How To Write A Eulogy

How to Write a Eulogy
 by Terry Shoobridge

The thought of public speaking throws many people into a panic. Add to that fear the common discomfort of discussing death, and it's easy to understand why the idea of delivering a eulogy can be disconcerting.

Having attended many funeral services and listened to countless eulogies, certain facts emerge which I am privy to beyond the normal experiences of the general public. No matter how long I spend with a family organising and making the funeral arrangements, I ALWAYS learn more about the deceased when the eulogy is read or presented during the funeral service.
This usually leads me to summise how inadequate the funeral memorial is concerning the life and activities of the person’ s life we are celebrating!

Paralleling this is the realisation that we cannot give sufficient tribute without recounting most of the life of the deceased which, as we all know, is impossible and, impractical? I have also mostly thought how I would have liked to have met the deceased in life and shared part of that; it has helped me to understand certain aspects of behaviour and led me to seriously consider the skills we have lost with that person's passing. I have been left therefore, to wonder, how to actually present the pertinent information?

We firstly have to acknowledge that everyone at the funeral service knows something about the deceased. We also know that no one knows everything, and in the time allotted, we have a minute window or platform to present a balance that conveys the character of our loved one, what they meant to others and how they affected our lives and the lives of people they came into contact with?

I could spend more time with a shortlist and much has been written on the subject but this IS a personal reflection and how much you include is your decision and should not be left to a resultant criticism by others. You ARE the privileged person, no matter if you are family, the officiant or a friend, you have been selected to address the people present so, simply, “Write from the heart” is my first piece of advice.

You will be ‘up against’ a time limit! Imposed by the minister, the church or crematorium specifications - it is necessary. It is also necessary for you – emotionally and in order for you to remain pertinent and focused; too long and people will react with a variety of responses but for me, and, I can only speak for myself (I am after all, still learning this skill), I like to engage with the family, include them but present a balance of facts, idiosyncrasies, morality characteristics and humour, I want the mourners present to take away somethings they didn’t know but will also, remember.

The person chosen or requested

There are many reasons to be asked to deliver the eulogy - these are just two of them:
·       Due to your close relationship with the deceased
·       Because the family trusts you to honour the memory of the deceased on behalf of the family and friends
It should be understood that the family doesn't want to make you feel uncomfortable, foolish or as though your grief is on display. It's an honour that’s been bestowed upon you. Helping others say, “Goodbye” may turn out to be a rewarding experience. Don't worry about making mistakes - a eulogy comes from the heart of the deliverer, so the word mistake, is a misnomer.

Don't let the thought of writing intimidate you. You don't have to be a novelist to move people. Everyone has a story to tell and that's your job as a eulogist. Tell people your story.                  N.B. there is much more advice written below.

Public speaking

It may not be easy, but is more possible than you initially think. Don’t overthink this as it is likely to lead to nerves. Try not to think about it until the day and remember, no one expects a professional input, be yourself and act naturally, there is little pressure but the quiet can be disconcerting. You will read below some tips to help you: practise your words and get support if you need it.
 A funeral is one time you'll have a kind and empathetic audience. They ‘feel’ for you and are on your side. You'll only have to speak for a few minutes, but your gift will live in the hearts of the deceased's family and friends. If you need to, pause for personal composure, it has many advantages.

Writing the eulogy

This is extremely difficult when undergoing the initial feelings of grief, disorientation and questioning the “Whys” of the event. Turning this writing into the privileged opportunity presented to probably, only ONE person is key in my make-up and dealings whether personal or by request for someone I didn’t even know and have had to gather, the facts of.

Post writing

Reading through the Tribute you have compiled will always result in a recognition of inadequacies, things you have omitted, things you think you could have expressed better, a reflection and self-criticism that is totally unfair. You will doubtless keep the Tribute and read it occasionally, good; no one else has that satisfaction, no one else will remember your loved one as you do. Your ‘performance’ will dim in the minds of others and life will go on so focus on what you would like the people to remember if only one fact were available – it might be different for everybody so, write from the heart, be factual, be sincere and trust in yourself – you are truly honoured to this appointment.

Final advice

My last piece of advice for many people is to write the eulogy clearly with good spacing and have a back-up plan, someone to take over and read your eulogy in case emotions overtake you, hand it to the minister or have someone on stand-by to come and stand with you for moral support. If you are emotional, do your best to deliver the testimonial coherently and remember, the ‘privilege’ of your role? It WILL strengthen your resolve.

Some details to include when you are writing a eulogy?

A eulogy should convey the feelings and experiences of the person giving the eulogy, and should be written in an informal, conversational tone. It is a myth that a eulogy should objectively summarise the person's life or speak for everyone present.

Eulogists often write about the person's attributes, memories and common times that were shared together. Sometimes they include the deceased's favourite poems, book passages, scripture verses, quotes, expressions, lines from songs or items that were written by the deceased. Whatever is selected, it generally reflects the loved one's lifestyle.

Some of the simplest thoughts are deeply touching and easy for those congregated to identify with. For example, "I'll miss her smile," or "I'll never forget the way he crinkled his nose when he laughed," are just as good as "I admired her selflessness."

Things to consider

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
  • Nicknames
  • How they met their spouse or partner
  • Any military service
  • Education
  • Favourite poems, songs or quotes
  • Sporting achievements
  • Anything they have contributed to the community
  • Clubs and society memberships
  • How you and the deceased become close
  • A humourous or special event that represents the essence of the deceased
  • What you and others love and admire about the deceased
  • What you miss most about him or her
  • Be honest and focus on the person's positive qualities
  • Humour is perfectly acceptable if it fits the personality of the deceased – it can be welcoming too
  • Don’t set your personal ‘bar’ too high, be yourself, be honest

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
Finally, acknowledge the guests (especially those who have travelled a long distance)


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