If you’ve ever attended a military funeral, you know how orderly they are. There's pomp and circumstance—all to honor the deceased veteran. And there's an established routine that the military doesn't deviate from.
Each motion is rife with symbolism. Every demonstration shows respect to a fellow veteran who has died. This symbolism provides comfort to many grieving military families.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Consider the Situation
- Step 2: Don't Be Objective
- Step 3: Do Your Research
- Step 4: Don't Speak for Everyone
- Step 5: Acknowledge Their Service
- Step 6: Make a List
- Step 7: Choose a Theme
- Step 8: Find the Right Quote
- Step 9: Hone Your Delivery
It may seem overwhelming to prepare and deliver a eulogy. It's not something you learn in school or get to practice very often.
But there are three things that can help you: research, writing, and public speaking. Putting all these skills together will help you prepare a moving eulogy for a veteran.
Writing a eulogy might be just one of your responsibilities following a death. For help through the process, check out our post-loss checklist.
Step 1: Consider the Situation
Familiarize yourself with the situation surrounding their death, even before you start brainstorming. Were they killed in action? Are they a World War II veteran? The answers to these questions will change the tone of your eulogy.
The situation should inform your tone. In the case of a World War II veteran, they had a long life. They built many memories and changed many people. Likely, their families had an opportunity to say goodbye and get closure. Inserting a few humorous anecdotes could be appropriate.
In the case of a sudden death, you should adjust your tone. Their loved ones' worst fears came true. Rather than living a lengthy, full life, their mourning an untimely loss. This makes mourning even more intense, and your eulogy should reflect that.
Step 2: Don’t Be Objective
It may be tempting to write your eulogy as a bystander. This could be especially true at a military funeral. There's so much emphasis on ceremonies and respect it can feel impersonal.
But remember a eulogy has two purposes. The first one is to memorialize the deceased. This is a gift of respect and love that you can give them after they are gone. The second purpose is to commemorate your relationship with them. You can’t do that if you’re being objective.
Don’t be afraid to talk about what they meant to you. Their life affected yours, and their death will change you forever. Talking about your relationship and emotions is one of the bravest things you can do.
Step 3: Do Your Research
What do you know about military terminology? Odds are your military understanding is cobbled together from pop culture references. You might think you know the correct terms. But don’t be dismissive of the appropriate language. Military personnel place a lot of emphasis on the correct terminology.
Making an error in your terminology can come across as uncaring. If you say platoon when you should have said battalion, it may sound disrespectful.
There's nothing worse than appearing as if you didn’t bother to do your research. Even if that's not true, fact-check your eulogy. Make sure the military terms and procedures you mentioned are correct.
Step 4: Don’t Speak for Everyone
It’s tempting to reach for some tried-and-true lines. You've probably heard them in other eulogies. "I'm sure everyone here loved John." Or, "Everyone was happy to see John when he walked into the room."
These are sweeping statements that might not be completely true. Even if the deceased was well-loved, it's still good to avoid generalizations. You don’t know the relationship the deceased had with everyone at the service. So don’t attempt to speak for everyone. Only speak for yourself.
Share your wishes—just in case.
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Step 5: Acknowledge Their Service
At a military funeral, the service of the deceased is front and center. Writing an entire eulogy without acknowledging it would be odd.
Research their service and talk to their friends about why they joined the military. Talking about something that composed a huge part of their life is important to do.
In your eulogy, remember to acknowledge the sacrifices they made to serve in the armed forces. If you have a specific example, share it. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. You don’t need to be specific. But you do want to make sure to acknowledge their service.
Step 6: Make a List
How are you supposed to start brainstorming content for your eulogy? You don’t want to have a sloppy beginning or throw everything together slapdash. Doing that will make it come across as messy and disjointed work. And it won’t honor the person you love. If you aren’t sure where to start just write a list... This can be a life-saver.
Sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. Start thinking about the deceased. Try to remember things about them. What were their hobbies? What was most important to them? What prompted their entrance into the military? What role did their military service play in their life?
Making a list of things, events, and traits that seem most important to you is a great start. Once you’ve made a full list, go through and pick the highlights. You want your eulogy to be between three and five minutes long.
There’s no way that you’re going to be able to talk about their entire life. How do you decide what to focus on? Try condensing your list into groups. Where do things fit together? Are there overlapping ideas?
Don’t forget what is most important to your relationship with the deceased. Once you have a more organized list, it’s time to pick a theme.
If you need more help with where to begin, read our tips on how to start a eulogy.
Step 7: Choose a Theme
Is there a main thread that ties these separate categories together? Sometimes, you’ll find a character trait connecting everything. You might find themes that point to a sense of duty or a commitment to bravery.
These things might be present in your favorite memories. If that's the case, you should highlight them in your eulogy. Highlighting one character trait can help your eulogy feel cohesive.
If you’re struggling to find one main thread, what sub-themes can you find? For instance, overlapping themes may be present in many of your memories. You could tie those themes together under a broader idea. Choosing a theme will further clarify what to include from the list you created earlier.
Step 8: Find the Right Quote
Choosing a line from a favorite song, or a well-known proverb can serve as the centerpiece for your eulogy. It may be appropriate to pick something related to the military. If the deceased was a Marine choosing the Marines’ motto would be appropriate. But don’t feel tied to a military-related quote. You can pick something unrelated if it is more appropriate.
It’s important to choose a eulogy quote that ties together with your message. Find a quote that emphasizes the stories and memories you’re sharing. The right choice can help people understand the message you’re trying to convey.
No matter what, choose carefully and keep it brief. A eulogy should be all about your own words, not somebody else’s.
Step 9: Hone Your Delivery
Public speaking is hard! There’s a reason it ranks so high on the list of most common fears. With some easy tips, you're on your way to becoming a worthy public speaker.
Rehearse. And then rehearse some more. This is important for a few reasons. Chances are, you'll get quite emotional when delivering the eulogy.
If this happens, practicing can help you get through your speech. Being emotional is normal, but you don’t want a breakdown to keep you from delivering the words you worked so hard to write.
You should also keep it short. You don’t want to make people’s eyes glaze over. Time your speech to see how long it is. Eulogies are usually between three and five minutes long.
Make sure you speak slowly when you practice, and when you give the eulogy. Unless you are a very practiced public speaker you’ll likely rush a bit when sharing your words.
Making eye contact. This is a crucial part of being a gripping public speaker. If you stare down at your notes, it’s impossible to make a human connection with the audience. Gazing out at the audience will help them feel like you’re connected to them.
If making eye contact is too emotional, you can look above the heads of those in attendance. While this trick won’t produce quite the same connection as making eye contact, it should stop you from becoming too emotional.
Don’t jump the gun when it comes to starting your speech. After someone’s name is called, or after a song in the service, people need time to settle back into their seats. They may be whispering to their child for a few seconds or moving their purse before sitting down again.
If this is the case, don’t try to railroad over the noise and make yourself the center of attention. Give the room a natural amount of time to settle down. Everyone will bring their attention to the speaker when they’re ready.
Eulogies are a Gift to the Departed
Crafting a eulogy may very well be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. Hitting all the right notes while honoring your loved one’s service is challenging.
It's easy to focus on how hard eulogies are, or to feel unworthy. Why did the family pick you? The answer is simple. They chose someone who loved the deceased and would be able to communicate that well. Even if you feel inadequate, it's nothing that practice and rewriting can't fix.
When you're grieving, writing a eulogy may feel pointless. Why does it matter? It's too late for the deceased to hear everything you loved about them anyway. A eulogy is a gift.
It's one of the only things you can give the deceased after they are gone. Memorializing them with your words, and keeping their legacy alive, is important. It's also a gift to loved ones. It's often comforting to hear about how the deceased had a positive effect on the world around them. It can provide a sense of emotional closure, which makes a eulogy a true gift of love.