Eulogies are a “once-in-a-lifetime” speaking event that can give many people the jitters — on top of feelings of grief and loss.
You’re pressured to capture the essence of the loss of this person and to help alleviate the audience’s grief. Eulogies can be hard to craft, but with care, penning one can be a worthwhile experience.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Get in a Good Headspace
- Step 2: Be Specific, But Don’t Fret Over Details
- Step 3: Consider Your Audience
- Step 4: Write It on Index Cards (Even If You Don’t Think You Need To)
- Step 5: Practice It a Few Times and Edit as Needed
- Step 6: Prepare to Take Pauses
- Step 7: End It with Heart
- Step 8: Or, Have Someone Else to Tag In
Your love for this person is something you and your audience share. While it may feel hard to begin this daunting task, have no fear. We have shared some steps to alleviate anxiety, and hopefully inspire you to write an unparalleled eulogy.
Step 1: Get in a Good Headspace
Take a deep breath. Time may be of the essence, but your frame of mind matters when it comes to putting words down on paper. Taking time to write freely, or to jot down quick thoughts can help you organize mentally for this moment. So, how do you get in a good headspace to begin writing?
Your physical space matters. If you have a favorite reading nook in your home, desk, or work area, make sure it’s neat and tidy before you begin writing.
Set your own mood lighting by either opening the blinds, turning on all your lights, or conversely, dimming them to inspire closeness for you and your work. Consider writing in a park or at a coffee shop. Seeing other people in action may spur motivation to get going.
Listen to your favorite music. Music can help people get in the “groove,” so to speak. Classical music, simple guitar, and zen melodies can be useful tunes if you’re looking to focus.
But in the end, listen to something you enjoy and gives you energy. You can always turn it down or off once you get in the zone.
Have a beverage nearby. If you work best with caffeine in your system, now’s the time to load up on that cup of joe. Splurge on a handcrafted latte on occasion? Go for it. If you feel more relaxed and loose with a beer or glass, let that mood wash over you to write.
Light a candle or use an aroma diffuser. Soft lighting may instill a calm energy that you prefer, and if a scent works to keep you focused, go for it. Aromatherapy is a powerful thing. If you prefer fresh air, open a window instead.
Pick a good time of day. If you’re a night owl, get yourself acclimated and prepped for to write in quietude. If you like the stillness of sunrise and early morning, set your writing as the first task of the day. Overall, set aside time that works best for you.
Step 2: Be Specific, But Don’t Fret Over Details
Starting a eulogy may be the most difficult part. There are probably many things to include that you may worry about what's most important. However, audiences usually appreciate a good mix of both significant events and some laughable moments in your eulogy.
So don’t feel pressured to write an epic biography -- leave that to historical biographers. But do write down a few significant things that you know you want to touch on, such as:
- Favorite pets, movies, places to eat, or favorite foods: Adding in details like this will put your audience at ease and feeling nostalgic.
- Jokes or “isms”: If the person you’re eulogizing had a penchant for humor, pepper that in throughout your piece. Lighthearted laughter is a great way to alleviate grief and tension at a memorial, and also reminds people of the good times they had with their loved one.
- Favorite sport or hobby: Giving tribute to their favorite sports team or dedication to a hobby can inspire you and your audience to relive some fun or touching moments with the deceased person. Sports superstitions are liable to make folks laugh and/or cringe, so feel free to share your loved one’s devotion -- like how many times they did or didn’t wash their jerseys.
- Alma mater, professional legacy: You don’t have to read their whole resume and accomplishments, but some audience members may learn something new or be inspired by their professional works.
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Step 3: Consider Your Audience
Memorials and funerals bring people from far and near, with varied memories in between of the deceased. Some might have some more savory tidbits worth telling, and some may have kept it professional.
Always keep your audience in mind, as you work on your eulogy. Other colorful details can be saved for another time with a smaller group.
In other circumstances, the decedent may have passed away unexpectedly or after a battle with a long illness. Consider reflecting on applying those details to your eulogy, as the traumatic memories may still be fresh for others in the audience.
Your relationship with your loved one mattered, but it is also important to recognize the impact they had on others. Let the eulogy be a springboard for those to remember in their own way as well.
A few general things to keep in mind when it comes to your audience also include the following:
- Let the room quiet down: Folks may be settling down in seats or preparing to move onto other portions of a ceremony. If you’re throwing a celebration of life, perhaps consider setting a specific time aside for a speaking portion so people are apt to listen.
- Pick someone to focus on: Pick a loved one in the room to focus on while you’re giving the eulogy. If you feel comfortable enough, you can make eye contact with other members of the audience. Do whatever makes you feel most at ease.
- Dress accordingly: If the decedent requested everyone in attendance wear Hawaiian shirts, go for it! Dress in what makes you feel most secure if no dress code is given. Picking out a sensible and sharp outfit provides a measure of respect for those in attendance, as well as your deceased loved one. In addition, make sure the outfit is comfortable. Fiddling with a thread on your sleeve or constantly adjusting a shirt can be distracting for your audience.
- Enunciate: Speak as confidently and as clearly as you can. You may get emotional, but try your best to speak up so that everyone can hear you.
Step 4: Write It on Index Cards (Even If You Don’t Think You Need To)
Even if you’re a talented public speaker or actor, keep a copy of your eulogy handy. If you find yourself caught up in emotions, index cards with bullet points can help you recenter.
Bold and highlight words you wish to emphasize. You can even type up your eulogy and cut and paste it if your penmanship isn’t the best.
Index cards will help you stay organized throughout your speech, and will break up content into smaller parts. It will seem a lot more doable both in practice and in the moment if you’re looking at a few sentences at a time, rather than a massive essay.
If you're looking for more tips, check out our guide on how to speak at a funeral with confidence.
Step 5: Practice It a Few Times and Edit as Needed
Read it aloud to yourself first to familiarize yourself with the words. Read it to a loved one to get some constructive feedback. You’ll gain a better idea of the rhythm and whether your speech elicits an unintended reaction.
The last thing you want to do is trip up on your words at the service. The more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you’ll be.
Step 6: Prepare to Take Pauses
Even if you have your eulogy memorized and ready to go, being in a room with friends and loved ones at the service may provide a very different, more intense environment.
Try and gain a sense of the energy in the room, and provide adequate pauses to give everyone time to absorb your words. You may find that interjecting pauses gives you space to be emotional, but also to gain composure and confidence in your delivery.
Practice pausing at certain times, and consult a loved one about your timing if you are unsure of how long you should speak.
Step 7: End It with Heart
When wrapping up your eulogy, focus on concluding with a heartfelt message. Consider ending it with an inspirational quote or favorite saying of the decedent. For example, you can say:
- “I’ll always love you, and I already miss you. But I won’t forget to add extra guacamole ever again.”
- “Whenever I see a wild turkey trying to fly, I’ll always think of you.”
- “Words can’t capture how much we will miss your insightful spirit, but to paraphrase Robert Frost, you took ‘the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’ You’ve taught us all something new, and changed us forever.”
These examples are quite specific, but you get the gist. Your audience will appreciate a bit of humor, or a short quote to sum up the speech. You can always simply end with “I love you. We all love you.”
Step 8: Or, Have Someone Else to Tag In
In the event that you lose your composure and need to step back, plan to tag another friend or family member in to finish your eulogy. They can stand with you or hold your hand to provide extra support. Sharing memories after a recent loss can be quite intense, so remember to be gentle with yourself.
In terms of the memorial service schedule as a whole, you can work with the funeral directors to help you plan the most meaningful, and well-thought-out service.
If you’re having a service independent of a funeral home, feel free to consult a family member or friend who has planned a service before or someone with event planning experience.
Unforgettable Eulogies Come From the Heart
When it comes down to the eulogy you write, follow your heart and your mind. It will end up being a combination of your love, energy, and dedication; people in the room can sense that. In the end, the eulogy is a gift to the deceased, your loved ones in the audience, and you.
Eulogies can provide some emotional closure and relief for others aside from yourself, which can be the best tribute of all.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the eulogy to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. 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.