A eulogy is a funeral speech prepared and given by someone close to the deceased, about their life, their character and their achievements. The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “a speech, piece of writing, poem, etc. containing great praise…”.
In essence, a eulogy is a celebration of someone’s life. It’s a chance for everyone at the funeral to reflect, remember and even learn something new about the person they have all gathered together to pay their respects to.
There’s a great quote by Doctor Seuss; “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” A eulogy is one of the first times after someone passes that all of these great memories can be retold; the comfort this can bring, and the connections it makes between people in the room, is huge.
While it’s an honour to be asked to give a eulogy at someone’s funeral, it can feel daunting and there’s commonly a fear of having to ‘get it right’. Don’t feel pressured into it, or guilty if you decide to say no.
What does a eulogy look like?
Fortunately, there are no real set rules. Just like every life is unique, so is every eulogy. You don’t need to be an amazing writer – a eulogy should come from the heart.
A eulogy can be structured in various ways. It could be:
- Chronologically – in date order from where they were born, their school life, working life and retirement
- By characteristics – for instance, you may have four or five characteristics of the person that you wish to talk through with related anecdotes
- In a certain theme – for example, if the person was a dedicated musician, the eulogy might focus around this and how it impacted the different areas of their life
It’s important to think about both your audience and the deceased. How will the audience feel and what will they want to hear? When was the deceased at their happiest and when did they face their biggest challenges – what would they want people to remember?
However you decide to approach it, you want to create a picture in people’s minds during the eulogy, just like how Kevin Whately talks about fellow actor John Thaw after he passed away; “In between takes, he was like an Irish storyteller in a bar – he wouldn’t tell jokes, just stories and you would find yourself rolling around and crying with laughter.”
How to start writing a eulogy
Think about the type of person they were, the times you spent together and what tone your eulogy will take.
- Do your research – talk to the family and other close friends for stories, or any details of the person’s life that you are not sure of.
- Write down the key points of their life, plus key words that you feel reflected their personality.
- Gather together any anecdotes you want to highlight.
- Once all this is in place, just start writing! Don’t worry about the beginning and end to start with.
- Make sure you start early enough to give time for editing a few drafts and to ask people for feedback.
- Find out who else is speaking at the funeral so that you don’t repeat any considerable chunks of information.
- If you’re still finding it hard to get going, work through a checklist:
- Their birthplace
- Their family
- Their partner
- Any nicknames, quotes, things they’d typically say
- Community or sporting achievements
- Hobbies, clubs or memberships
- Favourite poems, songs or quotes
How to practice reading the eulogy
A eulogy should be around 3-5 minutes long when read aloud; but certainly no more than 10. A 5 minute speech is equivalent to around 750 words, so about the same length as this blog post.
Read it out loud and practise a few times. Performing a eulogy is public speaking, something which plenty of people struggle with, so it’s ok for it not to be perfect.
Things can sound very different when you read them aloud, compared to in your head, so change anything that sounds awkward or not right when you practise. If you can, write the main points on a card and work off of that, so that you’re not reliant on reading it word for word.
On the day, stand still and calm while you speak; it’s easy to fidget when we’re nervous! Don’t worry about emotion – if you feel overwhelmed at any point, just give yourself some time and then continue. Above all, try and speak slowly. People want to hear what you have to say.
Remember, a eulogy should come from the heart, so don’t get too worried about the finer details.
“Eulogies never talk about what was on your resume. Be remembered for how you made people feel and your passions”.
Arianna Huffington, Founder of Huffington Post.