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What You Need To Know About Eulogies, Tributes, And Other Speeches


rev.dennis

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A eulogy is a speech given at a funeral to fondly remember the life of the person who died.

If you have a eulogy to write, we send you our deepest condolences as you will have recently lost someone you were close to.  At what can be one of the most challenging times of your life, the additional pressure to write a eulogy that perfectly captures the essence of your loved one can weigh heavy.  A common worry around writing a eulogy is, ‘what if I don’t do them justice?’ With this in mind, we have put together this guide in the hope of assisting those tasked with crafting a funeral speech and alleviating some of that anxiety.

We’ll begin with what a eulogy is and then share some writing tips, which we hope you will find helpful at this difficult time.

What is a eulogy?

A eulogy — also known as a funeral speech —  is a speech given at a funeral about the deceased, usually by someone who knew them well.  This speech aims to pay tribute to the person who has passed away and is naturally very subjective in nature.

A child or partner often delivers a eulogy for the deceased, but that isn’t always the case. For example, the deceased may not have had children or a partner, or those closest to them may not feel they can successfully deliver a eulogy while the death is so recent and raw.  In these circumstances, the bereaved will often ask another person who was close to the deceased; otherwise, the person leading the funeral (such as a priest, minister or funeral celebrant) may work with the family to put a eulogy together and read it out for them on the day

It is often seen as a great honor to be asked to deliver a eulogy as this confirms the close relationship you shared with the deceased.  Some people find the writing of a funeral speech quite cathartic as it gives them time to reflect on the person, their life, and all of their achievements; others find it very difficult to both write and read on the day.  There is no one way to write a eulogy — but we do have some tips for you which may make the process a little easier, however you are feeling about it.

Before we get started with tips for writing a eulogy, though, it’s worth reiterating here that you can’t get a eulogy ‘wrong’; the very nature of it means that it’s unique to the person who has died and the person who is writing and delivering it.

The Goals Of A Eulogy

Eulogies are meant to remember the person who died in a positive light, and offer an opportunity to speak about who the deceased was and the ways in which he or she made a difference in the lives of family, friends, and his or her community.

Who Can Deliver A Eulogy

Family members, friends, clergy, and/or funeral conductors often give eulogies. For many people, writing and delivering a eulogy is a deeply emotional experience, and though it can be a positive experience for some, it can be too difficult for others. If you feel you cannot deliver a eulogy at the funeral, ask other family members or close friends if they would like to; there is no shame in passing on the opportunity to deliver the eulogy.

You might consider choosing one person from each area of the deceased's life to speak on a certain theme. For example, you could ask an immediate family member, a business colleague, and a member of a religious group, club, or organization to deliver eulogies. If you'd like, you should feel comfortable asking people to speak on a particular topic, or leaving the topic of the eulogy up to the speaker.

Limiting The Number Of Speakers

At most funerals, eulogies and other tributes constitute the bulk of the service. Think about how many people you would like to have deliver eulogies, and how long you would like the service to last. In some cases, there will be many people who would like to eulogize the person who died, which can be both a wonderful experience and also make for a very long service. If you'd like to limit the number of speakers, it is entirely fair to ask people not to speak in order to keep the service to a certain length.

Religious Considerations

In many religions, the eulogy is delivered by the clergy member who is officiating the service. In many cases, a religious eulogy will focus on the role of God and faith in the life of the person who died, rather than any secular accomplishments. To find out what the customs are in your religion, see our article Religious Funeral Traditions.

If you'd like to have other people speak about the person who died you might have people do that at a reception after the service.

Other Opportunities To Speak At A Funeral Or Memorial Service

Aside from a formal eulogy, there are many opportunities to speak at a funeral. Many people say prayers, recite poems, or tell stories about the person who died. If there are any special readings or anecdotes that you’d like to have shared at the funeral, think about whom you would like to deliver those. Or if there are particular people who you would like to speak at the funeral, think about whether you’d like to choose readings for them or whether you’d like to let them choose what to say..

How to write a eulogy

As we’ve already mentioned, writing a eulogy can easily trigger stress in the writer. After all, a funeral is often a formal affair, so there is an unspoken pressure to get everything’ right’.  However, there are no set rules for what to say at a funeral; every funeral is as individual as the person it is celebrating the life of.

You have one task, which is to bring the memory of that person to life in the minds of your audience, and you will do that whatever you write.

Not a great writer? Don’t worry, you don’t need to be — a eulogy is from the heart, not the head or hand.  If you feel like you need a bit of guidance before you get started though, try the below tips.

CONSIDER THE PERSON

First and foremost, you would do well to spend some time thinking about the deceased’s personality and qualities — the things that made them the person they were.

If anecdotes come to mind that could encapsulate the deceased’s spirit, then jot them down, as they would be wonderful to share with your fellow mourners.

If you struggle for stories about the deceased, speak to others who were close to them, and you’ll soon find many tales that simply must be shared.

If the deceased had some less positive traits — perhaps they were very impatient or unkind — then you can either gloss over those traits in your eulogy or, if you think it would be received well, you can make a gentle nod to them in your speech.

For example, it might have been a point of amusement within the family that the deceased was notoriously “tight” when it came to spending money, and this could be something you could softly mention in passing; your audience will relate to it, and you may even raise a few smiles as they recall their memories of times when the deceased refused to put their hand in their pocket.

However, bear in mind that you don’t need to include any anecdotes in the eulogy if you don’t want to; you can simply run through the deceased’s life chronologically (or otherwise) and end with a personal note if you feel that would suit the deceased (and yourself) best.

If you go down that route, you can include information such as when and where they were born, who was in their family, where they grew up, jobs they had, partners they had, hobbies they enjoyed, places they lived, and so on. Make sure to mention all the key people in their life.

If you have any gaps in your knowledge, fact-check with other loved ones so you get all the critical information correct.

CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE

Considering the audience has been touched on above, but you must think about who you’ll be delivering your funeral speech to and what they will and won’t want to hear.

Considering what you would and wouldn’t want to hear if someone else was reading the eulogy out is an excellent place to start.

It can sometimes be a delicate balance between delivering positivity to those who need it and representing the deceased in a true light.

CHOOSE A TONE

Before you put pen to paper, you need to consider the tone of your speech.

The tone will primarily be determined by the circumstances of the death, as you will naturally wish to take a more sombre tone when, for example, talking about a young person who met an untimely death; your tone may be more upbeat when celebrating the life of a relative who lived an incredible life overall and passed away peacefully at the age of 97.

Some people choose to deliver a serious eulogy despite the circumstances of the death. In contrast, others sprinkle in some carefully thought-out humour to lift the spirits of the mourners if it is deemed appropriate.

WRITE IN BULLET POINTS

Instead of writing the eulogy out word-for-word, write down bullet points of the key points you wish to include instead; this is because you may sound stilted if you write your speech down precisely as you wish to say it.

The importance here is in your words, not in your spelling or grammar, so trust yourself to deliver the points on the day without reading every word from a sheet of paper.

This will result in a more natural-sounding funeral speech.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF

If you don’t know some of the mourners, it’s a good idea to start your eulogy with a short introduction and a quick explanation of how you knew the deceased.

COVER THE KEY POINTS

Whether you are opting for a simple life story eulogy or a more colourful speech full of anecdotes about the deceased, you must cover the key points.

Key points are things such as family life, career, and hobbies. If Howard played boules for 20 years of his life, for example, you don’t want to miss that out — especially if fellow players are in the audience.

Also, make sure to mention everyone who played a big part in the deceased’s life (making eye contact with them as you do so, if possible) and thank everyone for attending — especially those who travelled far.

Final thoughts

Whatever approach you take to writing a eulogy, you can’t go wrong if you consider all of the above points.

Have a friend or family member on standby on the day in case you are overcome with emotion and don’t feel you can read it yourself.

However, don’t worry about emotion taking over while you’re giving the funeral speech — this is almost expected and will only be met with love and support. Pause, take a moment, and then continue when you’re ready.

NOTES for Minister

The most important thing to remember on the day of the service is that you’re there to help facilitate healing and remembering -- in whatever way the friends and family choose. 

Ask yourself, How can I best show up for them while honoring the deceased? This should be the guiding principle behind your delivery and tone, and it will also help you in your interactions with other guests. 

Whether you’ve been asked to prepare something upbeat and funny, more like a party than a funeral, or a formal sermon with a long period of prayer and silence, it’s best to show up as your authentic self. Stick to your script, don’t read too quickly, and take your time.

Be yourself, be respectful, and be prepared, and you’ll do a wonderful job. 

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