Public speaking is a real challenge for many people. It can be nerve-wracking to stand in front of a group of people and give a speech. This can be even more challenging in a situation where heightened emotion is involved. One example of this is a funeral speech. If you’ve been asked to speak at a funeral, the odds are that you had a close relationship with the deceased.
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Being asked to speak at a funeral in front of friends and loved ones is a great honor. It gives you the opportunity to pay tribute to someone who meant a great deal to you. But sitting down to write down what you want to say may feel overwhelming. If you’re grieving, your creative well may feel like it has run dry.
Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. Here we’ll share some tips on writing opening remarks for a funeral service. We’ll also provide some examples of ways people have opened funeral speeches.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, the funeral isn't the only thing you have to handle. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
COVID-19 Tip: If you're speaking at a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, make sure you know how much time you'll have to speak. If you're hosting the funeral, you can work with GatheringUs to create a detailed itinerary that you'll follow on the day. You should also make sure to test your audio and visual setup to make sure everything works seamlessly. Here are some more tips for planning and attending a Zoom funeral.
Sample Opening Remarks for a Funeral Service
If you’re speaking at a funeral, chances are you’ve looked up specific resources, like how to write a eulogy. But you may have had a harder time finding a comprehensive guide on writing opening remarks. Sometimes it helps to remove the word “funeral” from the equation and think of it in more general terms.
What are some ways that people generally open speeches at events? Adapt those rules to the situation. Many people like to use famous quotations (religious or secular) as a jumping-off point for a speech. Others like to focus on making the audience feel included. And others like to get right to the point of what they’ll be saying. All of these strategies work for a funeral speech as well. The most important thing to remember is to keep the tone appropriate for the occasion. Here we share some examples:
Sample remarks for a religious funeral
“Thessalonians 4:13 reads, ‘Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.’
"Anyone who knew my mother quickly learned that she was a woman of deep and abiding faith. Though she had been ill for some time she was not sad, nor did she fear death. In the weeks before she passed away, we talked a lot about what was waiting for her after she left the earthly plane. She told me that she knew people would be sad, and that was okay. But she hoped that our grief would be tempered by remembering that she has gone to a better place. That was my mother in a nutshell. She was always comforting others, even when it probably should have been the other way around. Thank you all for joining our family today to remember such a special and selfless individual.”
Sample remarks for a non-religious funeral
“Looking around the room today I see many familiar faces, as well as some new ones. This isn’t surprising to me. My sister Marian has always been a gregarious and outgoing person. She never met a stranger: everyone was always immediately a potential new friend. It made things interesting.
"Once we were on vacation in a city we’d never been to, and we still managed to run into someone Marian knew. She deeply cared about people, and it warms my heart to see that so many of the people she loved are here. Our family looks forward to connecting with you after the service. Thank you all for supporting us through such a difficult loss.”
Sample remarks for someone who died suddenly
“Maya Angelou once wrote. ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ My cousin Rebecca was one of those people who always made people feel loved and welcomed. She was always willing to step up and help people in need. She made everyone feel not just good, but also important or valued.
"Our family is reeling from her sudden and unexpected passing. But looking out at everyone here today, I see so many people Rebecca loved. And I realize that even in death, she is looking out for us. The people she has supported are here to support us, and that’s a beautiful feeling.”
Sample remarks for someone who died after a long illness
“Greetings, and thank you all for coming today. We are here today to honor a very special person - my dad. As most of you know, my dad has been ill for several years. But no matter how much time we had to prepare for this day, we still don’t feel ready to say goodbye.
"We appreciate how many of you have come to support us during this difficult time. As per Dad’s request, today will not be a traditional funeral. Instead, we will have a celebration of life in honor of the joy he brought to so many people.”
Sample remarks for a child
“A.A. Milne wrote, ‘If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.’ Having to say goodbye to someone you love is always difficult. Saying goodbye to someone as young as Remy is even more challenging.
"In just his few short years on this planet, he had such a major impact on everyone whose paths he crossed. We appreciate more than we can say that you’ve come to help his family through this difficult time. Today, we gather together to remember Remy and the light he brought into our lives. Like me, I know you all will continue keeping him in your heart today and always.”
Tips for Writing Opening Remarks for a Funeral
Now that we’ve seen some examples of opening remarks, let’s break down how to write them.
Tip: Speaking at a funeral is just one of the many challenges you can face when someone you love dies. Our post-loss checklist can help you face and overcome those challenges, whether they're legal, financial, or personal.
#1: Keep it brief
There are many speaking roles available at funerals. Friends and family members may be asked to give readings of meaningful poems of religious texts. And at many funerals someone will deliver a eulogy that’s usually between three and five minutes long.
Your opening remarks don’t have to be even that long. You should be able to say what you need to say in just a minute or two.
#2: Set the tone
There are many different kinds of funerals. Some are religious and some are secular. Some have a more somber tone, while others take on a more celebratory bent. There are typically clues to this in the funeral announcement. For example, generally people know ahead of time if they’re going to a celebration of life service as opposed to a more traditional funeral. But people who are mourning may not have read a funeral announcement that closely or may be distracted by their grief.
If you’re making opening remarks, make sure they fit in with the overall tone of the service. If the funeral is meant to be more of a lighthearted celebration, you can infuse your remarks with a little humor. If it’s a serious service honoring a distinguished person, your remarks will be more formal.
#3: Make everyone feel welcome
Funeral opening remarks are almost akin to a funeral thank you speech. You want to make sure everyone feels as though they have been warmly welcomed to join in and mourn together.
One way to do that is to express your gratitude to people for coming. Be open and sincere about what their presence means for you. This will make them feel less like an audience, and more like they are part of a meaningful occasion.
#4: Talk about the deceased
If a eulogy is on the schedule for later in the ceremony, you shouldn’t give much biographical background on the deceased, as it might end up being repeated later. But you should speak briefly about the deceased, as they are the person who has brought everyone together. You can refer to them by name, and you can also mention your relationship with them for anyone who doesn’t know.
If you’re including a quote to get started, make sure it’s something you think they would have connected with. That’s an easy way to make your remarks feel more personalized.
#5: Get feedback
Since you’re setting the tone for the rest of the service, it’s a good idea to get some feedback on your remarks once you’ve written your remarks.
Work with the person planning the funeral, or with someone who is helping them with logistics. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Public speaking can be anxiety-inducing even for professionals. It can be even more challenging when you’re experiencing profound emotions like grief. Practice your remarks over and over again until you feel comfortable delivering them. Repetition like this can help you feel more confident no matter how sad or scared you might be.
Set the Tone for a Funeral with Your Opening Remarks
For some people, speaking in public will never be easy. And delivering even a brief speech when you’re in mourning can be extremely challenging. But even if you aren’t comfortable speaking in public, it’s important to honor our loved ones. Speaking about what they meant to their surviving friends and family is a powerful gesture.
The right words can even help bring closure or comfort to grieving loved ones. If you’ve been asked to speak at a funeral, remember that everyone is in the same boat as you are. They’re also in mourning. Even if your speech doesn’t go perfectly, people won’t mind. As long as you speak from the heart, they’ll connect with you.
If you need more help with planning a funeral or memorial service, read our guides on funeral flowers for grandchildren and what shoes to wear to a funeral.