How to Deliver a Memorable Eulogy
A final gift
It’s never something you can be completely prepared for, but at some point many of us will called upon to deliver a eulogy for a loved one. While it offers you an opportunity to personally honour and celebrate your loved one's life, a eulogy also provides comfort and closure for other family and friends in attendance.
It’s important to recognize the significance of such a privilege, but you must resist the natural tendency to put undue pressure on yourself. Careful preparation will give you the confidence you need to write and deliver a eulogy that will serve as a fitting final tribute to your loved one.
What’s the right way to write a eulogy?
Because the eulogy reflects the unique personal relationship you had with your loved one, there really is no single “right” way to write it. We can, however, offer a few suggestions here to help you get started.
If you’re not accustomed to public speaking, you’ll likely find it extremely helpful to write out everything you want to say, word-for-word. If you’re comfortable telling stories off the top of your head, a simple list of key points on a card might suffice.
Be sure to use a natural, conversational tone. These days, it’s considered perfectly acceptable to use a little tasteful humour for some much-needed levity, especially if your loved one was known to have a good sense of humour.
Eulogies can vary in length as much as they vary in content. You should aim to keep the eulogy to around five minutes and avoid going beyond seven minutes. You may want to discuss length with the family and funeral director (or whoever is arranging the ceremony).
What should I say?
It’s quite likely there will be some attendees who don’t know you, so you should begin by introducing yourself and indicating your relationship to the deceased.
It’s impossible to sum up an entire life in a few short minutes, so try to focus on a couple of fond personal memories or a favourite story. It might be helpful to talk to other important people in your loved one’s life (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) for ideas.
You may wish to briefly mention your loved one’s key accomplishments and interests, focusing on things of which he or she was particularly proud (military service, volunteer work, etc.) or passionate (favourite sport/team, hobbies, etc.). The key here is to emphasize the most positive aspects of your loved one’s personal character, not to recite a lengthy list of trivial points.
As you near the end of the eulogy, you should briefly summarize your comments and pay a final tribute to your loved one. You may also consider closing with a piece of music, a photo or prayer that held a special meaning for them.
Am I ready to do this?
Once you’re comfortable with what you’ve written, it’s a good idea to share it with someone you trust and who also knew the deceased well – for some constructive feedback.
Be sure to rehearse the eulogy aloud – several times. Doing so will help you address any parts that don’t “sound” right, cause you to stumble over words, or trigger particularly strong emotions (this is not necessarily a bad thing).
Nobody will expect you to fully memorize the eulogy, so print off cue cards or a script in large, easy-to-read text. Having these materials in front of you will help you stay on track and avoid missing any key points; this is especially important in such an emotional situation.
Speak to your funeral director or event coordinator to determine where you'll be delivering the eulogy (at a podium, standalone microphone, etc.) and also get tips on how to position and speak into the microphone to sound best and avoid feedback. Ask for a beverage to be placed on the podium (if used) in case you need to take a break and refresh yourself.
Most of us get butterflies before speaking in front of a large group of people, and it can be particularly challenging while you and your audience are grieving. Take things slowly – people often speak too quickly or softly when they’re nervous. Remember to breathe, and don’t be afraid to take a moment to compose yourself if you get overly emotional… it's okay to get emotional! Guests would much rather see you express genuine emotion in your tribute than endure one delivered in a detached, indifferent manner.
Remember to connect with those in attendance by making eye contact with people in various parts of the room. They’re surely feeling grief too, and they’ll appreciate your efforts to acknowledge them as you share kind words about their loved one.
You may feel it fitting to conclude the eulogy with a final regard to the deceased, perhaps while placing a loving hand on their casket, urn or photo. Just do what feels right to you.
After the eulogy
If you deliver the eulogy from a full script, you should consider making copies available for friends and family, so they may continue to take comfort in your touching tribute to their loved one.
The healing begins
We hope the experience of delivering a eulogy for your loved one brings you some comfort – not only by offering the opportunity for a final farewell – but also in knowing that your heartfelt gift is doing the same for family and friends.