How To Write a Eulogy
by Frank Kermit
One of the best speeches I ever gave in my life, was my father's eulogy.
I wrote it in a way with the specific goals to not only talk about who my
father was, but it was also designed to bring a measure of peace and
healing to the many people drowning in grief at the funeral.
I made a list of goals that I wanted to achieve with that eulogy, and
based on the reactions of the various attendees, I seemed to have
achieved that goal.
If you are about to give a eulogy, and are nervous because you want
to do a good job, but are not sure about what you should say, and if
talking directly from your heart, is not something that comes easy
for you, then this article was written with you in mind.
Once you write it and give the eulogy, do contact me and let me know
how things turned out for you. I would love to hear from you.
25 Steps The Best Eulogy
1-You can mention your own grief, but do not focus on it.
My main point of grief writing my dad's eulogy is that he died
before my own children were born, and that was my biggest regret.
That my own children would never get the chance to meet him.
I mentioned it once in the eulogy. But that was it. I did not stick with
that theme throughout the speech. Never use a eulogy in a way,
that it could be mistaken for seeking out pity.
My father taught himself to read and write in three languages.
So I made sure to give the eulogy in more than one language.
If the person you are giving the eulogy for was also multilingual,
do your best to include a sample of each language into your eulogy.
3-Focus on the good (How did that person make a difference)
What is the legacy that the person left behind?
What accomplishments was that person most proud of?
What did that person want to be remember for?
These are all good points to bring up during a eulogy.
4-Everyone grieves differently
It is important for you as a eulogist to remind all attendees to have
compassion for one another. One person may deal with grief by
wanting to be left alone and not speak to others for a while.
Other people may need to cry out loud. The most important thing
to remind everyone is that we all will grieve differently and to support
each other with acceptance of the different ways we cope with loss.
Have water handy in case your voice dries out. Have a handkerchief
or tissues to dry your eyes and blow your nose. Have someone close
to you to pat your back or hold your hand if you think you might need it.
At one point during my speech, my eyes were so watery, I had blurred
vision and no tissues. Using the sleeve of my shirt, I washed away
the tears and calmed my breathing down in order to continue.
6-Don’t dwell on that persons hardships, just use them as time markers
We all have hardships, but most people want to be remembered for more
than just the hardships they endured. They want to be remembered for
how they lived, not for all the bad stuff that happened to them.
My father lost an eye during an accident when he was six years old.
I mentioned it only to point out he had to grow up very fast after that.
But I never talked about it again in the speech. I could have mentioned
all the prejudice he faced in his life because of it. But I am sure my
father would want to be remembered for being a hard worker, teaching
himself how to read and write 3 languages, and of his devotion to
his children's education and not be remembered for the bad stuff that
happened to him.
7-What you talk about at the wake
Before you give the eulogy, go around to the people at the wake, or
those that reach out to you with condolence. Ask each person what
they noticed most about the person BUT do not tell them you are
seeking info for the eulogy. This will give you an idea of what words to
use, and maybe even a story to share, about how others viewed the
person you are talking about.
Just before the funeral, my brother, sister and I were speaking, and
they mentioned to me how much my father liked a good discussion.
It was something that wasn't in my original speech, so I jotted it down
just before it was time to deliver the eulogy.
8-Quote the person in that persons voice (imitate voice and gestures)
Quoting the person is always a good idea. However, if you have
the ability to quote that person, using a similar sounding voice or accent
as the person, then use it. It helps to release some of the tension
people are feeling when the eulogy is given.
9-Name drop as many people as you can, who attend the funeral
When talking about stories where naming people is appropriate,
do make the effort to name as many people as you can, that you know
are in attendance at the funeral. It makes people feel that are very much
a part of the process of showing respect for the person that has died.
If you can, do mention the names of the people that traveled long
distances, just to attend and pay their respects.
10-Say Thank You to all care givers.
If long sickness was involved, comment on the people who took care
of the person and be sure to thank them all by name. When people
are suffering from grief, it is very easy for anyone to feel unappreciated
and taken for granted. These negative feelings could lead to bad
decisions that could permanently wedge relationships in the future.
During the last 8 weeks of my father's life, he was tended to by my aunt
(his sister), my uncle (his brother), my brother, my sister and my mother.
I made it a point to talk about each person for a few minutes, mentioned
their good qualities, and anything my father may have mentioned about
his love and respect for them. It brought a lot of peace to them.
11-Use the shortest phrase you can to describe the person
Come up with an overall theme that encompasses everything
the person was. It will be that phrase that people will remember when
they leave the funeral.
When trying to sum up my father in as few words as possible, I believe
the term "silent devotion" encompasses everything he was to us. I used
that phrase throughout the speech. I explained why it was appropriate
because my father was not an outwardly expressive person (silent), but
he showed his family his love with his (devotion) providing for them.
To this day, some of his old neighbours still remark how they remember
that eulogy for this reason.
12-The use of audio-visual materials
Depending on where you conduct the eulogy, you will have to keep in
mind that some places do not allow for audio-visual materials. Those
that do allow for it, may not be equipped with the technology.
There is a story of one particular person who was giving the eulogy
of her father, and wanted to play a song that was one of her father's
favorite. However, the religious authority that presided over the funeral,
would not allow it because it was a not a "religious song". The young
girl then simply read the lyrics of the song as part of her eulogy.
If using audio-visual material is important in your eulogy, please make
sure you will not have any unpleasant surprises.
13-If the person knew it was coming, mention it
In all the years I have been coaching, I have learned that if it is mentioned
in a eulogy that the person knew that death was coming soon, it actually
brings peace to some of the people who are coping with loss.
It helps people feel that, since the person knew, the person likely got to
do and say things before it was too late. It really seems to help people
cope with the loss. So if this applies to the person you are speaking about
please mention it.
14-Dreams…if you’d had a dream of person, mention it
The night after my father died, I had a dream where he came to
speak to me to say goodbye and to tell me I should go and start a family
of my own. I have no idea if it was just a dream, or if it was actually him
trying to communicate with me after his death. I honestly do not know
what to believe. Turns out, it does not matter what I believe anyways.
When I told this story at his eulogy, it amazed me how much it was a
comfort to others that there was even this remote possibility that my
father could still communicate with the people left behind.
15-Give mourners a job
Ask all mourners to celebrate the life of the person who has died,
but give mourners something SPECIFIC they are suppose to do.
I told everyone that they should pick one memory of my father, and
that favorite memory could be a discussion they had with him, or
something he did for them, and to talk about that favorite memory
to everyone who also knew him. By giving mourners a job, you
give them an ability to further help them deal with the loss.
16-End off with saying something to the person directly
When you end the eulogy, this is where you can say something direct
to the person. It could be a simple, "I love you", or "I will miss you" or
"good bye". It might also be something very personal between you
and the person. My father used to tell me that I would never admit he
was right about anything. So one of the last things I would say at the
eulogy would be, "Hey dad...you were right"
17-They will ALL forgive you
Keep in mind that when you are giving the speech,
as long as you do it from an honest place,
people will forgive you if you cry or break down.
I broke down in the middle of my speech and needed a couple of
minutes to compose myself again in order to continue.
It is more than forgivable even the circumstances.
18-Forget you are talking to a crowd of people
When you give your speech, talk as if you are speaking directly to the
person's closet contacts. If that does not work well enough for you
then talk to the person that you mention in your speech, as if you are
practicing reading their eulogy to him or her.
19-A eulogy is for the people still left, not the one who died.
As contrary as this may sound, when you write and recite the eulogy,
keep in mind that the purpose is MORE to give those still alive some
form of peace and healing, and LESS to do with actually saying something
to the person that has died.
20-A eulogy is designed to bring people together.
Deaths can break up the family, and a eulogy MUST help reunite them
This is why you thank people in the eulogy, and remind them to show
compassion to one another. Mourning can sometimes bring out the
worst in people. The eulogy is there to help bring out the best in people.
No matter how justified it may feel at the moment, never use a eulogy
to bring negative attention to anyone.
21-Why people remember the eulogy
Grievers do NOT remember much of the entire week of death,
funeral home, or the burial…..EVERYONE remembers the eulogy.
It is one of the elements of the mourning phase that speaks directly
to people, and is easier for people to remember, because the other
memories of the death of a loved one, could be too much for many
to handle. A eulogy does not get blocked out, because it brings
comfort and closure.
22-When talking about God
Unless the person was a particularly devote religious person,
do not mention god or religion.
If that person believed, then mention their faith.
But if that person did not beleive, do not mention god or faith.
Those that believe will believe, and those that don’t will not.
23-List what made the person happy in life
Name three things in that persons life that made that person
exceptionally happy. This will help mourners remember the person
as being happy. It is a good image and memory for mourners to
hold on to, especially at such a time of great sadness and stress.
A couple of the things I mentioned that my gave my father the
greatest happiness were his pet dog, his cottage in the country area,
and watching his family grow. People that knew him were reminded
if images of his being happy in life.
24-The importance of a continuation
A preacher gave me this great bit of advice. When people struggle
with the idea of a person's life line coming to an end, help re-direct
their thoughts that line is not a linear line with a beginning and an end.
Life is a circle. The person did not reach the end of the line; the person
completed the cycle of their circle of life.
As circles are continues in their nature, it is easier for mourners,
to envision a form of continuation as a circle and the end of one cycle
and the start of another cycle circle, then to think about the line
having ended abruptly
25-The story of passing the love forward.
In the eulogy I gave for my father, I talked about how my grandmother
always said that because I was born in the same month as the death
of her brother, that she believed that all the love she had for her brother
should be re-directed to me. She said that when someone dies,
it is a sign that the person in the family was was born closest to that
time should now be a magnet for the affection that person used to get.
So I told people that the baby born closest to my fathers death
(a third cousin who lived in the area) should be the receiver of all the
love that my father got, and to give that child a little extra attention.
The idea is to help mourners to a put a focus to love the children that
need their attention, instead of getting lost in their own selves with grief.