Writing and Giving a Eulogy

Memorials and Remembrance / Memorials and Remembrance : Eleanor Haley



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This post is about writing and giving a eulogy. It presumes that a eulogy has already been decided on and someone has been asked to give it. If you aren’t sure whether a eulogy should be included in your loved one’s service, speak with your spiritual leader, funeral director, family, and friends. Together you can determine when and where words of remembrance would be most appropriate.

Giving a eulogy is a pretty big deal. Perhaps you were asked by the family to say a few words, or you are the closest and most logical person to speak. Either way, you’ve been selected for a reason, which means you’re probably the best person for the job.

We’ll share some considerations for planning, writing, and delivering a eulogy. However, if you have been asked by the next of kin or a close family member to give the eulogy, pay attention to any guidance they’ve given you first and foremost.


Timeframe:

If you’ve been asked to keep it within a specific time frame, you should generally try to abide by this. This timeframe was possibly given to by family by the person running the funeral, or this is the timeframe they believe is appropriate based on the type of funeral they are having.

If the time frame is more open, do what you feel is best for the family while remaining mindful of time. This comes from the girl whose mother’s eulogy was given by her children…all six of them…separately. We knew seeing this in the program was likely to cause a groan no matter how much you loved my mother, but it’s what we felt we had to do. In the end, we balanced time and needs by making sure each child’s remarks were brief, about 3 minutes each.


Writing a Eulogy:

I’m not an overly emotional person. However, I’ll admit that when I go to a funeral, I’m prepared to cry. I want to feel so close to my loved one’s memory that I leave the service with snotty tissues spilling out of my pockets. Right, that’s gross, but it’s true. It’s the same reason why once or twice a year, I pull out a box full of items that remind me of my mother because I want to have a good cry.

Since my mother’s death, the term ‘have a good cry‘ has taken on new meaning. I used to think it meant to have a substantial cry, regardless of whether the tears felt good or bad. Now, a good cry is what happens when I pull out this box and look over my mom’s notes, photographs, and letters. My tears are good because I’m crying over fond memories, and afterward, I walk away feeling closer to my mother.

Now, this is just one person’s opinion, but in my mind, an effective eulogy brings the loved one back into the room the same way my mom-box does. It’s about the details, the things their closest friends and family knew, and the characteristics that make us smile and cry all at the same time. But, above all else, an effective eulogy honors the person’s memory in a way that those closest to them can relate to and appreciate. So, though this may be your speech to give, ultimately, it is for everyone.

Here are a few tips for writing the eulogy:
  • Write down the characteristics and qualities you want people to remember.
  • Try and think of examples (a story or an anecdote) that illustrate the identified characteristics and qualities.
  • It’s okay to acknowledge flaws in a non-threatening/non-judgemental way. A whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You loved all of this person. It’s okay to say you will remember their stubbornness and short temper just as much as you will remember their generosity.
  • Is there an overall message about the person you want people to walk away with? If so, structure your remarks around this.
  • Try to be appropriate. I’ve heard a few horror stories about things said during a eulogy. Just remember, there is a time and a place for everything. If you aren’t sure about how a story or anecdote will land, run it by a family member or someone close to the family ahead of time.

Concerns About Getting Emotional While Giving a Eulogy:

One of the scariest things about writing and giving a eulogy can be fears of getting emotional while writing and delivering the eulogy. Both of these things may happen, and you’re better off accepting this and planning for how you will deal with it if and when it happens.

It may be helpful to experience intense emotion while writing the eulogy. It’s helpful to organize your thoughts and feelings on paper. Also, just like journaling, writing can be healing regardless of the format. You may laugh over the stories you recall and cry thinking about what you will miss. But sitting down and writing provides you space and time to reflect on your loved one’s life and death.

More commonly, people fear becoming emotional while speaking publicly; either they are embarrassed over showing emotion, don’t want to ruin the moment or both. When contemplating this possibility, there are a few things to consider.

First things first, take stock of your anxiety and emotional state. How do you feel about talking about your loved one in front of a room full of people? Think about it carefully; if feel consumed by anxiety, or think you will have an extreme reaction (i.e., bawl the entire way through), you could consider deferring to someone else. You don’t have to force yourself to deal with the anxiety of this task on top of an already stressful and emotional day.

If you feel that you have to say something at the service, you might ask someone else to read your words. All that being said, don’t worry about showing emotion. No one expects you to be stone. And people in the audience will likely be able to relate to your emotion. 

If you are worried about showing emotion while giving a eulogy, here are a few tips:
  • Write it down. I don’t care if you are a public speaking pro, now is not the time to wing ii. You might be surprised how your emotion affects you once you’re in front of the room.  Side note: another benefit of writing down the eulogy is that you may want access to it again. Families often share a typed version of the eulogy with family and friends who were unable to be present.
  • Write it the way you will read it. Write it in your own voice and keep it casual.
  • Practice. Practice on your own and practice in front of people. Different people will evoke different reactions in you, and your words will elicit different reactions in them. This may not fully prepare you for giving the eulogy, but it will allow you to practice reading through your emotions and the emotions of others.
  • Pace yourself. Your instincts will tell you to rush through, but pacing yourself should help you stay in control and make it easier for the audience to follow you. Don’t be afraid to pause and let things sink in; it’s a good opportunity for you to take a deep breath and compose yourself.
  • Accept that you may become emotional in front of a room full of people and believe it’s okay.

Here’s one last bit of advice; I know it sounds cliche, but write from your heart. If your words are heartfelt, the emotion and sincerity behind them will make them all the more meaningful.

Let’s be grief friends.

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