It’s an honor being asked to deliver a eulogy. It means that the loved ones of the deceased have faith that you will speak with reverence and remind everyone of all the aspects that made the deceased a unique, beloved person.
This is an opportunity to celebrate someone’s entire life. That said, at a time of grieving, it can be difficult to decide exactly what to say, what stories to share and what those in attendance will respond to. Here are five ideas to help in writing a eulogy that helps celebrate life.
First, what is a eulogy?
A eulogy is a prepared speech about the deceased, generally given in front of the audience at a funeral. There are no hard and fast rules for a eulogy, though it is common to at least make some notes prior to speaking.
How long should a eulogy be at a funeral?
While there is no perfect length for a eulogy, the length is typically determined by how many people will be speaking. Aim for three to five minutes, giving yourself enough time to not be rushed but also to not steal the spotlight from the deceased. If there is one story that exemplifies the life of the deceased, and it’s a lengthy one, that is fine, but try and keep it lively.
Share stories from family members and friends
There are those who hate speaking in front of public. (It still tops death as the number one fear many possess.) But, those who are too upset or shy to speak may appreciate their memories being part of the eulogy – or they may have the best stories or insight about the deceased. Be respectful and understanding when asking loved ones to share their stories with you. They are grieving, after all.
That said, being able to include thoughts or stories from several of those in attendance will offer more meaning to the speech. Most of us do not do regular public speaking, so when we are asked to talk in front of others, we naturally begin talking about ourselves. While including reminisces and details from others, it will be much easier to avoid making the eulogy about you rather than the deceased.
Q&A with attendees
Like getting stories ahead of time, asking a question of those in attendance will make the eulogy special. You are not going to remember every highlight of the deceased’s life, and by talking to the audience rather than at the audience will help relax everyone.
“Remember that time Uncle Dave caught a fly ball at the Sox game? What did he yell after?”
It’s a good idea to warn those who you plan to call on before you start the eulogy, to make sure they are comfortable with responding even with a few words. No one wants to be put on the spot at a funeral. But, once a couple loved ones begin answering your questions, you might be surprised who else chimes in.
Allow the deceased to speak
We’ve likely all been to a visitation at a funeral home where there is a montage of photos of the deceased playing on a monitor. Your eulogy could take this to the next level. These days, we’ve all been caught on video via a cell phone. With easy-to-use and free video editing applications, you could assemble a short, memorable compilation of clips of the deceased. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but imagine how many words a clip of Grandma singing karaoke would be worth?
Use humor but know your audience
You should feel free to speak frankly and in your own style during a eulogy, but don’t forget to consider who will be listening. Inside jokes may only resonate with a few, and controversial or embarrassing stories about the deceased may not go over well.
Do what comes naturally
You can cry. You can laugh. You can address the deceased directly. There’s really no “wrong” way to give a eulogy, but there are a couple things to remember from the outset. One, write it down. At the very least, have your talking points on note cards. If you are likely to get a little choked up or tongue-tied, you can have the entire piece written out.
Finally, but firstly, introduce yourself and your relationship to the deceased. This will get everyone comfortable and ready to listen.