Friends and family members may be asked to deliver an eulogy at a funeral service or vigil. If you've been given this important job and don't know where to start, there are some simple steps to follow to craft a moving and powerful tribute to the deceased.
The Basics of Writing a Eulogy
An eulogy is a speech that discusses and praises the life of the deceased person. It does not need to be long and even if you feel you are not a great and flowery speechwriter, keep in mind that it's most important to feel heartfelt and sincere. The audience will appreciate your efforts to show your feelings about the person who you are all there to honor and are not likely to nitpick your grammatic flourishes.
What Should be Included in an Eulogy
When sitting down to prepare the eulogy, you will need some basic biographical information about the person. Some common pieces of information that are found in eulogies include:
- Significant dates in the person's life, such as when they were born, college or graduate school graduation, marriage or birth years for their children.
- Important places in their life such as where they were born, went to school, lived, served in the military or beloved places they traveled to.
- Names of significant people in their life, such as spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and close friends or coworkers.
- Highlights of their life that were meaningful to them and to those who knew them. This could be when they achieved an important work-related goal or did something that made them particularly happy or proud, such as backpacking through Europe or raising their children.
- Any honors or awards they received in their lifetime, whether they are related to their profession or their interests, such as sports, charity or hobby-related awards.
- If the person had any favorite sayings or scriptures, you might want to include those if they are short, or reference them during the eulogy rather than adding in the actual text.
If you're not sure about this information, reach out to family members and friends to ask them about their favorite memories of the person and events that stood out to them.
What Should Not Go in an Eulogy
An eulogy is designed to honor the life of an individual, so it's not the time to criticize them for anything they did or believed that you disagreed with. It's also not a time to settle any grievances that might exist between you and the deceased or other family members and friends. An eulogy is also meant to be a speech that is personal and conversational in tone. You should avoid creating anything that is written as a poem like an elegy.
What Makes a Great Eulogy?
Once you have your list of information to include, you can sit down to start writing a great eulogy. Some helpful steps to get started include:
- Put the information you have gathered into chronological order first. This helps to arrange your thoughts about how you want to present the information.
- In some cases you might want to group some items into categories rather than in date order. For example, at the end of a discussion of their life in chronological order, you could talk about their awards they were proud to receive for their charity work, or their most meaningful accomplishments regarding maintaining a happy marriage or pursuing professional goals.
- Consider what the tone of your eulogy will be. It's perfectly fine to write an eulogy that's humorous and funny if that fits with the deceased's personality and you know that the crowd will appreciate these memories of him or her.
- However, humor can be inappropriate depending on the funeral and how the person died, such as through a long, painful illness, murder or something controversial.
- Humor is also not appropriate if the funeral is for a child.
- You may want to think about having a theme for your eulogy. This theme may come to you after looking over the biographical information or from talking to friends and family. For example a theme could be about a life of service for a person who was a devoted volunteer. Another theme could be a particular personality trait the person was known for, such as their practical jokes or their passionate nature.
Structure of an Eulogy
It helps to have an outline in front of you when you begin writing. The eulogy should have the following sections in this order:
- You can start the eulogy by thanking everyone for attending and joining you in memorializing the life of the person.
- This is usually followed with an introduction of yourself as there may be guests in attendance who do not know you and your relationship to the deceased.
- You can then spend the bulk of the eulogy talking about the person, starting with when they were born and moving through the milestones of their life. You can add in anecdotes about their life in "order" of when they occurred, or group them at the end as your final remembrances of note.
- End the eulogy by expressing your feelings toward the deceased, whether it's an eulogy for a grandmother or friend, which could be gratitude for learning a valuable lesson about life or for help they provided to you. It can also be thanking them for their love and friendship and making your final goodbye to them.
Length of An Eulogy
How long should a eulogy be depends on the ceremony so be sure to discuss this with the church celebrants before you begin writing. There may be funerals or vigils where more than one eulogy is read and you need to make sure you all agree on the amount of time you each will have. In general, you should plan to write an eulogy that's about three to five minutes when read aloud. Some eulogies can be longer but the goal is not to go through every aspect of the person's life but rather give some highlights to help everyone in attendance to honor his or her legacy.
Delivering the Eulogy
Before the actual ceremony, it's a good idea to practice reading the eulogy out loud for a few reasons.
- You want to make sure that your eulogy is the right time length and you may find you need to make edits to keep it under the desired time frame.
- Doing this also helps you decide how you want the papers to be, such as having it printed double-spaced in large print on a piece of 8-½ x 11 paper, or printed in small sections on large note cards. If you decide on this beforehand and practice, you'll find you will be less nervous the day of the event when you're holding the speech.
- Practicing it out loud can also help you deal with any extreme emotions, as it's likely you may find yourself wanting to cry during the eulogy. It's absolutely ok to express emotion during the actual event, but you may find reading it out loud and practicing beforehand will help you deal better with handling those emotions during the funeral.
- Finally, reading and practicing it out loud is also useful with another family member present. They can give you input on the eulogy and help with any editing.
If giving a eulogy is a scary experience for you, just remember that everyone in the audience is there with you to honor the deceased and will be grateful to you for delivering it. No one will be judging you if you become teary-eyed. Just practicing reading slowly and clearly and remember to pace yourself and don't rush.
Creating a Heartfelt Eulogy
Writing an eulogy can be a daunting task, especially if you've never written one before and your emotions are raw from mourning. It helps to have an outline and a list of the information to collect about the deceased. Once you've gathered all of this together, remember to keep your writing personal and positive to celebrate the person's life and achievements with others at the funeral who share your feelings.