Preparing a Eulogy

Giving a meaningful, moving eulogy can be a nerve-wracking situation for even the most accomplished public speaker, but it doesn't have to be.  It certainly is a challenge to summarize a life, in a few short minutes, with just the right measures of sorrow and celebration, dignity and humour, but with thoughtfulness, planning and a little practice you can do it.

You should know that writing and delivering a eulogy is a therapeutic tool to help deal with your grief and always remember that being chosen to do so is an honour and it should be approached in that way.  Here are some tips to help you write and deliver an eloquent and memorable eulogy.

  • Gather information.  If you've been asked to eulogize someone it is reasonable to assume you knew them quite well but it never hurts to get a broader perspective. Talk with family and friends of the deceased and take note of their special memories and impressions.  Explore their education and career, hobbies or special interests, where they grew up and the places they lived and travelled. What were their accomplishments in their eyes as well as others.

  • Organize your thoughts.  Jot down your own thoughts and ideas, is there a central theme you want to emphasize? (eg: 'He was a tremendous friend.' or 'She was the world's greatest grandmother.')  Look for places that other people's stories might help illustrate what you want to say.  Create an outline of your comments and organize them into a story that your audience can follow and relate to. Remember that every story should clearly have a beginning, a middle and an end.

  • Write it down.  This is not the time for off-the-cuff remarks, and you should not ad lib a eulogy.  Writing it all down allows you to remember every detail you wanted to include and keeps you on track.  If point-form notes work better for you that is fine but ensure you have enough detail to guide you through your story.  Make sure your final copy is easy to read at a glance.  Print it out in a large font or, if it is hand-written, leave a few spaces between the lines.  Be mindful of the length of your comments; it’s best to keep things on the short side, especially if there are others speaking.

  • Review and Revise.  Your first draft will not be your last.  When you think you are done, sleep on it, and look it over in the morning when your mind is fresh again.  That will be the time to make any necessary revisions.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice.  Read over your eulogy several times in order to become familiar with it.  Practice, out loud, in front of a mirror, read it to your friends or family, and have them give you feedback.  With enough practice you can become comfortable enough with your comments to deliver them without appearing to read word-for-word.

  • Respectful is a must, but it's OK to laugh.  Funerals are typically solemn occasions but there is usually room for some gentle humour in a eulogy.  Fondly remembering lighter times - particularly those that most present  can relate to - is not inappropriate. Always be mindful of those sitting before you. This will be a harder time for some than others and everyone's perspective will be a little different so seek out the stories with universal appeal.  Laughter truly is good medicine particularly when it brings to mind heart-warming memories on a dark day.

  • Don’t be afraid to show emotion.  If the person you are honouring was a close friend or family member, you won't be expected to keep a 'stiff upper lip.' No one will begrudge you a few tears.  However, if you are concerned that you may be overcome by your emotions, it never hurts to have a back-up plan in place. It's OK to ask someone you trust, perhaps someone a little more removed from the situation, to be on stand-by to help you or step in, if necessary. 

  • Have a glass of water as well as tissues handy. Know that when you step to the podium you will feel a little nervous and emotional but remember why you're there. Take your time, speak from the heart, know that you have been given and are giving others a great gift.