Honoring a Memorable Life by Giving a Great Eulogy
Want to learn about how to write a great eulogy?
Need to know how to write a funeral speech during a challenging time?
Do you want to honor your loved one’s memory in the best way possible?
During a time of great sorrow and loss, people look for glimmers of light and hope and happiness. We can’t help it. We’re all human. While it’s OK to wallow in grief for a time, life eventually wants to show us a rainbow. And the purpose of writing and giving a great eulogy speech is to provide that rainbow for those in attendance and for yourself. So, let’s look at how to write a great eulogy speech.
What Makes for a Great Eulogy?
An inspiring eulogy honors both the sorrow and loss that everyone feels while also celebrating a life well lived and the impact of someone’s life upon us. So, how do you give a eulogy that memorializes a person’s entire life with respect, dignity, sorrow, and humor all in under 10 minutes tops?
A great eulogy is also personal, especially when you don’t speak for everyone but speak from your heart. Use your own stories or stories that others have shared when talking about your loved one. Speak from your own experience. Perhaps you had an opportunity to sit with your loved one before they died. Can you share any parting words or thoughts directly from them?
People take comfort in knowing that others feel the same loss they are feeling. So, don’t feel like you must keep your composure throughout the entire speech or be stoic or business professional. Pause when you need to catch your breath. Cry if you need to as well—but just a bit. (And keep some tissues and water handy.) Know that the audience will be understanding of your emotions. Although, you do need to hold yourself together for the most part.
When planning for a funeral service, there are a lot of emotions at stake and a lot of decisions that need to be made quickly. Keep in mind that it’s likely that different family members may have different ideas of what makes a great eulogy. If you find that family members are reaching out to contribute to the eulogy, try to keep their thoughts in mind. Then write a heartfelt eulogy that does its best to balance the desires of family members while providing a lasting, loving memory of your loved one.
Elements of a Great Eulogy
The word eulogy means “good word.” The words you choose—and the way you use them— in this speech are very important.
Whenever possible, use descriptive words in your writing. Describe your loved one as they lived their lives. If they performed a great service, describe how they did it and how it impacted others. If they made an incredible apple pie, describe the smell, texture, and flavor. If they had a compelling part of their personality, describe a time when that personality trait shined through.
The most compelling elements of a good eulogy are the stories you tell about your loved one. Everyone loves a good story—whether it’s a story they are familiar with, experienced themselves or it’s one they’ve never heard before. Familiar stories provide comfort, while unheard stories provide insight. So, think of those who are in attendance and try to include stories that cover both bases for all, or at least most, of the people in attendance of the services.
Funny stories are important. While it’s great to tell inspirational and personal stories about your loved one. But perhaps the stories that make the biggest impression are the funny stories. Providing the gift of laughter during your eulogy provides a physical and emotional release for both you and those in attendance. Laughter requires the use of different muscles in our face, stomach, and body. And it is likely that those muscles have experienced far less use in the days prior to the memorial service.
Here are some examples of funny stories used in eulogies.
- A slightly embarrassing moment
- When a person misspoke
- When a faux pas was committed
- A moment of confusion
- Mistaken identity
- A lesson learned
- A funny circumstance
- An odd injury
- And more!
So, go ahead! Give the gift of laughter during a time of grief. You’ll be glad that you did.
How to Write a Great Eulogy
When tasked with writing a eulogy during a time when you are experiencing your own loss and grief, it can add stress to an already stressful situation. You want to do the best job possible to memorialize your loved one. So where do you start?
What do some of the greatest eulogies have in common? The most memorable eulogies provide a balance of different emotions, tell stories that show the person in a different light, and give the mourners a takeaway. In addition, some of the greatest eulogies were probably written by a professional writer.
So, what do you do if you can’t afford to hire a professional writer—especially on short notice. Don’t worry. You can still do it yourself. You can take on the writing and deliver a wonderful eulogy that both your family and friends will appreciate and remember.
Writing during a challenging, emotional time in your life can be difficult. You are experiencing your own grief and loss, so it may be difficult to pull yourself together to write some good words. Know that writing the eulogy speech not only is a great honor, but it can also be very therapeutic and provide a great way to heal and manage your way through the grief process. Here are a few tips to help you through the writing process.
When writing a eulogy, consider these five simple steps.
- Gather information
- Organize and outline
- Write and revise
- Rehearse, time, and refine
- Deliver with heartfelt confidence
If someone else is writing the obituary, you may want to be in contact with them. They may need some help writing or collecting information. And when expressing a life well-lived through an obituary, it may be best to coordinate your efforts and writing.
More on Writing a Eulogy Speech
A eulogy should be a brief account of a person’s life using stories that occurred anywhere from birth to death. It should not be a direct timeline of their life, although you can use a timeline as a tool to help create the eulogy. Nor should the eulogy be a regurgitation of facts, their resume, dates, and surviving family members. In fact, a eulogy should cover the highlights of a person’s life and the things that were meaningful to them: family, career, military history, etc.
Here is a detailed list showing what can be included in a eulogy speech. This is certainly not meant to be a comprehensive list. You may want to select some or all of these elements to include. Feel free to incorporate your own thoughts and ideas to add to the personal authenticity of your eulogy speech.
When and where the deceased was born
Where parents met and married
Early childhood – where the deceased lived, any interests
Nicknames and/or names they are known by others (then or now)
Schools attended, awards earnedAcademic or trade education and honors
Stories about childhood years
Details of any war or military service
Marriage(s), divorce(s), children, significant relationships
Community involvement, club memberships, positions held, etc.
Hobbies or interests, crafts, etc.
Travel opportunities (for work or pleasure)
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!
Organize yourself when writing. You can create an outline or a list as you begin to write the eulogy speech. Then take the time to flesh out each of these points in order to describe a life well-lived. Speak about the person and your memories from your heart.
Be sure to print two typed, double spaced copies of the eulogy in larger print to bring with you. In case one copy gets lost, dirty or coffee spilled on it, you’ll still have a clean copy to use.
Get help if you need it. You don’t have to shoulder all of the responsibility of putting together a eulogy speech. Often times, people are writing a eulogy for a mother or father – reach out to other family members. You can enlist help with gathering information, writing, proofreading, etc. You are not alone!
How to Write a Great Eulogy: The Beginning
Beginnings are always the hardest. Start by introducing yourself and what your relation or connection is to the deceased. Although most people will know you, chances are that there will be at least a few people who don’t. So, take the time to introduce yourself and build a connection at the beginning of your eulogy speech.
Here are a few tips to craft the beginning of your eulogy speech.
- Mention your loved one’s name in the first sentence.
- Introduce yourself and explain your relationship to the deceased.
- Thank those who came to pay tribute to the deceased. You may want to mention those who came from a long distance.
- Recognize the family members and close friends of your loved one.
- Describe what the deceased meant to you and how he/she impacted your life.
- Open with a poem, quote, song lyric or scripture passage that was meaningful to the deceased.
How to Write a Great Eulogy: The Middle
Consider three things you would like your loved one to be remembered for. Perhaps they had certain character traits or accomplishments that profoundly affected those around them. Gather the information and stories to support these ideas. Focus on the essence of the person. Here are a few questions to keep in mind.
- What are your fondest memories of your loved one?
- What did your loved one like to talk about?
- What made him/her smile?
- What did she/he value most in her/his life?
- What did you admire about your loved one?
- What talents or traits did he/she possess?
When writing a great funeral eulogy speech, keep in mind that the life of your loved one doesn’t have to have been exceptional. Many people live normal, everyday lives and are able to make even small contributions and be impactful to their families, friends, and/or community.
Think about the following life elements and circumstances that can be highly compelling in a eulogy speech.
- Life circumstances
- Life challenges
- Life changes
- Historical moments
- Dramatic moments
- Learning/growth moments
Try to avoid sweeping statements like, “We can all say that…” or “We can all agree that…” These statements group everyone into a single category. However, it is likely that people in attendance of the funeral or memorial services knew your loved one in different capacities. Some may have only known him/her professionally or as an intimate family member.
How to Write a Great Eulogy: The End
Just as your eulogy speech had a beginning and a middle, you’ll need to craft an ending as well. You may want to end with a final story, a final thought or by sharing a song, quote or scripture that was very important to your loved one.
Here are a few more tips to craft the ending of your eulogy speech.
- Make your closing short and simple. This works best, especially if your speech is slightly long.
- Repeat an element from the beginning of your speech. This will help to tie things together.
- Summarize those few key things that you want your loved one to be remembered for.
- Read a eulogy poem, quote, song lyric or scripture passage that was meaningful to your loved one.
- Leave your attendees with a call to action, such as donating to a charity in your loved one’s name.
- Restate your condolences.
- Say a simple goodbye to the deceased.
Be sure to stay true to the essence of your loved one. Focus on what made them feel alive and joyful. And always continue to be both respectful and reverent throughout the eulogy.
Careful and Thoughtful Eulogy Writing
Writing and delivering a eulogy speech may be one of the most important tasks in your life. And if you were especially close to your friend or loved one, it will be personally important to you as well. All grief is personal. And connections are also personal.
A eulogy is not an obituary. It should be more lengthy, personal, and conversational, and written in tribute of another person’s life. You can start by brainstorming for ideas to write about your loved one. In fact, this process can be very healing, beneficial, therapeutic, and cathartic for the individual writing the eulogy.
When writing, be sure to consider your loved one’s point of view. What would they want revealed or not revealed about themselves? What are they proud of? What was private? Take their feelings into consideration as if they were going to be sitting in the front row listening to you.
Most eulogies are five to seven minutes long, though some eulogies can be as long as 10 minutes. If your speech is too short, then it may seem like you gave it no thought or attention. If your eulogy is too long, then you can get off track and lose sight of the main points you want to make.
After delivering your speech, be sure to give yourself a pat on the back for completing such an important and stressful task. You have given all attendees—and yourself—a gift.
Speaking About Memories from the Heart
The best eulogy speeches are written and spoken from the heart. There are moments and events in life when people have a strong emotional reaction. Funerals and memorial services are one of them. What people typically remember is the unexpected. So, as the writer and reader of the eulogy, you have the responsibility to say something unexpected.
Often moments of simplicity and gratitude are what captures the hearts and attention of others. Perhaps it’s an unexpected story, event or reaction that involves your loved one. Or it could be a story about a circumstance or event that changed their world view. Do some digging and try to uncover the unexpected story that will be the cornerstone of your speech.
Eulogy Do’s and Don’ts
When writing and delivering a eulogy speech, keep these do’s and don’ts in mind.
- Do be sensitive and non-judgmental.
- Do use anecdotes. Take the time to tell slice-of-life or moment-in-time stories that let others see your loved one in a special light.
- Do focus on positives. While it’s important to be honest, you don’t need to make someone out as a saint or point out negative or harmful things they may have done in their lifetime.
- Don't expect your words to heal everyone. People handle their grief in different ways and in their own time. Just focus on sharing memories and providing comfort.
- Don't use trite phrases, such as “Time heals all wounds.” These phrases are overused and do nothing to provide comfort or understanding.
- Don't attempt to speak for everyone in attendance. Simply share your own experiences and feelings about your loved one.
How to Give a Great Eulogy Speech
It’s important to perform a great eulogy because you are providing not only a final memory of your loved one but also a lasting memory to all those in attendance. Giving a eulogy can be just as challenging as writing the eulogy speech. Now that you’ve done the hard work, you must stand up and deliver your speech in front of a room full of mourners. Here are some words of advice to prepare for delivering a great eulogy speech.
Practice your speech. Practice and hone your speaking tone. Read your speech out loud, up to 20 times. You don’t need to memorize your speech, but you’ll want to at least develop a sense of what’s coming next. And the extra practice will help you to develop some sound public speaking skills.
Be confident and stay positive. In the delivery of the eulogy, you should be able to empathize with those in attendance. Be both somber and respectful, especially when inserting humor in the eulogy speech. And keep in mind that some may be documenting the memorial service, so your voice may be recorded.
Here are a few tips for the preparation and delivery of your eulogy speech.
- Practice for emotion and timing. You’ll be less nervous the more you rehearse.
- Listen to other famous eulogies online. Or, find a sample eulogy like these: eulogy for father and a grandson’s eulogy for grandmother.
- 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.
Developing Sound Speaking Skills
Speaking skills can be highly important when giving a speech. It’s not so important what you say, but how you say it. If you haven’t spoken publicly before or if it’s been a while, you may want to brush up on some speech techniques. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Breathe properly. Use the full capacity of your lungs with full, deep breathing while you speak, instead of short, shallow breaths. So, you will be able to speak with a fuller voice. Proper breathing also helps you relax, eases physical tension and mental stress, and keeps you more focused.
Volume. Those with naturally loud voices have no trouble projecting. However, if you have a quieter voice, you’ll want to speak outward to project your voice as best as possible. If a microphone is available, go ahead and use it. Be sure to adjust the microphone to chin level and keep the microphone just below your mouth for the best sound quality. You wouldn’t want to go through all of the trouble writing a eulogy speech that people have trouble hearing.
Clarity. Another ingredient in projecting your voice is speaking with clarity. This means opening your mouth wide enough when you speak and not speaking with tight lips or a clenched jaw.
Variety. Finally, you don’t want to speak in monotone throughout your eulogy speech. Use inflection to express emotion. Vary the pace of your speech as well as the volume and the pitch. There will be different times when you may want to speak a little slower or a little faster.
Pause. The pause deserves a category all its own. That’s because the pause has incredible power. Have you ever listened to a speech where the person kept on talking, going from one point to the next without pausing? It’s a little hard to absorb when your brain isn’t given a moment to process a thought. Once you have written your speech, look for the spots where people will want to pause for a moment to reflect on what you just said or to reflect on the picture in their mind. Then write the word PAUSE in big, bold letters in that spot. That way you’ll remember where to pause, and you will add tons of emotional value to your eulogy speech.
Creating a Living Eulogy
Let’s think a little outside the box here. We at Lastly.com have often thought that it’s unfortunate the deceased person never gets to hear these wonderful things about themselves and what people truly think about them. So why not create a living eulogy? What’s that, you ask?
A living eulogy is a celebratory speech about a person’s life, just like a funeral eulogy. However, a living eulogy is written and given while the person is still alive. Creating a living eulogy is a great way to sit down with your loved one to collect some stories about their life. You can also sit down with various friends and family members to gain their perspective and their stories as well.
What’s the best time to give a living eulogy? Think about the celebratory moments in a person’s life. You can give a living eulogy as part of a milestone birthday, an anniversary, a retirement or other special occasion. Don’t wait for a funeral or memorial service to share the joy of your loved one. You can celebrate your loved one with others while they are still living, functional, and have their memory intact.
Thank you for reading our guide on Writing a Great Eulogy. We wish you the best of luck in writing and delivering your eulogy speech. We hope you find the information here valuable. Download our ebook at the end of this article with a step-by-step guide and a eulogy template. Also, please take the time to peruse Lastly.com for more related resources.