When someone you love passes away, it’s important to take time to process the grief. Sometimes that’s hard to do, between all the funeral preparations and estate discussions with family members that need to take place.
Writing is one helpful way of contemplating the pain and the loss. Another way that family and friends process the death of a loved one is through ceremonies, where a few people deliver a eulogy in honor of the deceased.
What Is a Eulogy?
A eulogy is a speech that honors the life of someone who has passed away. It’s usually delivered during the funeral or at a memorial service.
It’s also a way of saying goodbye to that person, because the person giving the eulogy expresses feelings and experiences shared with the deceased, and everyone listening can remember and reflect on their relationship with the deceased, too,
Although a memorial service and a funeral are typically solemn events, some people sharing eulogies make an attempt at sharing anecdotes. The humor in the stories serves to paint a vivid picture of the life of the deceased friend or family member, albeit in a bittersweet tone.
Who Traditionally Does the Eulogy?
When a person passes away, the family member who is closest to him gets to decide who will deliver the eulogy. If the deceased was married, that would be his or her spouse. If not, a parent, a sibling, or their son or daughter makes the call.
These people would generally know the deceased best, but may not be in a good emotional state to deliver the eulogy themselves. Instead, they typically ask other people closest to the deceased to give the eulogy.
The family might come together to deliberate on who would be the best choice to give the eulogy. They might choose another family member, a close friend, or sometimes even a colleague.
Other times, they might ask for volunteers among the closest family members, friends, or officemates. More than one person can also deliver the eulogy, with several close friends or relatives taking a few minutes to speak.
If you are tasked with giving the eulogy of someone you love, you may have mixed emotions: first of all, you may still be processing your own grief.
You may also feel overwhelmed, especially if you have other responsibilities relating to the funeral. You may feel nervous or pressured to give the best speech possible to do justice to the deceased.
While professional eulogy-writing services have become more common these days, you can still take a shot at writing your own eulogy with the following tips.
How to Write a Eulogy
Writing a eulogy may be challenging, but you can channel those emotions into writing something powerful. Here are some basic steps to get you started:
1. Decide what kind of eulogy you want to write.
The “feel” of the eulogy may depend on several factors. For example, you might want it to reflect the personality of the deceased, or your own personality. The demographic mix of the audience can also affect the stories you choose to share.
Taking these factors into account, the two most common formats for a eulogy are:
- Biography style: For this more formal style of eulogy, you will pick highlights from the person’s life and tell them in chronological order. These highlights might include:
- Schools attended and awards received
- Career achievements
- War or military service
- Involvement in clubs or community service
- Hobbies or special talents
- Travel experiences
- Special sayings or quotes
- Personal stories format: This style is more conversational, consisting of several stories of personal encounters and special memories. The eulogy may include the details above, but the emphasis is more on personal experiences.
2. Gather information.
First, you will need to collect some biographical information, such as birthdays or other memorable dates. Then, based on which type of eulogy you want to write, you need to find corresponding details.
For a biographical eulogy, you will likely need a timeline and a chronological list of the person’s life. You can collect this information from different people, such as schools, workplaces, family members, or childhood friends.
For a eulogy based on personal anecdotes, you will need a few stories: this may include your own experiences with the deceased, as well as others’ experiences with them. Write down some of your favorite memories, including how you felt about them. Later, you will pick the best ones to use in your eulogy.
Some eulogies also include photos on a slideshow presentation. If you would like to use this when you deliver your eulogy, look through old photo albums and find the best photos to use for your presentation, and ask the deceased’s other friends and loved ones if they have any photos they’d like to share.
3. Write the speech.
Once you have all your necessary information in place, you can start to write your piece. Use the estimated 500 to 1000 words as a guide for staying within the recommended time limit. But remember, the most important thing is to write from the heart.
If you had written some favorite memories in the previous step, at this stage, pick the most relevant ones. Then put them into their appropriate place in the eulogy. A good outline to use would be:
- Begin with an introduction
- Describe the life of the deceased
- Highlight their contributions to society
- Share personal stories
- Close with a farewell
4. Practice reading it out loud and time yourself.
Make sure you practice reading your eulogy out loud. Time yourself so you’ll know whether you need to cut out some parts, or if you still have room to add another story. This is also your time to polish up your grammar and writing skills!
Remember to practice speaking with feelings—speaking in a monotone is a pitfall you want to avoid. If you want to make sure you don’t get too emotional, bring a bottle of water with you and practice breathing exercises to relax before you start speaking.
Lastly, don’t worry about people’s opinions. As long as you poured your heart into your eulogy and aimed to honor your deceased loved one, that is what matters most.
What Is a Eulogy Example?
A eulogy usually begins with an introduction of who you are and your relationship to the deceased. Then you can proceed with describing their life, before closing with a goodbye message.
Here are some examples of a eulogy:
(Note: *Names changed to protect privacy)
Example #1. Shared by the brother of a young adult who passed away after a long bout with cancer
Good evening, everyone. My name is Roy*, and we are gathered here tonight to commemorate the life of my beloved sister Beth*.
We are deeply saddened that she finally succumbed to her cancer. She was only twenty-nine years old! But we are also thankful that she can now rest in peace—no more pain. I wasn’t here when she had her last seizure and took her last breath. My brother-in-law called me. It’s surreal. I still can’t believe she’s gone sometimes.
I remember when I was a little boy, and the other kids bullied me. It was my sister Beth who came to my rescue. Another time, we had a reading contest in school. The way it worked was that everyone had to count the time they spent reading. Because I couldn’t read that well yet, Beth would help me by reading with me.
So now… she’s gone. It still hurts. But Beth, wherever you are, know that we love you and we’ll never forget you.
In this example, the written piece is relatively short, but the speaker elaborated spontaneously on the story of his having been bullied and how his sister helped him with the reading contest.
Example #2. Shared by the daughter of a retired policeman
Good evening. My name is Leslie, and I’m the second daughter of Col. Selton. Thank you all for coming to celebrate the life of my beloved father, who passed away last week.
Papa is a strong man. He would always encourage us to do our best in everything we undertook. He loves cooking, and my brother and sisters and I always love it when he cooks for us.
I remember when I was a kid, Papa would take me to the police office and I loved spending the night there—I would sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor while he did his shift. During his off days, he would also take me to town for a snack and to buy some toys. He would do this individually for each of his children. He was very intentional at spending time with us.
He was the one who encouraged me to play volleyball, and I got a scholarship playing volleyball at a private high school, and later on to college. He was always at all my games. He was my number one fan.
He was also the one who taught me how to play the guitar. And now I’m part of our church music team, where I play the guitar and sing.
I’m sad that I didn’t always show him how much he meant to me. In fact, many times we would get into arguments and disagreements. But I’m thankful that just before he passed, when he couldn’t speak anymore, we were able to have a heart-to-heart talk, just the two of us. I told him I was sorry for all the times I’d wronged him. And I told him I was proud to have him as my father.
We will all miss Papa so much, but I’m glad to say his life was not wasted.
Example #3. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Eulogy Delivered by Robert F. Kennedy
Below is an example of a famous eulogy, that of Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered by Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
How Long Should a Eulogy Be at a Funeral?
A eulogy should generally be between 3–5 minutes long. Most ceremonies keep it at a maximum of 10 minutes.
However, some speakers may get long-winded and exceed 10 minutes, and this usually happens when the speaker did not write down what he planned to say.
Sometimes, the speaker might suddenly remember one story after another. Remember, though, that making a eulogy longer than 10 minutes runs the risk of making your listeners bored or uncomfortable.
How many words should you target to write then? It depends on how fast you speak. On average, 500 to 1000 written words may be delivered anywhere between three and a half minutes to about seven and a half minutes.
Another thing to take into account is whether you expect to be emotional halfway through your speech. If you feel you will likely have trouble speaking with your regular speed, it may be a good idea to write the speech to go intentionally less than the allocated time.
That way, even if you stop at some points, you still have enough time to finish your material.
What Should You Not Say in a Eulogy?
In the spirit of honoring the deceased, there are certain things that are better left unsaid in a eulogy. This may include:
- Minimizing the loss: Respect that each person may have a different perspective of the death. Minimizing the loss may offend some of the people closest to the deceased.
- Inappropriate jokes: Humor is OK for lightening the mood, but make sure the jokes you add in your eulogy are in good taste. An inside joke that only a few people in the room are privy to is also not a good fit for the occasion.
- Political comments/jokes: Even if you think everyone in the audience is on the same page, a funeral is not the place for talking politics or making political jokes or comments.
- Complaints about certain habits or behavior of the deceased: Remember that the eulogy is designed to honor the life of the deceased. While it’s all right to show some weaknesses along with his strengths, make sure you don’t end up venting about some unforgiven issue.
- Financial problems of the deceased or his family members: Money issues are private matters that are better discussed only with close family members.
- Details of family feuds: This is not the time to unveil skeletons in the closet. Respect the presence of different family members by not alluding to uncomfortable feuds.
Writing a Eulogy
Now that you’ve started processing your emotions by writing a eulogy, make sure you continue the grieving process.
Find friends who can offer you support through this difficult time. Remember, it’s very normal to feel extreme sorrow after the loss of a person dear to you.
If you find yourself feeling depressed, read some books about depression and be sure to get professional help.
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