Preparation for Writing a Eulogy
In order to create an inspirational eulogy, preparation is critical. You need to reflect and decide on the tone of the memorial speech, research the life of the deceased (even if you knew them well), and make detailed notes, which you will later use for writing the eulogy.
Deciding on the tone: One of the first things you should consider is the objective or purpose of your funeral messages. This makes it easier to choose focus points and stories that support it. Of course, the tone should be solemn, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t include some humorous stories. Indeed, your role is not only to share memories of the deceased, but to celebrate their life and all they accomplished. Think about what your audience would appreciate, and what the deceased would think about the tone. Make sure that any humor you use is both tasteful and relevant. You may have specific preferences regarding the tone, and ultimately the choice is yours, but it’s important for you to realize, that you are delivering the funeral speech for the benefit of all the mourners.
Research: Even if you knew the deceased intimately, you’ll still need to do some research into their life. Spend some time talking to the friends and family of the departed. Don’t hesitate to tell them the reason you want to talk to them, or to make notes during these informal interviews. You can talk to them in person, on the telephone or Skype or exchange emails. Find out about the persons beliefs, career, passions, interests, and humanitarian accomplishments, as well as biographical facts such as their birth date and place and surviving relatives.
Read: Read some eulogies or look at eulogy templates, in order to get a feel for the structure and how to transition from topic to topic. Look for poems, verses or other readings that might be appropriate to open or close the proceedings.
Organize your thoughts and information: Once you’ve decided on the tone and done your research, you’ll need to organize your materials. The best way to do this is by creating an outline, which you can use to organize your thoughts. You can do this by hand or on a computer, but remember to be flexible. As you start to structure your eulogy you may find that some parts fit better in other places than you initially thought. Don’t be afraid to change your outline, or the whole tone of the funeral speech if you believe it would work better.
How to Write a Eulogy
Ideas on how to start a eulogy
One of the most difficult things to do is to start writing your memorial speech.
You need to know that you are not alone in this, and do not have to stare at a blank piece of paper to begin. There are excellent resources available that will guide you in detail through the eulogy writing process, which you should seriously consider using.
Here are some ideas that might help you:
The first thing to do is to welcome and acknowledge your audience, and tell them who you are are, and describe your relationship to the deceased.
Example: Thank you all for coming today, to honor and celebrate the life and accomplishments of John Doe. My name is Bob Smith. John and I were friends since childhood; we grew up next door to each other.
Briefly, let the audience know how you feel, and that you share their sense of loss.
Example: I know that you all miss John as much as I do; his unexpected passing was something none of us could foresee.
Start with a poem, reading or passage from a religious text that makes sense.
If you don’t know too many appropriate poems, there are reference materials available that have selected poems and readings, appropriate for a memorial service.
Example: I was thinking about John, and trying to put my feelings into words, when I came across a poem that expressed my feelings almost perfectly. I’d like to share a passage from that poem with you now…
Share a memory
Try to make it something that was shared by many of those attending the funeral, like something from a public birthday, a quality of the deceased that most people were familiar with or a saying that the deceased used frequently.
Example: John was one of the kindest and most sensitive people I’d ever met. He always seemed to know when you were feeling a little bit gloomy, and say the right thing to cheer you up. I remember just after college, when I was turned down for a job that I really wanted to get. John told me that they didn’t deserve me and cooked me up one of his patented ‘Jonny Burgers’. I know most of you have probably had ‘Jonny Burgers’ at his 4th of July barbecue, but this one was extra special…
How to Write a Eulogy: The Middle of the Eulogy
What you talk about in the middle of the eulogy, is where you have the most freedom. A good rule of thumb is to focus on the achievements, passions and milestones in the life of the deceased.
- How did they leave the world a better place?
- What did they love to do more than anything else?
- What did they do better than everyone else?
- What could they and their family take pride in?
- Did they have any involvement with humanitarian organizations and charities, or a focus on family and friends?
You can include a chronological overview of the life of the deceased, and some of the major stepping stones in their life, but don’t focus on events and when they happened; make sure the events you talk about, and the stories you tell, show positive insights about the character of the departed.
Talk about the relationships that they had with family, friends and co-workers (this is where your earlier research and informal interviews with relatives and friends will come in handy).
How to Write a Eulogy: Ending the Eulogy
Toward the end of the eulogy, you should mention the family of the deceased, and others who were close to them, if you haven’t already done this in the middle. Ask the community and funeral-goers to be supportive and understanding in this time of loss.
To close the eulogy, you need to leave the listeners with a sense of comfort, closure and of being a little closer to the deceased. A well written and delivered eulogy can bring this kind of reassurance to the bereaved. An excellent theme for closing the eulogy is that of eternity. This can be based on the faith and religious beliefs of the deceased and the mourners, on how the deceased lives on through children and grandchildren, or even from a mark that they left on the world, that will always be remembered.
Finally, a moving poem or verse can make a powerful ending to finish any funeral tribute. There are reference materials available that have selected funeral poems, words of sympathy and memorial quotes to use in your closing. In addition, there are resources that provide eulogy examples and eulogy templates to help you in the writing process.
Editing and Revising your Funeral Tribute
Now, you should go back, read what you’ve written and edit. You should keep some questions in mind when you are doing this:
- Does it flow well, or is it disjointed?
- Does it fit the time allocated?
- Have I left anyone out or omitted anything major?
- Is there anything that could upset or offend?
- Will the audience feel more at peace after hearing this?
You should revise and refine your funeral words, until they are satisfactory, not only for you, but for all the attendees. Remember, this is about comfort for the friends and family, so if you have any personal or political beliefs (medical research, gun control, religious recruitment etc.) this is not an appropriate occasion for a call to action on these topics. You can take up these or any other causes in the coming months and years, but the funeral should only be about the mourners and the deceased.
I hope this gives you some ideas about how to prepare and write an inspirational eulogy that will bring comfort to the bereaved. Be sure to go through the other posts for more advice on preparing and delivering an inspirational eulogy.
Next: Practice makes perfect!