Plus 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Write a Eulogy
Do you want to know what should be included in a eulogy?
Need some public speaking tips for performing a eulogy?
Do you wonder about the appropriate emotional tone of a eulogy?
Have you been tasked with writing a eulogy? A eulogy is a remembrance speech or writing in praise of a recently deceased person’s life. Eulogies may be given as part of a funeral or memorial service, or they may take place in a funeral home either during or after a wake service.
Planning a funeral service, writing an obituary, or being asked to write a eulogy about the life of a deceased family member or friend can be quite an honor. However, writing a eulogy can be a daunting task for some. And delivering a eulogy in front of family and friends can be downright nerve wracking for others―especially while going through one’s own grief and loss at the same time.
The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. We’ve taken the time to create this comprehensive guide to writing a eulogy for you. In this article, you’ll find what to include in a eulogy, you’ll be able to model your eulogy using our eulogy template, and you’ll discover how to write a great eulogy in a way that’s both memorable and engaging for those who attend the services.
But don’t stop there! At the end of this article, we’ve included a bonus for you. We’ve put together a list of 10 things you need to know before writing a good eulogy. So, let’s get started.
What Should Be Included in a Eulogy?
It can be overwhelming when thinking about the entire course of another person’s life. Some of their life surely occurred before you knew them. And even if you’ve known the person for decades, you’re probably not privy to everything that happened during their life. So, how do you know what to include when writing a eulogy?
In essence, a eulogy or a death announcement for a family member should be a short biography of the person’s life. You’ll want to include the basics: birth date, any marriages or important relationships, the birth of any children, important career and life milestones, as well as the events surrounding the person’s death (as appropriate). In addition to these basics, it’s also a great idea to include some short excerpts, or stories, from the persons’ life. The stories are what makes a life well-lived, and what makes a eulogy more personal rather than just a regurgitation of dates and facts.
Here is a list of what to include when memorializing the life of the deceased and/or writing a eulogy for your loved one. By no means is this meant to be a comprehensive list. You may choose some or all of these elements to include. You may also want to incorporate your own ideas to add to the authenticity of your eulogy speech.
- When and where the deceased was born
- Parents’ names
- Where parents met and married
- Any siblings
- Early childhood – where the deceased lived, any interests
- Nicknames and/or names they are known by others (then or now)
- Schools attended, awards earned
- Academic or trade education and honors
- Stories about childhood years
- Sports achievements
- Details of any war or military service
- Marriage(s), divorce(s), children, significant relationships
- Grandchildren, great-grandchildren
- Community involvement, club memberships, positions held, etc.
- Hobbies or interests, crafts, etc.
- Travel opportunities (for work or pleasure)
- Career achievements
- Any occurrences of historical significance during the person’s life
- Preferences, likes, and dislikes (even if silly)
- Details of other activities and interests (e.g., music, theatre, etc.)
- Special qualities that others admired
- Significant stories about their life
- Funny or insightful things they used to say
- Any other life milestones
- Special spiritual readings, music, quotes, poetry, etc.
- Any information about their death (if appropriate)
- And much more!
A Helpful Eulogy Template
Sometimes the beginning is the hard part. How do you start writing about another person’s life? Where do you start?
But once you do get started, the rest may start to flow from there. So, we’ve included a saple eulogy template here for you to use. Feel free to use all or parts of this eulogy examples to get started. Alter the text for your own needs and purposes. Above all, be sure to make it unique and personal to the friends and family attending the services―and to honor the life of your deceased loved one.
Briefly introduce yourself, in case there are people in attendance who don’t know you or your relation to the deceased.
What can I say about ______? As I reflect on the loss of ______, one certain thing comes to mind. (Share this thought.)
It’s never easy to say goodbye to someone who has been such a rich part of our lives. After the person is gone, we are left with a hole where he/she used to be in our life. There won’t be any more extended phone calls or lunch get-togethers or family outings (or other events specific to the deceased). Many of us are feeling this same loss today.
Some of you knew ______ better than others. But you are all here because ______ had a meaningful impact on your life, and you want to honor that importance. And because ______ did affect you in some way, it’s not easy to say a final goodbye.
During this difficult time of loss and grief, it’s important to remember the good memories we all have of _______. By keeping these memories dear and safe, we can focus on the good times we had together, help provide comfort to each other, and keep ______’s memory alive in our hearts.
Some of you may remember when _______ was just a child. (Share a positive, funny or enlightening short story about the person’s childhood.) Or perhaps you may recall _______ in his/her later years. (Share a positive story from the person’s life.)
_______ was always _______. (List positive qualities about the person or things he/she was good at.)
______ always _______. (Explain how a positive characteristic affected others.)
And more than anything else, _______ was _______. (Describe another positive quality that defined the person.) I remember when _______. (Share a story about the person that expresses that quality.)
I also remember once when _____ said (or did) _____. (Tell a story about a special memory with the deceased.)
Saying goodbye to someone who had a such big impact on our lives is not going to be easy. It’s hard to lose someone you know, to let go of him/her, and to move on with our own lives―without him/her. But if we keep those wonderful memories alive in our hearts and minds, we can find our own comfort, and _______ will always be with us in spirit.
(Include a quote, poem, song lyric or spiritual passage that was important to the deceased.)
Just by being here, you’re showing that _______ had an impact on you. And that’s a great comfort to me to know that ______ touched your life in the same way he/she touched mine. And that’s how I’ll always choose to remember _______.
Make Writing a Eulogy a Healing Experience with Fond Memories
Including fond memories of the deceased in your eulogy can be part of the healing process―for both you and for those attending the funeral or memorial services. You may tell a story that was only known to you; therefore, providing a deeper insight into your loved one’s life. This can be a comforting factor during someone else’s time of grief.
Another way to relay fond memories during a eulogy is to choose a theme. Selecting a theme can help give you a focus so that the eulogy doesn’t stray from one topic to the next. Here are a few examples of themes to tie a eulogy together.
- Chronological eulogy
- Biographical eulogy
- Personal stories
- Specialized theme
- Storytelling eulogy
- Lighthearted/humorous eulogy
- And more!
It’s best to stick with positive, heartfelt, and enlightening memories of the deceased. You wouldn’t want to use the eulogy to portray a negative memory of the person. However, there may be some appropriate ways to bring up something negative: such as when the person turned a job loss or other challenge into a moment of opportunity, or when he/she helped turn a negative event in your life into something positive.
What If I Need Help Writing a Eulogy?
If you need help writing a eulogy, by all means ask for help. Approach someone who knew your loved one well. Or enlist the help of a writer or editor in the family who can help polish your words.
Sometimes it’s best to team up with someone to write a eulogy. That way, the responsibility is divided among more than one person. You may not feel so overwhelmed if you have help to complete the task.
If you are comfortable handling the writing of the eulogy, you can ask for others’ help along the way. Perhaps you can each tackle different parts of the person’s life (e.g., childhood, adulthood, work life, etc.). Stick with what you know best about the deceased, then get help to fill in the rest of the blanks. And if you have the luxury of time, you may want to interview other friends and family members to get their perspective on your loved ones’ life. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
Using Humor in a Eulogy
Should a eulogy have humor in it? During a sad time in everyone’s life, you may think that trying to be funny would be inappropriate. However, the truth is quite the opposite. Humor and laughter are both essential tools to release stress in the healing process. We often get through difficult times in life by finding humor in them. And during a time when people have been saddened, crying or solemn for extended periods, the simple action of laughing can bring relief to the mind and spirit as well as to the facial and body muscles that have become tense for too long.
It’s important to note that humor should be used in the right way. Humor should not be used to single someone out or make fun of another person at their own expense. Nor would you want to use humor in a way that might embarrass the deceased if they were still alive.
The amount of humor that is appropriate ultimately depends on the circumstances surrounding the death of the deceased. If the deceased is an older person who lived a long life, then interjecting some humor about their life and their personality would be appropriate. However, if a child or adult met an untimely death, the eulogy could portray a more serious tone.
As a rule of thumb, apply humor in a positive manner to provide a lighter moment during a time of grief and loss. Take care to be mindful of both the deceased and the audience. If you don’t think the audience or the deceased would be comfortable with humor, then you may want to avoid using humor in the eulogy.
How Long Should a Eulogy Be?
Some churches and funeral venues allocate a specific amount of time for a funeral or memorial ceremony. So, a representative from the venue or the funeral director may be able to advise you about the appropriate length of a eulogy.
In general, a eulogy should last approximately three to five minutes, but take no longer than 10 minutes. This is usually plenty of time to review the highlights of a person’s life and relate a few special stories and/or insights about the person. A typical funeral eulogy of between 500 to 1,000 written words should take about three to seven minutes of speaking time (if you don’t rush). The average person speaks at somewhere between 125 and 150 words per minute. So, if you're speaking for 10 minutes, you may want a total word count of about 1,250–1,500 words.
Preparing to Give a Eulogy
For some, writing a eulogy may be the tough part. For others, standing in front of a crowd to deliver the eulogy may be even harder. If you find yourself feeling nervous about public speaking, keep in mind that most everyone in attendance won’t be worried about your delivery. And they’ll probably be very forgiving regarding and slip-ups. After all, family and friends will know that you are grieving as well.
The first tip in getting ready to perform a eulogy is to practice, practice, practice by reading it aloud. You don’t need to have the eulogy memorized, since you will have a neatly printed copy with you. But you do want to be familiar with it enough so that you can use emotion in your speaking rather than reading dryly from a printed page.
Here are some more tips to prepare for delivering a eulogy and presenting it on the day of the services.
- Practice for emotion and timing. You’ll be less nervous the more you rehearse.
- Listen to other eulogies online. Here are a few you can watch: Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.
- Print 2 typed copies of the eulogy, neatly double-spaced and in a large font or type size.
- Bring a bottle of water with you in case your throat is dry.
- Dress appropriately and comfortably for the funeral or memorial service.
- Arrive early and adjust to your surroundings.
- Meet and greet. Speak to others before the eulogy.
- Perform deep breathing or other calming exercises before the eulogy.
- Use positive visualization.
- Avoid negative thinking.
- Speak slowly. Don’t rush through it.
- Provide moments of pause to allow for thought and emotional impact.
- Give eye contact to members of the audience.
- Try to stand still so people pay attention to your words, not what you are doing.
- Be mindful of your body language. Stand up straight and keep your chin up.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone will be understanding.
- Smile when appropriate.
- Avoid filler words such as um, ah, well, and the like.
- Be yourself.
How to Write an Interesting Eulogy
The best eulogies are a labor of love and are both memorable and engaging―for both the reader and the audience. And the best eulogies are personal in nature. Anyone can regurgitate facts, but only someone close to a deceased loved one can make a memorial tribute personal.
Follow these four steps to write an interesting eulogy.
- Gather Memories
When beginning to write a eulogy, you’ll first want to record all of your favorite memories of your loved one. Most of your eulogy speech will be based on your own personal interactions.
You can also gather information about the deceased from other friends or family members. They will likely be in a frame of mind that they will want to share stories with you. You can ask them to contribute a story to the eulogy or you can interview them in order to find out some details you may not be aware of. If it helps, use pictures to help evoke memories and feelings about your loved one.
- Set the Tone
Decide what you want the tone of the eulogy to be before you begin writing it. You may want to write the eulogy with a humorous or lighthearted quality. Or you may want it to remain more serious. Typically, a combination of both serious and humorous tones is appreciated and allows mourners to be sad while also celebrating the person’s life.
- Create a Eulogy Outline
Now that you’ve gathered memories and decided on a tone, it’s time to create a working outline of the eulogy. Decide if you want to work forward or backward in chronology or if you want to divide the content by subject matter or by milestones. Your outline will likely change as you continue to refine the subject matter.
When your outline is as complete as you can make it, then take the time to flesh out each point with a short story behind it. Include basic facts about your loved one’s everyday life and any necessary details whenever possible. If you are an extra confident speaker, you may be able to work with a simple outline of your thoughts rather than writing the entire eulogy on paper. For most people, it’s best to have the complete eulogy written.
- Stay Organized When Writing
The eulogy should have a logical flow. Like any other story or speech, the eulogy should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Introduce yourself in the beginning and explain your relationship to your loved one. Some people in attendance may have know your loved one many years ago, and they may not know who you are.
Expand upon the points in your outline. Provide essential details along with your own personal stories as well as the stories and/or memories that you have gathered from others. Involving other family members and friends in the process and mentioning them in the eulogy will make the speech more personal to them. And they will feel like a valuable part of the process, and it will underline the important connection they had to the deceased.
Above all else, stay positive. This is not the time to bring up grievances or family rifts. If the deceased was a difficult person to be around or if they had a troubled life, then trust that those in the audience already know those details.
Write your first draft, then rewrite and revise to get it right. Finally, before printing your official copies, enlist someone to proofread your eulogy for any errors. Another set of eyes may also be helpful in polishing any ideas, words or phrases for your delivery.
If desired, you may want to print additional copies of the eulogy on decorative paper and make it available to attendees after the memorial services. They may enjoy having this memory of their friend or loved one and be able to read it from time to time as a lasting memory. In addition, all of your hard work and effort in memorializing your loved one doesn’t have to be over in just a few minutes and later forgotten. A lovely printed version of your loved one’s eulogy is another way to help them―and your words―live on.
How to Deliver an Engaging Eulogy
If you’re feeling nervous or emotional on the day of the funeral or memorial services, don’t worry. It’s completely normal, and everyone will certainly be understanding. Take several minutes to go over your speech a few times to make it fresher in your mind.
One great strategy to create a more engaging eulogy is to deliver your speech in a conversational tone. Pretend you are sitting with a friend or family member and sharing your memories of your loved one. And while you’re speaking, be sure not to remain in monotone. Use inflection to portray excitement, pause in your speech when reflection is necessary, and laugh along with your audience when recalling a funny moment or story.
Avoid reading from your speech word for word. This is why practice makes perfect. If you read your speech aloud enough times, then you will know what comes next by nature. At least 20 read-alouds has been suggested in order to get a natural feel for your eulogy speech. When you’re not spending your time looking down at a piece of paper, then you are looking up at and interacting with your audience. This creates a better experience for those listening to you speak.
Be sure to close the eulogy with both words of comfort and a final, comforting goodbye to your loved one. Acknowledge their death and celebrate their life.
Can More Than One Person Give a Eulogy?
Traditionally, one person is selected to give the eulogy. However, there aren’t any hard and fast rules regarding funeral or memorial services. If it’s appropriate, you may want to consider more than one person giving the eulogy. However, since time may be limited by the church or funeral venue, you’ll want to consider how long each person speaks. Perhaps one or more people give a brief eulogy and one person gives the main eulogy. It’s entirely up to your family how your funeral or memorial services proceed.
If you choose to have more than one person give a eulogy, it may be helpful to meet or exchange notes during the writing process. You wouldn’t want to repeat or duplicate information or special points made about the deceased. If more than one person will participate in the eulogy delivery, be sure that each person is sharing a different aspect of the person’s life.
10 Things You Need to Know Before You Write a Eulogy
- No one expects you to be perfect. Breathe deeply. Speak from your heart. Your audience will be filled with grieving, understanding people. They are not expecting perfection from you. They only want to hear happy, memorable things said about their loved one. Leave them with that memory and you will be sure to succeed.
- Enlist all the help you need. You don’t have to carry the entire burden of writing and delivering the eulogy. If someone can write about a part of your loved one’s life that you know nothing about, then encourage their input. If you can get someone to edit and polish your speech, then do it. And if you need someone standing next to you while you deliver the eulogy, go ahead and ask.
- Write the eulogy for your audience, not for you. This is not the time to recall your entire personal history with your loved one. Each person in attendance has had their own personal experience with the deceased. Your eulogy should be able to reach all of the people in the audience and help them find a way to connect to your loved one during the gathering. Include family stories, tales of friendship, growing-up stories, career-related stories, etc.
- Think about the person. What would your loved one want said about them? What would they NOT want said about them? How would they want to be remembered? Keep them in mind and respect their wishes during the writing process. Use specific examples and stories to describe the deceased.
- Be both funny and sad. Yes, take the time to be serious. But also use opportunities for humor to provide comedic relief during a serious time. Intermix the heavy feelings with the light. Your audience will most likely appreciate the chance to laugh out loud after having been quiet, crying or introspective for many days. If you hear a combination of emotions, including laughter and sniffles from the audience, then you’ve done a good job.
- Write your eulogy word for word. Don’t wing it! Pretend that you are creating a published work. Why? Because you’ll likely be nervous and filled with emotions. And under these circumstances, you’re may forget your train of thought. Having a legible copy of the exact speech in front of you will help you if you lose your place. Even presidents have teleprompters.
- Keep it brief. Any audience―no matter what the occasion―will grow restless after a period of time. Most eulogies run about three to five minutes long. Ten minutes is usually the maximum amount of time allotted for a eulogy. This is enough time to keep your audience interested without losing their attention.
- Practice. Practice. This is a great way to build your confidence and get your cries out in advance. You’ll probably still get choked up and cry a few tears. But with a decent amount of practice, you’ll be able to hold yourself together a lot better. If for some reason you find yourself unable to give the eulogy, enlist a standby in advance to deliver the eulogy for you.
- Use a strategy to keep your emotions in check. If you are worried about maintaining your composure, you may want to have a bottle of water at hand to take a drink when you need. You may also want to consider avoiding eye contact with the audience. Some friends and family members may be emotional. And emotion is contagious. Instead of looking guests in the eyes, you can opt to look at a point in the back of the room.
- Be conversational. If you think of the eulogy as a personal conversation between you and a friend or family member, you’re less likely to feel pressured by the experience. The service attendees are eager to hear about the deceased and will welcome your perspective.