How To Write a Eulogy

If you are asked to write a eulogy, know that this is a great honor. A eulogy is the speech given in memory of a person's life after he or she has passed away. It is a very significant part of the grieving process for family and friends.

At a funeral, memorial or committal service, it is not enough to discuss religious beliefs or to sermonize. Many find comfort in religion and faith, but a eulogy should be an expression of a person's life, centered entirely upon that person.

It is not difficult write a eulogy in the technical literary sense, but the process can be very emotionally draining and sad -- often simply too painful for a family member to undertake. It can be helpful and cathartic for a family friend or spiritual advisor to write the actual speech with lots of input from the family. Here are some guidelines for writing a eulogy.

  1. Gather with the loved ones to share memories. This can prompt an outpouring of emotion including anger, blame, and denial. That is okay; it's part of the healing process. That outpouring is another reason why it's helpful to have a spiritual advisor or psychological guide to facilitate the process.
  2. Keep it positive. It's okay to purge unhappy memories, but not in the eulogy. Focus on the good in a person's life; it is definitely there. This doesn't mean you should candy-coat elements of a life or avoid sharing good memories. If he liked a few beers with his buddies, or loved to play poker, these aren't bad things to mention unless he was known to have abuse issues that might be unhealthy to discuss in a public speech.
  3. Get to know all about the person. Even is you are a close relative, don't assume you know all about them. Ask other loved ones and friends for their memories. Ask about:
    • Family history (what she did as a kid, what life was like, what obstacles she had to overcome).
    • Family interests.
    • Interests (dancing, music, theater, sports, animals, boating).
    • Hobbies (drawing, crossword puzzles, sewing, crafts, woodwork, collecting).
    • Clubs or activities (Elks, Moose, Scouting).
    • Social or community activist groups (4H, Jaycees, city council, Democratic Party, union member, church activities).
    • Areas of expertise (welding, literature, wines, photography).
    • Past work experiences (occupations, job situations, tasks).
    • Travel.
  4. Be specific and personal. People need to hear details about the person, especially the happy memories. They may be crying, but they can smile and laugh through their tears. Those who are not as close to the person will learn about the unique life and passions through your eulogy. I still remember a funeral mass for a co-worker's husband whom I did not know; he loved the Detroit Redwings.
  5. Use a format if necessary . Our priest performs many funerals and he uses a 'fill-in-the-blank' exercise with the family to gather special little things. 'When you see a ________, think of me. When you hear __________, think of me. When you smell __________, think of me. When you eat _________, think of me. When you go _________, think of me.' Father reads at the mass as though the deceased were making statements directly to the mourners. The details are very specific, involving a 57 Chevy BelAire, accordion or bagpipe music, smell grilling sausage, eating lasagna. Here are several more of these fill-in-the-blank statements. You can make up many more yourself.
    • When you play (this game)...
    • When you listen to (this music or group)....
    • When you visit (this place)...
    • When you read (this book)...
    • When you drive past (this place)...
  6. Share special passions. What did the did she really feel strongly about or believe in? For example: 'My neighbor Dale believed in doing random acts of kindness; he was beloved of all the teachers and kids on his Head Start bus.'
  7. Share special accomplishments. What was he proud of? What did he do well? This is not as much about awards as it is about personal fulfillment. Be specific. For example: 'My mother-in-law crocheted the most beautiful blankets; she never entered a contest, but she would have won if she did.'
  8. Don't worry about using fancy words; just say what you feel. It's all about sincerity and honestly sharing your love and memories.

The grieving and healing process involves sharing, laughing, crying and remembering.  Holding feelings inside is unsafe and makes them more painful.  I hope that your eulogy-writing experience is very positive and brings peace.


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