A final tribute: writing and delivering a eulogy
No one's death comes to pass without making some impression,
and those close to the deceased inherit part of the liberated
soul and become richer in their humanness.
Hermann Broch (1886-1951)
Central to the funeral and concluding the public grieving period following a death is the eulogy, a funeral speech about the person who died. The purpose of the eulogy is to pay tribute to the deceased as a distinct individual, with unique talents and gifts, who will live on in the memories of the people who loved him. The eulogy allows family and friends to say goodbye to their loved one and acknowledge the gift they shared in being touched by his life.
Although being asked to give a eulogy is truly an honor, if you're the one who's been chosen, you may find yourself feeling anxious about the task before you. Perhaps you're not accustomed to public speaking, and the mere thought of speaking in front of a crowd makes you nervous. Or maybe you're unsure of your ability to manage your emotions as you share your memories of your loved one.
While such responses are fairly common, there's really no cause for worry. The audience for your funeral speech couldn't be more sympathetic and welcoming, and your deep feelings for the person who died will make the eulogy powerful. You won't be expected to express the thoughts and feelings of everyone present, nor to give a detailed account of the life of the deceased. All you have to do is write and talk from your heart, and let your audience identify with your memories and emotions.
A word about content
The most defining characteristic of a good eulogy is that it is personal. Include in your eulogy the memories and anecdotes that best describe the deceased from your perspective.
Try to avoid talking about the details of the death, and focus instead on the life of the deceased. Acknowledge the important people and achievements in his life. If you find meaning in a poem, reading, or quote that reminds you of your loved one, consider sharing it in your eulogy. Our own book 'Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep' provides plenty of funeral poems to choose from.
Should you include humor?
People often wonder whether it's proper to include humor in a eulogy. Humor in good taste relieves stress and anxiety, and it's almost certain to be welcomed by the funeral guests. Think about your favorite memories of the people you love – chances are many of those memories are based on funny events. Be sure, though, not to include anything that may offend or embarrass. If you have any doubt about a particular story you'd like to share, get the honest opinion of someone else who is close to the family.
The following tips will guide you through the process of writing and delivering the eulogy.
Writing the eulogy
- Focus. Don't let worry about delivering the eulogy interfere with writing it. Let go of your fear for now, and focus on the life of the person who died and what you want to tell friends and family about her.
- Reflect. Before you start to write, choose a setting that is conducive to creative thought, such as a park or a candlelit room, and take a half-hour to reflect on your loved one.
- Capture your thoughts. Freely jot down the thoughts, memories, stories, and feelings which come to mind. Don't censor yourself at this point.
- Seek inspiration. Listening to music or looking at pictures can bring a flood of ideas. Inspirational quotes and sympathy poems may spark creative thought or provide material to share in your eulogy. Ask others to share their favorite memories of the deceased with you.
- Draft. Write the eulogy from start to finish. Remember, this is a draft – let your ideas flow. Then walk away from your work for at least a couple of hours.
- Polish and edit. Review your work. Read the eulogy aloud to yourself. Listen to how your ideas flow, and correct any awkward construction. Also, look for opportunities to use more precise, descriptive words to convey your thoughts and feelings.
Delivering the eulogy
- Get feedback. Have someone else listen as you read the eulogy two or three times. The first time, ask for feedback, then read the eulogy again after revising. Being prepared is one of the most effective ways to alleviate anxiety.
- Relax and deliver the eulogy. Talk to your audience as if you were all seated in your living room. If you feel nervous at first, stop and take a deep breath. Likewise, if you find yourself overcome by emotion, take a moment to compose yourself. Try to make eye contact with your audience.
Your eulogy is a loving gift to your fellow mourners, and it will be remembered by many for years to come. By sharing your honest, heart-felt thoughts and memories about your friend or family member who died, you will help to begin the process of healing that lies ahead for the living.
Our book can help...
Our own book 'Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep' is available for instant download and has over 250 inspirational poems, quotations and readings for funerals, memorial services and inner peace.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Funerals: everything you need to know section helpful too.
Visit our Amazon store to find books to help you through bereavement.