An Expert’s Guide to Writing and Delivering a Funeral Eulogy
It can be a great honor to be asked to deliver a eulogy at a funeral for a family member, friend, or acquaintance. It is one of the last gifts you can give and can be a beautiful and meaningful way to express your thoughts and feelings about the person who passed. However, unless you are a seasoned public speaker and speechwriter, drafting and delivering a eulogy can seem like an overwhelming task. This process can be even more challenging since there are typically only a few days to prepare and you are also most likely dealing with your own grief.
While it’s common to be anxious about the eulogy, with some planning and practice you can write and deliver a message that makes for a beautiful tribute.
Below you will find some helpful tips for writing and delivering funeral eulogies.
What to Include in a Eulogy
First, remember the reason for your eulogy. You are honoring the person who passed and acknowledging their life, its importance, and some of the memories shared. Keep this in mind as you prepare the eulogy, as it will help you write it with honesty, respect, and love.
With the eulogy you will be making a tribute of a beautiful life lived in a short amount of time. In general, be sure to include the following:
- Highlight accomplishments and significant life events
- Describe what the person was like
- Touch on special moments and memories that give insight into who the person was and invokes emotion
As you prepare the eulogy, you are most likely also dealing with your personal grief so the writing process can be quite emotional. Always take deep breaths and breaks when needed and come back to preparing the eulogy when the time feels right.
Tips for Writing Eulogies
- Talk with Family and Friends: Visit with family and friends by phone or in person to hear their stories and memories of the person who passed. Ask questions and take notes. From these stories, you will most likely be able to get a better picture of the person from different perspectives then they way you knew him or her. This exercise can help inspire a starting point to writing a good eulogy.
- Take a pad of paper and write down as many stories and memories you can think of (be sure to include ones from family and friends as well). Also note things that were important to the person who passed, including how they liked to spend their time, any hobbies or special interests, and also favorites (cars, food, music, activities, etc.). This is an exercise to simply get all ideas out on paper so be sure to include as much as you can.
- Create a Theme: Think about how the anecdotes could fit together while keeping the personality of the person who passed in mind. By doing this a number of themes may begin to come to mind - you can even include multiple themes in one eulogy (which is quite common). For example, you might start out with a more series tone talking about some of the person’s passions then move into some more humorous memories. Or, you may decide to start the eulogy by asking a question or reflecting on a memory that you believe sums up the life of the person. This theme that you decide upon will help bring the entire eulogy together.
- Draft an Outline: Drafting an outline can help you figure out what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it. Common ways to organize a eulogy is by chronological order (or reverse chronological order), by topic, or by the theme. For example, there may be a quote, scripture, poem, or song lyric that helps sum up the person’s life.
- Begin Writing: Now that you’ve completed your outline (either on paper or in your head) you’re ready to begin writing. Remember, the important thing to do is to get started knowing it’s just a draft and doesn’t have to be perfect. Focus on keeping it more conversational and something that is written the way you would naturally speak.
- Edit & Revise: With the draft completed, take a break then go back and read it out loud. This is a good exercise as it helps give you an idea of how it will sound and flow. Add, delete, and rearrange words and sentences as needed during this process. Keep re-reading out loud and editing until you have a version that you are satisfied with.
- Share and Receive Feedback: Send a copy of the eulogy to friends or family (or give it verbally over the phone or in person) to get their feedback. Take their suggestions into account and edit as needed.
- Finalize & Practice: Go over the final version out loud and imagine you’re doing it in front of a group of people. This will help you be sure you’re doing it in the right tone and the length is appropriate. Most eulogies last 10 to 15 minutes, however, there are also many that are shorter or even longer. If you are unsure how long yours should be, it’s a good idea to discuss with the person making the funeral arrangements.
Additional Helpful Tips for Eulogy Writing
- Discuss how the deceased affected your own life in a positive way
- Be honest about your feelings.
- Include a few personal stories
- View it as a personal conversation with friends and family
"The Do Nots"
- Focus on how hard it can be to deliver the eulogy - don't worry, the people attending the funeral will be understanding if you become emotional
- Use this time to settle an old score
- Think it has to be perfect - just speak from the heart
How to Deliver the Eulogy
You’ve done a lot of preparation for the eulogy. Now comes the most important part - delivering it. Delivering the eulogy may also be the part of this process can seem overwhelming for some. Most likely you’re not the most polished professional speaker and, on top of that, you're dealing your own grief related to the person who passed.
Below we’ve provided some helpful tips to make delivering the eulogy easier.
- Practice: The more you practice delivering the eulogy, the better and more comfortable you’ll be. It is helpful to practice in front of a mirror to see your posture and delivery and, if possible, practice in front of others. By doing this, you can fine tune some of the parts of the eulogy that look good on paper but may not flow the same way when spoken. In addition, if the eulogy will be done outdoors at a burial or cremation memorial (such as a tree burial or scattering), practice a few times outside to get better feel of how you sound.
- Relax: Of course, this is easier said than done. Take steps before the funeral that include familiarizing yourself with the room (or outdoor area) and where you will be speaking from. Before and during the eulogy have water available and take deep breaths when needed.
- Remember Who Your Audience Is: The audience will be extremely sympathetic and your delivery of the eulogy is a gift to them and they will sincerely appreciate you doing this. Always keep that in mind during practice and when you deliver the eulogy at the funeral.
- Create a Backup Plan: If there’s a chance you may become overwhelmed with emotion and cannot finish the eulogy, enlist a family member or friend to be ready to finish it on your behalf (and provide them with the eulogy in advance so they can have a copy with them). With this in place, it gives many people peace-of-mind that helps them deliver a great eulogy.
Your Emotions During the Eulogy
The passing of a loved one can be a stressful and emotional time. On top of this, having the task of writing and delivering a eulogy at the funeral or memorial can increase your anxiety and stress levels. Remember that your audience will not be shocked if you get emotional during the eulogy, and many expect it. If you begin to get emotional during a certain part of the eulogy, it can be helpful to pause, take a deep breath (or two) and continue on when you can.
Below are some helpful tips for handling emotions while delivering the eulogy:
- Practice: The more you practice the eulogy before the funeral, the more you will be familiar with what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. This can help remove some of the emotion while speaking and help you be more confident in your delivery.
- Avoid Eye Contact: While not something that is recommended for other types of speeches, if you are concerned about maintaining your composure, avoid locking eyes with the audience. Some attendees will react differently to different parts of the eulogy and others will be emotional throughout. By looking them in the eye, this may make you emotional as well. Instead, look above the audience or at the audience as a whole (some people who are near-sighted even choose to remove their glasses while delivering the eulogy).
- Focus on Your Speech: Speak slowly and focus on that while giving the eulogy. If there are parts that may evoke emotion, focusing on speaking slowly can help you not become emotional.
Emotions are common when delivering a eulogy - do not let this deter you from doing it. In addition, always remember your audience. Your audience is a group of family and friends and you’re just having a conversation with them about somebody you all care deeply about.