Three Tips for Writing a Eulogy: Getting Started
by Carrie Phelps & Jaime Hollander
Losing a loved one can be a difficult and painful experience, but it also presents a unique opportunity to honor the deceased’s life in a personal and deeply meaningful way. For many, writing and delivering a eulogy is a powerful way to gain closure while, at the same time, providing comfort to loved ones and commemorating the life and spirit of the departed.
While countless memories, anecdotes, and lessons may bubble to the surface as you begin to write your eulogy, funneling those feelings into compelling remarks can be a challenge. Before getting started, take a breath—remember, everyone attending a funeral has some connection to your loved one and will be open and receptive to any words you choose to deliver.
And, second, remind yourself that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to writing and presenting your eulogy. Short or long, emotional or stoic, humorous or heartfelt—if the words, the stories, and the memories speak to you, then you’ve succeeded in honoring your loved one.
Start Here: Back to Basics
Because crafting a eulogy is laden with deep, sometimes painful emotions, starting with a clear-cut and less charged first step can be helpful. Many eulogies include a brief bio or history of the deceased, including family connections, professional and personal achievements, and other characteristics or attributes, such as a beloved hometown or favorite pastime. Often collecting and organizing these facts can help fuel the evolution of your eulogy. Once in place, they’ll be a good foundation for your remarks and, more importantly, will give the momentum to push through the more personal steps that follow.
Next Step: Let Your Mind Wander
Chances are your loved one’s death conjured up many memories, stories, and lessons from the past. You may have some favorites that you’ve recounted over and over in recent years, but many special moments may not be so top-of-mind. Give yourself license to reflect, remember and let your mind wander through your shared history. Jot down notes as things spring to mind and, for now, don’t worry about connecting the dots. Just take the time to delve into your journey together and see where it takes you.
Writing Your Eulogy: Find Common Threads
Now that you’ve got your key facts and personal anecdotes in place, many find it valuable to look for a common thread or theme in the content—and that’s often easier than it sounds. People have strong character traits that typically inform much of what they do throughout their lives. Maybe this person was a relentless thrill-seeker with unbridled energy and a limitless imagination. Maybe she pushed you and everyone around her to see the possibilities in themselves. Or maybe he gave selflessly and effortlessly, helping elevate others whenever and however he could.
Likely you’ve got an example like these about your loved one—and, likely, much of his/her life history as well as the memories and stories that you’ve cultivated support this overarching personality trait or passion. After a brief life history, delve into this theme or thread.
Chances are everyone in the room will immediately connect with what you’re saying, and think of their own similar experiences with the departed. Weave in your personal stories and memories to bring your theme to life in a vibrant, relatable way—funeral attendees will appreciate your positive insights and experiences and, in turn, will likely find themselves reflecting on their own.
Have a Conversation
Many eulogies are written as though the speaker were delivering it directly to the deceased. Others appeal directly to attendees who, likely, have similar memories and experiences with the departed. And some, even, are presented like more traditional remarks, with a clear beginning, middle and end point.
No matter how you choose to structure your eulogy, focus on making it a conversation first—and, likely, the rest will flow very easily from there. Present your history and stories in a direct, simple and conversational tone so attendees can quickly process and connect—they, too, are emotional and unsure, and a eulogy can be a much-needed boost respite during this trying time. A more conversational speech makes everyone feel included—like they, too, are part of the back and forth.
Practice: And Bring an Extra Copy
Once complete, be sure to practice your eulogy ahead of time. You may even want to recite your remarks in front of a mirror or film them on your smartphone to watch later. Pace yourself, take breaths and speak slowly and clearly. If you’re going to be in a large space like a church, synagogue or funeral home be sure to practice projecting so everyone can hear your poignant words.
After your eulogy is finalized and rehearsed, be sure to pack a printed copy or two, even if you’ve memorized it or plan to read off of your smartphone. Emotions can run very high during a funeral and even the most composed, practiced speaker may find himself or herself feeling anxious, unsure or upset. Having a printed copy on hand will ensure you have something to immediately refer back to and, even, read from directly if need be. No one at a funeral will ever fault a speaker for being less than perfect—in fact, emotions are overwhelmingly warranted and welcomed.
No matter what you ultimately choose to say or how you choose to say it, writing and delivering a eulogy is a powerful way to honor a life well lived while helping you and those around you find the closure they need during this trying time. Let the writing process be a meaningful, peaceful and cathartic experience for you that draws out the emotions you’re feeling and allows you to reflect on the positive, happy and life-altering memories you shared with your loved one.