How to Write a Eulogy
Writing a eulogy for a friend or family member may be one of our toughest challenges. It may also provide one of our more rewarding experiences. The act of delivering a eulogy is one of love and kindness. It actually is a gift to the deceased, as well as, the family and friends gathered for the funeral. So its important to know how to write a eulogy.
Our purpose is to help you navigate this challenge with grace and aplomb.
If you have found our site, it is likely because you have been charged with delivering a eulogy for a love one who has recently passed. Please accept our warmest condolences for your loss and our tremendous respect for your undertaking.
I believe we have assembled some of the finest content to assist your eulogy planning so please take your time in reviewing our materials. We are honored to play even the slightest of roles in the preparation of your tribute.
What is a Eulogy?
Eulogy is derived from the Greek word eulogia meaning “good words”. Today it is used to define a speech or tribute spoken at one’s funeral.
Eulogies are typically brief, three to ten minutes, depending upon the number of speakers and the full scope of the service.
But more importantly, a eulogy is an opportunity to reflect over a life lived. It represents an opportunity to punctuate the character and passions of the recently deceased while providing comfort and context to those paying tribute.
Definition of Eulogy
Its origins are the Greek word “eulogia” meaning “praise” and the Latin word “eulogium” meaning “epitaph”.
In practice today, a eulogy is a tribute spoken to honor someone who has recently deceased. Eulogies are most often rendered at a wake or funeral service or mass.
A eulogy is an important step in the grieving process. The funeral service is a time for family and friends to gather and pay their last respects. It is a time to visit with others who shared a relationship with the deceased and during this time the loss is mourned and the life is celebrated.
The eulogy speech itself is a means to punctuate the character and passions of the deceased. It is a public tribute in which we remember together the significance of a life shared by all those in attendance.
The individual delivering the eulogy is called the Eulogist. The immediate family typically selects the speaker or eulogist based on factors including relationship and comfort or ability to deliver such an emotional speech.
Often the eulogist is a member of the clergy. Performing the role of eulogist is considered a common responsibility for a pastor, priest, rabbi, or equivalent for a member of their congregation. This is a logical selection given their comfort with public speaking along with their ability to appropriately recognize and speak to the spiritual aspects and implications of a life whose course has run.
A family member or close friend may also be chosen to serve as the eulogist. Having someone with a closer relationship adds an intimacy to the proceedings.
For this reason, it is not uncommon to have multiple persons contribute to the memorial service. This approach shares the responsibility while consciously demonstrating the multi-faceted nature of an individual’s life.
If the multiple speaker approach is chosen, it may be appropriate for the speakers to coordinate their messages so specific stories or events are not repeated.
Eulogy vs. Elegy
Frequently the terms Eulogy and Elegy are confused. This is somewhat natural due to both terms sharing a common theme of tribute for a life which has past.
Eulogy is used to define the words or speech delivered at a wake or funeral service. While an Elegy is a lamenting song or poem composed to express regret for a loss.
Definition – a speech or writing in praise of a person or thing, especially a set oration in honor of a deceased person.
Tone – Respectful, uplifting, reminiscing, intending to recall the individual and how they lived
Timing – Prepared and delivered soon after the death. Most commonly delivered at the funeral or burial service.
Form – spoken language, prose
Definition – a mournful, melancholy, or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead
Tone – lamenting or melancholy, an expression of regret over the loss
Timing – Less defined. A poem or song may be commissioned for delivery at the memorial service; however, an elegy may be composed and performed months or even years later.
Form – melodic in nature, most commonly a poem or song written in verse
How to Write a Eulogy
Studies have revealed that, as a society, our fear of public speaking is greater even than our fear of death. The inevitable punch line then is that at a funeral, the person in the casket is more at ease than the one at the lectern.
I suppose there is a bit of truth in the sentiment. After all, only one of the two can feel stress but in that context we would all much prefer to deal with a little anxiety.
Our objective is to help you to minimize that anxiety and we’ll jump into that process by offering our best advice on how to write a eulogy.
As with most things in life, having a plan or approach is critical to successfully crafting a eulogy. The time following the loss of a loved one can be both emotional and stressful, which only increases the significance of having a specific and effective plan.
Your plan should resemble the following:
Step 1 – Gather Information
The secret to writing a great eulogy is to collect as much information as possible. This makes sense if you don’t know the deceased. In situations in which a funeral conductor or chaplain is standing in for a family member, it is expected that they will spend time with family members or friends trying to learn a little more about the departed. However, when eulogizing a loved one, the need to ask questions may be easily overlooked.
Having to ask questions about facets of a loved one’s life does not diminish your relationship. Instead it demonstrates your compassion and interest in doing a thorough job. A child eulogizing a parent may lack basic facts related to the parent’s childhood or career. A child may know the parent was from another city or state but the significance of that past or the reason for the move may be lost on the child if it occurred long ago. The details of a parent’s work life may be foreign to a child and can open up with a few well-placed inquiries.
As you prepare to deliver a eulogy, spend time at the wake and on the phone with friends and family of the loved one. Challenge yourself to learn something new you can include as part of your tribute.
Treat the following questions a guide to help identify areas for more preparation. Then identify the individuals most capable of answering them for you.
- Basics like age and date of birth, where were they born
- Who where their close family and friends? What special relationships did they enjoy? Married, children, grandchildren? Did they have lots of friends or a handful of really good friends?
- Education, where and what did they study? Did this remain a special place for them?
- What did they do for Work or Career? How accomplished where they in this field?
- Hobbies or Interests at various stages of life – hobbies in their youth compared to those later in life?
- Places Lived or Interesting Travels
- Special Accomplishments – Especially those considered special by the deceased?
- To where did they retire? What occupied their retirement?
- What memories or characteristics stand out the most? What do they say about the individual and how can they be colorfully demonstrated? How or for what was the individual known? For what was this person admired?
- What was their faith? Was this a source of strength and comfort?
- How do you know the departed and how does your relationship parallel or demonstrate the individual?
- What will be most missed?
Obviously there are hundreds of questions you can deploy, so consider this only as a framework to get you started. Family and friends will be eager to share their impressions and memories and the experience will be positive to everyone involved. Knowing that you’ve increased your own familiarity and delivered a well-rounded tribute will also enhance your fulfillment.
Step 2 – Organize and Outline Your Content
As your collect more and more information, you will begin to recognize patterns and relationships in the material. Group the like-kind stories or events and identify the most colorful or inspiring from each category.
Once the categories are identified and prioritized, the task is to weave those gems together into a fitting memorialization. Remember that not every story needs to be included as part of the eulogy and you may not actually want to include the very best stories. Instead, you want brief and crisp anecdotes that represent a feature or phase of life for the departed.
Plan your speech to touch upon as many of the categories you identified as possible.
An easy way to do this is to take a chronological approach. Start with their childhood and home town and move into their youth and education. Marriage, family, and career are next along with retirement etc., as appropriate in this specific situation. Each phase may be represented with colorful stories or simply reciting facts. Be sure to blend your tactics. You do not want to tell several long stories any more than you want read a list of bullet points.
Another approach may be to identify a theme in the data you gathered. For example, a life of travel may be an appropriate theme for someone who grew up moving from city to city and whose adventures were a meaningful feature of their life.
I like to say the information you gather will tell you how it wants to be told. Be still and reflect over the information available to you and listen for the details and ideas that stand out. Think it terms of the ‘lasting memories’ you take from the information and build from there.
If the pressure of giving the eulogy is blocking your creative process, then think in smaller terms. For example, if you have small children, consider how you would want them to know and remember this person with whom they will not have the opportunity to forge a personal relationship.
By simplifying the need, you should be able to free yourself to get started.
Step 3 – Write and Re-Write the Eulogy
Often the most significant challenge in any writing assignment is the initial blank page and as clichéd as it may sound, the easiest way to overcome it is just to start writing.
Start by simply listing the topics or categories that you want to write about. Instead of ‘writing a eulogy’ in a single step, you are breaking out the topics you want to cover into small and manageable pieces.
From this point, it is easier to select one of the topics and start rounding it out. Notice that you can select any of the areas to get started. You do not have to write your eulogy speech from beginning to end. While you will deliver it in order, you may find it easier to actually write the individual components out of sequence.
Perhaps you are closer to a specific facet which flows more freely for you. By writing this portion first, you free your creative expression which can inspire you to address the less familiar or more challenging topics.
After each component is complete, you can start looking at your material as a single piece of work. Does it flow, are there gaps, is a story out of order or missing altogether?
For as difficult as it can be to overcome a blank page, it is easy to review and edit a completed page. All good writing is found in the re-writing, so take advantage of this tendency to perfect the eulogy.
Also, through this process, keep in mind that you are writing a speech to be spoken rather than a document to be read. This is important in your selection of language and tone. It is not uncommon for people to view writing as something grand and use flowery words which they would never use in a conversation.
Step 4 – Rehearse and Fine Tune the Eulogy Speech
Once the Eulogy is written, start to practice saying it out loud. For some, this step may sound kinda silly but I promise it will make a tremendous difference come the day of the service.
For starters, let’s not ignore the emotional nature of the eulogy speech. Telling some stories or relaying some feelings out loud may trigger your emotions. In no way should you ever ignore or deny your emotions, however, as the eulogist you will want to control those emotions as much as possible while at the lectern. One way to achieve this is to be familiar speaking those stories or phrases and only practice can help in this regard.
Rehearsing the eulogy speech will also help you perfect the tone and cadence. Practicing a point of emphasis or perfecting a turn of phrase will make your presentation – your tribute – more effective.
During the writing phase, you challenged yourself to write in conversational tone, but only by practicing the spoken delivery can you identify tricking wording or phrasing.
It is not necessary that you memorize the eulogy speech but it is important that you are familiar with the flow and major delivery points. Memorization may cause you to sound robotic, but a practiced familiarity will allow you to ad lib, pause, or emphasis based on the reaction from the audience.
Take your preparation to an even higher level by soliciting a friend or family member to listen as you practice giving the eulogy. Encourage their feedback from the perspective of the audience.
Step 5 – Deliver the Eulogy with Confidence
After all the preparation is in place, the key to public speaking is to channel your nervousness. Redirect your nervous energy into your presentation. Project when you speak, gesture (but not wildly), and move around. Be intentional in having energy and emotion as you speak rather than being a lifeless monotone.
Have confidence in what you are doing and why. Giving a eulogy is a gift to deceased, to the family, to the audience, and even to yourself. Recognize that you are lending voice to the audience who both appreciates and respects what you are doing for them and the deceased.
Finally, remember why you were chosen to deliver the eulogy. A special relationship exists between you and the departed and you bring great honor to that relationship in speaking at the service. Represent that relationship with confidence and use this opportunity to share your special bond with everyone in attendance.
Characteristics of a Meaningful Eulogy
Your eulogy should reflect your personality as well as that of the departed. A blend of solemnity and humor is appropriate but find the appropriate balance that contributes to the memory.
Eulogies are typically short, three to ten minutes in length depending upon the number of speakers and the outline for the service. If you’re delivering the eulogy you’ll want to participate in these decisions or at least be keenly aware of what is expected.
An individual’s faith plays a strong role in their life, but an even stronger role in their passing. As a remembrance of the departed, share the role that their faith played in their life. Without sermonizing – this too is a balance to strike based on the principals – share the comfort afforded the deceased through their faith and acknowledge the natural opportunity a funeral service is for others to consider their own mortality. Perhaps there is an opportunity to learn from the departed.
A funeral service is a time to both mourn the loss and celebrate the life. Humor, as noted, can play a role here but so too can happy stories, celebrations of faith, or even music.
Plan to touch upon multiple phases and components in the life of the departed – childhood, youth, education, marriage, family, work, hobbies and faith are all facets that weave together into the story of our lives. Pull threads from several of these to craft your best tribute.
How to Deliver a Eulogy
When the day of the service arrives, the bulk of your preparation should be complete. You have gathered information and prepared your talk. Perhaps you have not committed the speech to memory word for word, but you are familiar with your outline and anchor points. Now, there are a few last minute tactical steps you can take to finalize your prep.
Read through one more time aloud and practice your tone and tempo. You want to be over prepared to the degree possible.
Wear loose and comfortable clothing. Dress appropriate for the setting, but purposely choose an outfit that is not tight or restrictive. Any discomfort afforded by your clothing will be amplified throughout the event.
Keep a printed copy of your notes handy. Even if you think you have it memorized, have the notes available as a backup. They are there if you need them and they provide confidence if you do not.
Double space and use a large font when printing. You do not want to be squinting to read your notes.
Provide someone with a copy of your notes. Emotions may get the better of you in the moment. That is fine and perfectly understandable. With notes, someone else will be able to step in and share your thoughts, your gift, if you are unable.
Empty your pockets. You do not want nervous hands rattling car keys or spare change. Nor do you want a cell phone interrupting your moment of tribute.
Meanwhile, have both a bottle of water and handkerchief handy. Sweaty palms and a dry throat are common symptoms of nerves. Knowing you can address both can provide an extra measure of readiness.
Take deep breaths. Filling your lungs with air will prevent you from taking shallow gulps of air. Take a deep breath before walking to the lectern and again as you steady yourself to speak. Pause to repeat while speaking either at natural breaks or as you need to regain your composure.
Most importantly, remember why you are presenting the eulogy. Either you were asked or you volunteered and there are clear reasons for either. You and the deceased shared a significant relationship and this is an opportunity to honor that bond. Know that they are proud of you.
We Are Here to Help with you Eulogy writing needs
We hope this is starting to provide a measure of comfortable and readiness as you prepare to write a eulogy. A number of articles and resources are available for you on this site and we hope you will find exactly what you need to ready your preparations.
Thanks for sharing this time with us and please accept our sincere condolences on your loss.
photo: unfrienzied space