How to write a eulogy

Shirley HampsonBlog

Being in a position to give a eulogy about a loved one you have lost is a huge responsibility, but it’s also a huge honour. If you have to write a eulogy but you don’t know where or how to start, then read on! This article will walk you through how to write a moving eulogy, things to avoid and how to get through delivering your eulogy at the funeral.

What is a eulogy?

A eulogy is a spoken tribute to someone who has passed away and is given at their funeral or memorial service. There are no set rules regarding who should give the eulogy at a funeral. It can be given by a spouse, son or daughter, grandchild, sibling or even a friend. As for who decides who gives the eulogy, the deceased may have decided who they want to do it before they passed, you may be asked by a family member, or it could fall to you by default. Sometimes people also volunteer to give a eulogy.

What makes a good eulogy?

The most important thing to remember when writing a eulogy is that it should capture the essence of the person it is about. It is a final farewell to the deceased person, and a celebration of their life. A good eulogy will make feel like the person is there in the room with you, bringing the person to life in the minds of the congregation. It should be heartfelt, meaningful and honest. The average eulogy is 3 – 5 minutes long, and written with both the deceased person and the audience in mind. Big words and grand statements have no place in a eulogy; keep the tone conversational and use simple, easy to understand language.

How do I start writing a eulogy?

Writing a eulogy might not be the easiest of tasks, but it is an important part of preparing for the funeral that should not be left until the last minute. Start off with a brainstorming session and think about the person you will be speaking about. What kind of person where they? What were they known for? Who is their family and who are they survived by? What were their notable achievements? Give specific examples of what your loved one was known for. For example, if they were known for their sense of humour, you might like to include an anecdote of something that demonstrates this, such as a particularly funny April Fool’s joke!

Decide on the tone of the eulogy you want to deliver. Remember, a eulogy doesn’t have to be sad and mournful. Depending on the person it is celebrating, it could have elements of humour or be uplifting and inspiring as well as being sad.

Now it’s time to start writing. If the officiant does not introduce you, ensure you start by introducing yourself and explain your link to the deceased person. Remember, a eulogy does not have to follow the chronological order of your loved ones life. You might like to go straight into sharing a favourite memory of your loved one, or share a story that those in the audience would appreciate and remember.

Don’t isolate yourself – involve family and friends throughout the process. Talk to family and friends, look through photos, letters and mementos together, or take a walk through the deceased’s house or garden to jog your memory and get conversation flowing. Run your finished eulogy past family, too. They might have more ideas or be able to remind you of things that may have slipped your mind.

What should you not say in a eulogy?

It goes without saying that some things simply should not be mentioned in a eulogy. Imagine the person you are celebrating is in the room with you. If you wouldn’t say something to their face, then don’t say it in their eulogy! It is wise to go by the old saying, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.

As a rule, avoid the following:

  • Overly emotive language – it is very easy to get wrapped up in the emotion of farewelling a loved one. Remember that you need to get through delivering the eulogy, and that some people in the audience will already be emotional and in tears.
  • Faults and shortcomings
  • Family feuds and old grudges
  • Trying to justify or minimise the loss
  • Crimes
  • Focussing on the cause of death
  • Poor life choices
  • Cliché statements, such as ‘we are gathered here today’.
  • Passing judgement – you are not there to judge the deceased or their life choices. You are there to celebrate their life, give your final farewells and to help people grieve and find closure.
  • Inappropriate religious reference – religion is a touchy subject at the best of times, and far more so when emotions are heightened.
  • Offensive humour – humour can, of course, have a place in a eulogy, but keep it respectful. Any anecdotes should be honest and complimentary, and not easily misconstrued by grieving family and friends. Regardless of how funny he or she may have been in life, it is inappropriate to serve up a roasting in their eulogy.

Not sure if you should say something? That’s probably a good indication that it should be left out.

How to finish a eulogy

The end of the eulogy should provide a loving conclusion to your speech. If you choose to follow with a song, explain why you have chosen this song and relate it back to the person whose life you are celebrating. You may also like to finish with a final message to your loved one. This might be the final words you said to them, or what you wish you could say to them now. Remember – write the eulogy with a heart full of love and respect.

How to get through delivering the eulogy

The most important part of delivering the eulogy is to be prepared. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and this is certainly no exception. We recommend that you write the eulogy in full and reading it out loud over and over. This can help you to hold it together a little more on the day by getting some of your tears out during your practice reads, as well as helping with a more confident delivery.

If you are not sure you can make eye contact with the audience without losing your grip on your emotions, that’s okay! No-one will be judging you on your delivery. Pick a spot on the wall above the congregation to stare at, or keep your focus on your notes in front of you.It can also be handy to have tissues and a glass of water at the ready. If you start to become overly emotional during the delivery of the eulogy, don’t stress! Pause, take a couple of deep breaths to steady yourself and have a sip of water before continuing.

Finally, have someone else on standby to read the eulogy if you find you simply can’t cope with doing it yourself on the day, and make sure they have a copy of the eulogy just in case you need them to stand in.

Be gentle on yourself!

If you find that writing or delivering the eulogy is too difficult or you just don’t want to write a eulogy, that’s okay! Don’t feel guilty, simply ask if someone else can do it as you are too overcome with grief.