If you are considering volunteering to write a eulogy for a deceased loved one, you may be wondering what makes for a great eulogy, and where to begin. The task often arrives suddenly, and during a time when we are struggling with feelings of stress and grief. Aside from remembering to introduce yourself, here are some additional tips and proper etiquette for writing and delivering a wonderful eulogy.
1. Tell happy stories
A eulogy is more than just a list of great qualities of the deceased, and reasons you loved them. It’s also a chance to remember and share stories of their life with friends and family members. If you can’t remember the details of a story, or you aren’t sure you have it quite right, you can always ask family members and close friends to help you out. Ask them to send you some of their memories and stories of your loved one, and use them to add to what you already have. Just be sure to avoid the negative stories, unless you can spin them with a positive outcome or message.
2. Keep it to a reasonable length
A reasonable length can be whatever is comfortable for you. A page or two will likely be enough to fit some good stories in, but of course it all depends on how close you were with the person, how many stories you have to tell, and how comfortable you are with public speaking. There is no specific time limit on a eulogy, but keep in mind that this is just one part of the service or gathering. Shorter is usually better for everyone.
3. Have someone look it over for you
Even if you consider yourself to be a good writer or speaker, it still may be a good idea to have someone look it over – someone who knew the deceased well – before the service. Not only can they make sure the text holds together and follows a coherent path, but they can also add to your stories, or advise you on what stories to keep vs. omit. It also never hurts to get positive feedback and encouragement from a friend or relative, which may bring you comfort while you are delivering it to a room full of people.
4. Keep the audience in mind when writing
When writing a eulogy, it’s important to be careful not to offend anyone who may be in the audience. On the other hand, lighthearted jokes – as long as they seem appropriate – are usually welcome on a somber day. Finding the right balance of what to say and what not to say can be tricky. If in doubt, don’t include it. This is another reason why it’s good to have someone look at your comments before you present them.
5. Practice reading it aloud
Writing something on paper and reading it aloud are two very different things, especially if you are not comfortable with public speaking. Make sure you can read all the potentially tongue-twisting words and phrases, or switch them out with things that are easier to say.
6. Start with the lighter stuff
Because you may be exceptionally emotional on the day you deliver the eulogy, it might be good to start with a funny or lighthearted story. Otherwise, you may end up in tears before you reach the end of the first paragraph. (This might happen anyway, and that’s OK.)
7. Speak slowly
You wrote the eulogy, so you know what it says, and you know how you feel about your deceased love one. However, your audience may not know the person the way you do, and they likely want to hear what you have to say. Try to speak slowly and enunciate, so that those gathered can understand what you’re saying, and reflect on the memories you share.
8. Make Eye Contact
This is often easier said than done. When speaking, try to look up at the audience occasionally, if you can. If you can’t bear to look directly at any one person, you can always pick a spot in the audience to look at. No one will know if you are actually looking at someone or not, but having your head up rather than looking down at a piece of paper will provide a better listening experience for your audience.
9. Wear something appropriate for the occasion
There are various expectations for attire depending on the type of service, the religion, the family, etc. Be sure to find out what is considered to be appropriate attire for the service, especially if you will be standing in front of everyone for a period of time.
10. End with a fond memory and positive outlook
When writing the eulogy, you may come to a point where you feel you’ve said everything you want to say, and are looking to wrap it up. The ending is a great time to either repeat a favorite memory you’ve already shared, or to add one final memory to leave your audience with. It is also an opportunity for you to add some words of encouragement to those who are grieving over the loss of your loved one.
There’s really no right or wrong way to write a eulogy, but it’s certainly not an easy thing to do. If you’re tasked with writing a eulogy for a loved one, consider it an honor, and try to think of it as part of the process of saying goodbye.