on how to approach, write, organize, and deliver your tribute. Naturally, you want to do a good job; you want to tell everyone at the funeral or memorial service about your friend and the qualities that made him a unique and wonderful person.
What Is a Eulogy?
A eulogy is simply a speech that honors the memory of one who died. Typically delivered at a memorial service or funeral, each eulogy is as unique as the person it is written for. The eulogy may be long or short, somber or joyous. Depending on the circumstances, the eulogy might contain one or more of the following:
- a brief life history of the deceased.
- a list of notable achievements.
- mentions of family members and friends.
- insightful or humorous (but always tasteful) anecdotes about the deceased.
poems, songs, and literary or scriptural quotes that were favorites of the deceased or help to build the story of who she was.
Writing the Eulogy
Before you begin to write, talk to other friends, family members, and coworkers to gather historical information as well as personal reflections and memories. You’ll probably want to include some basic information, such as dates of birth, death, marriage, and other important life events.
Next, set aside some time to reflect on the task before you. Make sure you have comfortable seating and lighting, maybe a glass of wine and some background music – in other words, set the stage for creativity. Gather your thoughts, along with photographs, letters from the deceased, or other mementoes to inspire you.
When you begin to write, let your thoughts and feelings flow. If they come too quickly, just jot down bullet points or draft an outline to capture what’s on your mind and in your heart. Don’t concern yourself at this point with how your words sound or whether they’re structure appropriately. You’ll have time to edit and polish later.
Writing in your own voice, otherwise known as a conversational tone, will give your eulogy greater impact than a stiff, formal speech. In addition to the facts you’ve gathered, talk about your relationship with the deceased – memories of times you spent together, stories that illustrate some of her most endearing qualities, and the things about her you will miss most. Don’t be afraid to use humor, as long as it’s done in good taste. Do not, however, talk about anything that may cause embarrassment or discomfort for the family or other mourners. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Above all, write from your heart to engage your audience. Your honest and sincere reflections are what they’ll appreciate and remember – not your writing or speaking expertise.
Once you’ve drafted your eulogy, it’s time to edit and polish. Read through the text to make sure it flows, and delete any wording that is unnecessary, superfluous, or irrelevant. Next, read it out loud. If possible, have someone listen as you read and then offer honest feedback. Alternatively, read the eulogy into a voice recorder and listen thoughtfully to the playback.
Revise the eulogy according to the feedback you receive, and then practice reading it aloud a few more times. When you feel comfortable with the message and your delivery, you’re finished writing.
Delivering the Eulogy
Before the funeral or memorial service, print copies of the eulogy to give to family and close friends. Rereading your message in the coming days and weeks will be a great source of comfort.
Your delivery copy should be in a large font for easy reading. Make sure you have a glass of water and a box of tissues at hand. As you begin, speak slowly, remember to breathe, and try to make eye contact with your audience. Introduce yourself and explain your relationship to the deceased.
If you begin to cry, don’t be embarrassed. Just pause, breathe deeply, take a sip of water, and dry your tears before you proceed. Everyone will understand.
Delivering a eulogy is a special gift to the family and friends of the deceased. If you’ve delivered a eulogy, or if you’ve listened to an especially moving eulogy, think about what worked…and what didn’t. Do you have some suggestions to help others?