By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 21-01-2020 | First published: 01-03-2008
Having a eulogy or funeral speech to write is a gift and a privilege and while the task may seem very difficult at first, it doesn't have to be that way.
If you follow the step by step guidelines below you can and will give a memorable and fitting funeral speech or tribute.
I understand about being caught in the maelstrom of feelings triggered by the death of a loved person. I know finding the clarity to make decisions about what to write in a eulogy can feel overwhelming.
There is so much we want to say. Trying to compress a whole life into a few minutes seems impossible, almost an insult.
But there is a way through.
When you understand what a eulogy can do you'll realize it's a gift to the living. Your words will help everyone, (yourself included), through the grief of loss.
A eulogy is like a mirror or reflection. We listen to the stories told to hear and see in our imagination what the life of our loved one was all about. We want to understand, to have it make sense to us.
A eulogy may not provide answers to difficult questions but it allows us to focus more clearly.
A memorable funeral speech prepared with loving care celebrates the
whole person: their strengths, their joys, challenges and achievements.
At a time when many are emotionally fragile your courage to stand in front of friends and family will be truly appreciated.
Take a deep breath and follow the steps.
Before you begin; who are you writing for?
The answers to those questions put you, the eulogy giver, in context which is important to those listening. If they don't know, they'll want to know how you fitted into the life of the person you are celebrating.
The general rule is somewhere between 3 to 7 minutes. If you're unsure ask for guidance from the person conducting or organizing the service.
Be honest without dwelling on or re-living negativity.
The eulogy is not an occasion to 'get even' or expose family secrets.
If the person was bowed down with challenges, talk about them compassionately, if you must.
Remember a funeral speech is an opportunity to honor and even the most difficult personality or life will have aspects worthy of celebration.
(And while we're discussing what subject matter it's best or diplomatic to avoid; political opinions or religious differences don't belong in a eulogy either.)
If you're speaking on behalf of others ask friends, family or work colleagues for their recollections and stories to add to your own.
There is no need for you to carry the responsibility of putting together the eulogy alone. Let others share in the privilege of shaping the speech to honor your loved one's life.
Here are three possible sources to explore:
2. In your quest for a quotation don't overlook the person whose life you're celebrating. Perhaps there are memorable phrases that were uniquely their own. May be it was a line from a song or a poem.
For example, my mother had a signature saying. "Let there be peace and let it begin with me" inspired her throughout many years of a sometimes very difficult life.
3. What about writing your own poem?
It's not as difficult as you may think and you'll have something very special and original to offer.
You can find out here how to write a poem in free verse.
What tone do you want to use?
Do you want it to be solemn? Do you want it to be lighter, perhaps even humorous? Or do you want a balance of both?
To help decide ask yourself; what would your loved one have wanted? Be guided by your answer. There are no "right" or "wrong" ways. This a decision for yourself, the family and friends. A life contains joy as well as sorrow and laughing through tears can be a real reflection of that.
Go through your collection of material selecting what gives an accurate portrayal. You won't be able to include everything but what you do choose, you'll want to resonate with the 'truth' of the person.
Put your choices of material in the order you want them come when you write the eulogy.
It might look this:
Statement of who I am and relationship to loved one
Restatement of main message or theme from body of eulogy
Do resist the urge to list in chronological order achievements or milestones. These can be dry, dull facts.
Instead tell the stories! They may have been heard many times but in their telling the essence or life force of your loved one lives on. This is the real person who people want to hear about and remember. Lists don't give that.
This is where you will be sharing the stories making this person unique, special and loved.
If you can't get straight into writing, putting your stories on tape or telling them to another person may help kick start the process.
Remember to go straight to the core of each story. Long preambles are not needed. Include enough to make sense and no more.
(This is a true story. I didn't use it for my Mother's eulogy but telling it here is a little like giving her another small one years later.)
"I'm going to tell you the story of the yellow blouse.
I was 18 and leaving home. We had very little money and certainly none for luxuries and that's what new clothes were. Ours were hand-me-downs from our cousins.
What money Mum got each week was carefully placed in a series of jars in a cupboard above the sink in the kitchen. Each had a label. This was for 'Food', that for 'Electricity' etc. The jars were often empty but miraculously, our stomachs never were.
The day came for going. I had made 'new clothes' from old ones. They were folded, ready for packing. As I closed the lid on my suitcase, my mother gave me a parcel.
Inside was a new store-bought yellow blouse, beautifully sewn and made of fine cloth. 'A girl must have at least one quality garment.' she said. It was extraordinary. I knew the path to that blouse had been 5 cents by 5 cents by 5 cents over months. I also knew this was love."
Link your stories/poems/songs/readings/quotes together so one leads into another. Think of them as beads you are threading to form a necklace. Each is part of the whole.
What enduring message do you want your listeners to carry away with them?
It may be a simple thank-you for the life you've shared with your loved one or it could be a special quote expressing an idea or feeling you know is appropriate. As this is the last opportunity to pay tribute think carefully. You'll want to get it as "right" as you can.
Now you have the rest of your eulogy it will be easier to write the opening.
Unless you're being introduced by someone else be sure to include who you are at the very beginning.
Once that is done think about the major events, relationships and general characteristics making up this life special.
"Sophie was my Mother but she was also Mother to four more: Fred, Isobel, Warren and Gwen. Many of you know her as Aunt, cousin, friend and colleague but whatever the relationship, we all know her as the woman who played many roles.
She was the bright and beautiful young women who married my father after a war-time whirl wind romance. She was the determined young bride who taught herself to cook and sew.' (And so on ...)
'We all have memories of Sophie. I want to share some of my most precious with you now ...":
This leads into the body of the speech comprised of the specific stories you plan to tell.
Go through your first draft reading it aloud as if you were delivering it. This helps you make sure that what you've written makes sense.
It also helps if you have someone listen to you to give you feedback. A pair of independent ears will pick up things you might otherwise miss.
These will help ensure you give your eulogy the way you want to.
If you've written what you want to say in a word document on your computer, BEFORE YOU PRINT IT OUT:
Remember having a eulogy to write is both a gift and a privilege.
It's a gift twice over. It's a gift because you are giving your energy, time and love to honor the life of your loved one. And it's also a gift to your listeners as it will aid the healing process for everybody including yourself.
Giving a eulogy is a privilege because it signifies your value or importance in the life of the loved one and in the lives of family and friends. Being asked to speak shows trust and respect. You are being trusted to encapsulate a life fittingly and deliver the unique essence of the person everyone loved publicly.
I hope these notes are of service to you. If you have questions, ask them through my contact form here. I would be happy and honored to assist.
The quote above is widely attributed to Goethe. Despite disagreement over its origin, the sentiment expressed is fitting for your task. Have courage, and begin.
If these pages helped you to write - the sample eulogies in particular, please consider sharing what you wrote.
People are always searching for eulogy examples to help them begin their own writing process. If you could share, it would be very much appreciated.
Your eulogy would feature in a special section - free sample eulogies
It would have its own page and appear just how you want it to.
Do think about it. If you have any questions, please ask them.