Handling a Most Difficult Speech
Do you have to give or write a eulogy speech?
Wondering how long a eulogy should be for an upcoming memorial service?
Are you worried about giving a good eulogy following the death of a loved one?
The Definition of a Eulogy
Most dictionaries define a ‘eulogy’ as a speech of praise or commendation for a deceased person given at their funeral or memorial service. The word eulogy comes from the Classical Greek word εὐλογία (eulogia), which means “praise.” It’s a formal speech that is meant to honor loved ones—family or friends—who have passed away.
Although a eulogy can be mournful, its purpose is not only to speak of the positive qualities of the deceased but also to comfort the bereaved during a time of grief. A eulogy will generally highlight a person’s life and contributions to society and those around them. Eulogies also tend to focus more on good memories and the positive impact while refraining from negativity.
To truly understand the definition of a eulogy, it’s important to know the history of the eulogy itself. According to Merriam-Webster, the first-known use of the word eulogy was in the fifteenth century. In fact, eulogies are not just for funerals.
“With its -logy ending, eulogy means literally something like "good speech". We are told to speak only good of the dead, but a eulogist actually makes a speech in the dead person's honor—or often instead for someone living, who might actually be there in the audience. The most famous eulogies include Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Pericles' funeral oration for the Athenian warriors; but these are only two of the many great eulogies, which continue to be delivered not only at funerals and memorial services but at retirement parties, anniversary parties, and birthday parties.”1
Writing a Eulogy
Now that you have a deeper understanding of a eulogy, it’s time to begin the writing process. When it comes down to it, life is just a big story. And it’s up to us to tell the story with both love and vibrancy. Whether you are eulogizing your parent, grandparent or someone else, knowing what a eulogy is will help you create a speech that will serve the best purpose for all in attendance. It’s always a good idea to review other eulogy examples to help you get started.
Keep in mind that eulogy writing can also help in writing the obituary. If you are doing both, you may want to use some of your material in both places. If someone else is writing the obituary, you may want to work with them as a resource for information.
A eulogy is probably the most difficult speech you will ever write or give. It can be a lot of pressure to write a speech that does your loved one justice. You will be challenged to stand in front of a group of people (small or large) and speak about your loved one, even though you are still grieving too. Plus, it can be difficult to sum up someone’s well-lived life in just a few words. What are the important things to mention? What should you leave out? Undoubtedly, you have many questions as you begin to write a eulogy speech.
When writing a eulogy, first take the time to record your memories of your loved one. You may have some special moments to share about the deceased that can shed light on the type of person they were, how they lived, and what they meant to you. This type of personal recollection helps people to know your loved one better during their time of grief.
Spend time with those who were also close to the deceased. Get their stories on paper about their experiences with your loved one. You may learn a few things that you didn’t know about your loved one either.
How Long Should a Eulogy Be?
Once you have all of the stories collected, it’s time to put them together. Plan on spending an hour or two to write and revise the speech. If you have enough time, you may want to wait a day before returning to the speech and revising it. That way, you can read it with a fresh (not tired) mind. You’ll be able to do some fine tuning to get the speech just the way you want it… and how your loved one would want it.
Is there an overarching theme that pulls the stories together? Or do you want to provide scenes from your loved one’s life in a chronological or other order? The choice is yours, and your loved one’s life history may dictate the way his/her story should be told.
After your speech is final, time yourself when reading it out loud. The typical eulogy can be anywhere from about five to 10 minutes. If your eulogy is shorter than five minutes, then it may look like you didn’t put in much effort to memorialize your loved one. Those closest to your loved one may feel hurt or disappointed. If your eulogy speech is much longer than 10 minutes, you may risk losing people’s attention. So, in general you’ll want to keep it somewhere in the middle.
If you’re not sure about the length of the eulogy speech, you can consult with your local clergy person, pastor or religious director. You can also speak with a funeral director at the funeral home as well as the event venue manager where your memorial or funeral will take place.
Delivering a Eulogy
You’ve taken the time to do some research about your loved one. You’ve painstakingly written the best words possible about them. Now, it’s almost time to deliver the eulogy. So, the first rule of thumb, as with anything else, is practice. Practicing can especially help when you are nervous about public speaking. You might put pressure on yourself to deliver the perfect eulogy—don’t. Being perfect isn’t necessary and is an unrealistic expectation. Delivering a good eulogy is what people will remember and that should be your goal.
Before delivering a eulogy, practice reading the eulogy out loud many times. Don’t rush through your eulogy speech. Take a deep breath, speak slowly and enunciate so that you can be heard. You should be familiar with it enough that you won’t have to continually look down to ‘read’ the eulogy. Most of your time should be speaking and making eye contact with those in attendance, and not looking down at your paper. If you spend most of the time looking down, your voice won’t project outward, and people will have difficulty hearing you.
If you feel confident enough, you can reduce the eulogy to bullet points on a notecard. However, keep a complete copy on hand in case you need to refer to it. In fact, be sure to have more than one copy on hand because accidents do happen. You could drop the speech in a puddle, spill coffee on it or the wind could blow it out of your hand.
When it’s time to deliver the eulogy, have a few tissues on hand for yourself. Also bring a small bottle of water with you. If you get choked up, a drink of water will help keep your emotions in check. And if you find it difficult to keep your composure when looking at other grieving family members in the audience, find a place just beyond to focus your attention—perhaps a window or a spot on the wall.
How to Preserve a Beautiful Eulogy Online
You’ve put so much love and emotion into your funeral eulogy for your loved one. You’ve delivered the eulogy before all of your loved one’s mourners. So, what’s next? If you don’t want your beautiful words to fade into a distant memory, you can preserve the eulogy for the deceased online.
With today’s technology, you have several ways that you can preserve your eulogy speech. You can choose one method here or select all of these options in order to keep the deceased’s memory alive.
- Create a Facebook memorial post on the deceased’s page (if you have access) or on our own page.
- Copy the text to an Instagram post so that other friends and family members can share it.
- Create a memorial web page for your loved one and post the eulogy there.
- Have someone record your funeral speech so you can post it on YouTube or elsewhere for those who can’t make the funeral service.
- Utilize an online service, such as Lastly.com, to create a lasting memorial for your loved ones or close friends.
By creating a place online to eulogize and memorialize your loved one, you give family and friends continuous access to the memories surrounding the deceased. They can read and/or listen to the eulogy speech any time, which can be comforting for those closest to your loved one.
Enhance a Eulogy Online
Once you find a place online to publish your funeral eulogy, you may want to enhance the text with photos, videos or other items. Find some photos that represent your deceased family member… who they were in life, what they loved to do, things they did with others. Take pictures of some of their favorite items: sports equipment, meals cooked, craft items, artwork, decorations, etc. Are there any photos that are special to you? Scan or upload them online as well. Adding photos, audio or video of your loved one will help create a well-rounded online memorial.