Writing and delivering a eulogy is a loving, important gesture that merits your time and attention over the next day or two. Though the task may seem daunting right now, you’ll find that once you start jotting down ideas, your eulogy will come together naturally. Afterwards, many who attend the funeral will thank you for your contribution, and your eulogy will be cherished always by the family and friends of the person who died.
Here are some ideas from Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Director of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, to get you started.
Be brave. The thought of writing a speech and presenting it in public makes many people anxious. Set aside your fears for now. You can do this. Focus on the person who died and the gift you will be giving to all who knew and loved him or her.
Think. Before you start writing, go for a long walk or drive and think about the life of the person who died. This will help you collect your thoughts and focus on writing the eulogy.
Brainstorm. Spend half an hour (longer if you want) writing down all the thoughts, ideas and memories that come to you.
Look at photos. Flipping through photo albums may remind you of important qualities and memories of the person who died.
Don’t try to do it all. Your eulogy doesn’t have to cover every aspect of this person’s life. In fact, often the best eulogies are those that focus on the eulogy-giver’s personal thoughts and memories. Do try to acknowledge those who were closest to the person who died as well as important achievements in the person’s life, but don’t feel obligated to create and exhaustive biography.
Ask others to share memories. A good way to include others in the ceremony is to ask them to share thoughts and memories, which you can then incorporate into the eulogy.
Write a draft. Once you’ve brainstormed and collected memories, it’s time to write the first draft. Go somewhere quiet and write it all in one sitting, start to finish. Don’t worry about getting it perfect for now—just get it down on paper.
Let it sit. If time allows, let your eulogy draft sit for a few hours or a day before revising.
Get a second opinion. Have someone else—preferably someone who was close to the person who died—read over your draft. This person can make revision suggestions and help you avoid inadvertently saying something that might offend others.
Polish. Read over your first draft. Look for awkward phrases or stiff wording. Improve the transitions from paragraph to paragraph or thought to thought. Find adjectives and verbs that really capture the essence of the person who died.
Present your eulogy with love. Now you need to present your eulogy. You may well feel nervous, but if you can keep your focus on the person who died instead of your own fears, you’ll loosen up. If you break down as your talking, that’s OK. Everyone will understand. Just stop a few seconds, collect yourself and continue.
Speak up. It’s very important that you speak clearly and loudly so that everyone can hear you.
A Word of Caution: This is not a time to bring up painful or difficult memories but to emphasize the good we can find in someone. You may privately mourn some of what you wished could have been different about this person, or your unique relationship with him or her; however, the public eulogy is not the time to do that.
This article is a contribution of Dr. Alan Wolfelt, who has been recognized as one of North America’s leading death educators and grief counselors. His books have sold more than a million copies worldwide and have been translated into many languages. Well respected for his inspiring teaching ability, Dr. Wolfelt is a past recipient of the Association for Death Education Death Educator Award. He is known around the world for his compassionate messages of hope and healing as well as his companioning philosophy of grief care.