How to Write a Eulogy
Writing and giving a eulogy at your loved one’s funeral
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
If you have been asked to give a eulogy at someone’s funeral and have accepted, you may be wondering where to start. You may even ask, what is the meaning of the word ‘eulogy’?
Literally translated, it’s the idea of giving the highest praise to someone or something. More commonly though, it’s the act of writing and delivering a speech at someone’s funeral that sums up their life.
In this guide you’ll find advice and suggestions on how to write a eulogy and where to begin.
What is a eulogy?
A eulogy, or funeral speech, is an opportunity to pay tribute to the person who has died, by giving a short speech about their life and what they meant to you. It’s regarded as an honour to be asked to give a eulogy for a loved one or friend and if you’ve been asked, a sign that you played an important part in that person’s life.
If you’re feeling anxious about the responsibility of getting it ‘right,’ remember that every eulogy is meant to be unique. Although there are guidelines you can follow, writing a eulogy is also about things that come from the heart.
What is the purpose of a eulogy?
The eulogy at a funeral is a way for someone who knew the person who has died well to sum up their life, remind people who have come to mourn about the character of that person, and pay respect to them.
Why is a eulogy important?
Hearing a eulogy gives people a way of remembering the important parts of the person they’ve come to mourn. A well written eulogy should not only sum up a person’s life, character and impact, but if possible, it should shed light on less well known aspects of that person.
Who gives a eulogy at a funeral?
Usually the one chosen to give a eulogy at a funeral is someone close to the person who has died. Often children will give a eulogy at their parents funerals and husbands or wives will give a eulogy at their partners funerals.
Sometimes the occasion might be too overwhelming for the person closest to them to perform a eulogy, and they may ask another loved one to give a eulogy in their place.
How do you write a eulogy?
To write an effective and fitting eulogy you will need to speak with relatives and loved ones of the person who has died, think about your own experiences with them, and give yourself time to write and edit down your eulogy to the most appropriate parts.
There’s no one size fits all approach to writing a eulogy. Every person is unique so every eulogy will be unique as well. You will have to think a lot about the type of person you are eulogising and how best to communicate that to the people who have come to mourn them.
How do you start writing a eulogy?
One of the best ways to begin writing a eulogy is to talk to family members and close friends about the person who has died. Is there anything that they would like you to include or mention, or a favourite anecdote or story they’d like you to share?
You may also get inspiration from obituaries and tributes shared online and on social media.
What do you say in a eulogy?
To decide what you’re going to say in a eulogy, think of the things you’ve discovered and discussed that best remind you of the person you are eulogising. If you think that a certain story is the most appropriate, as someone close to the person who has died, you’re probably right. Your own and other people’s memories could not only provide things to talk about, but inspire a way of summing up at the beginning and end of the eulogy who they were and what they meant.
What are some examples of things you could say in a eulogy?
“John was a dedicated family man, who was always there when you needed him.”
“Seeing so many people here to say goodbye to Helen today, shows just how loved she was and how much she will be missed.”
Reflecting on how well you knew the person who has died and the times you spent with them, think about life-moments that reflect their personality and set the scene. It might be how you met, the time you realised you were both in love (or had found a friend for life), or an occasion when they helped you.
Looking through photos could provide inspiration for thoughts about them and things that happened in their life.
Putting your ideas for a eulogy together
Once you have gathered enough information, you may want to make notes about where each bit will fit in your eulogy, so you have a rough beginning, a middle and an end to work towards. Try these ways of mapping out ideas as you write a eulogy:
- Mood board – this is a type of collage that can include pictures, text and materials arranged in any order you like. Try adding a photo of your loved one, post-it notes with sayings or phrases written on them, key dates such as marriages or births, maps with important locations marked. This visual reminder of things you want to say about the person who has died may help you as you consider how to write a eulogy.
- Timeline – there are no rules for writing a eulogy, so you don’t have to get everything in order or precisely dated. But constructing a timeline of the person’s most significant life moments may help you to better decide what to include in your speech.
- Key words – make a list of words to describe the person. Think of as many words as you can and then highlight which words you think are most fitting. This list can act as a helpful prompt if you become stuck while writing a eulogy.
Expressing what you have to say in a eulogy
A bereaved family usually asks someone to give a eulogy because that person is important to them and to the person who has died. This can matter more than words, but there are a few different ways of adding meaning to a eulogy.
You may want to keep it mostly fact-based, written in chronological order with a small personal note of remembrance at the end.
Alternatively, you could base it on personal anecdotes and stories that capture the personality of your loved one. These might even be more lighthearted anecdotes, which often helps the assembly feel more at ease.
If they were close to the person who has died and bereaved family, some people even choose to include jokes in their eulogies, though you should use your judgement as to whether this would be appropriate.
In the end, writing a good eulogy depends on writing from the heart. If you aim to describe what made the person special and important to you, this will show through in your writing.
How long should a eulogy be?
Generally, a eulogy should be around three to five minutes long and take no longer than ten minutes. As to how many words a eulogy should be, that may depend on how fast you deliver them. A funeral eulogy of between 500 and 1000 written words will take from around three and a half to seven and a half minutes to speak.
Some funeral venues allocate a specific period of time for a funeral. The funeral director should be able to advise you, if you ask how long should a eulogy last, as part of the order of service.
What are some details to include when you are writing a eulogy?
The final decision of what to include will always come down to you. However, you may wish to include some, if not all, of the following:
- When and where they were born
- The names of their close family
- How they met their spouse or partner
- Any military service
- Favourite poems, songs or quotes
- Acknowledgement of the guests (especially those who have travelled a long distance)
- Sporting achievements
- Anything they have contributed to the community
- Clubs and society memberships
Should you practise giving a eulogy?
Once you have determined what you want to say, it’s a good idea to practise giving your eulogy. Many people struggle with public speaking, so you are not alone. Read it out loud, either on your own or in front of a trusted friend or family member. It’s a good idea to time yourself so you have an idea of how long your eulogy will last and add or omit anything that will help keep it to a comfortable time.
When you’re giving a eulogy remember to:
- Speak slowly. Everyone wants to hear the words you have prepared.
- Pause for thought. There may be certain points in the eulogy that deserve a moment of silence for contemplation, or a particular story which makes the audience laugh.
- Give people eye contact. This may be difficult, but if you mention a close family member by name you may want to scan the first row to make them feel included.
- Try to stand still. It can be difficult not to fidget when you are nervous, but tapping fingers or feet can distract people from what you are saying.