If you're selected to give a eulogy, tell a short story, or want to speak at a funeral, you're probably wondering what information to share with others about your loved one. Often, speakers resort to a few funeral readings found in religious texts. Still, there's much more opportunity for stories of all kinds to be told.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Types of Stories Should You Tell at a Funeral?
- When Can You Tell a Story at a Funeral?
- Steps for Preparing a Short Story for a Funeral
- Short Story Examples for a Funeral
But if you’re looking to tell a more personal story, we can help. Write with clarity, compassion, and service to your deceased loved one. Succeed in doing that, and your audience will appreciate your words through such a difficult time. In the sections below, note the few tips and tricks we’ve compiled from the experts in the industry.
What Types of Stories Should You Tell at a Funeral?
You can tell several types of stories at a funeral, including personal, funny, and cathartic ones. The options are limitless, but the intent needs to have some strategy. First, take a look at these types of stories to see which one suits the personality of your deceased loved one best. Then keep reading for advice on how to prepare the story itself.
A few ingredients go into telling a funny story, including your delivery style for those in attendance. Sure, a story can be funny on its own, but there’s also a sense of timing and rhythm required so that you know when to mark the best times with the right zingers and the perfect amount of detail.
The sudden loss of a loved one elicits the need to tell an inspirational story to mourners. For instance, if a parent’s loss was immediate and tragic, it’s common to look back at their words of wisdom or patterns of guidance to sum up how they would help you get through a sad loss.
Stories of mentorship
A teacher, a friend, or a coworker can take on the role of mentorship at any time throughout your life. It’s those moments which can turn the tables for you, flip that switch, or pull you from despair where you’re guided to better circumstances than before.
The tragic loss of a young family member or a beloved matriarch can be felt throughout the generations and webs of friendship. Choose a story of comfort like a parable from a religious text, words of encouragement delivered by friends, and even something wherein you dig deep within to hold others up in such a time of great heartbreak.
Parent and grandparent
Notable figures in your life will offer several if not hundreds of stories to relate to others. Choose one or several or sum them up into an idea or singularity of thought. After all, with so many instances of love and compassion, you would need much longer than the few minutes you’ll be provided in a funeral service.
A first meeting often marks stories of friendship. The story then walks listeners through the growth of your relationship, including the many times you were both “there” for each other. Choose several of these for an overarching idea or one significant and impactful tale.
The value of a story for a sibling can meet highs and lows, laughter, and grief. They’re your longest friendship and likely one with the most highs and lows, too. When you walk through the history as you begin to write, think about your audience and what they’d like to know that perhaps they don’t.
When Can You Tell a Story at a Funeral?
There are four places to tell a story at a funeral. One, the eulogy, is selected by the family. The others are open to sharing thoughts and feelings when prompted or in casual gatherings before or after the service.
- Before the funeral service. You will find time to tell a story about your lost loved one at the wake. These are often quieter times, so the stories are much more subdued and sentimental. Share appropriately, considering your audience.
- The Eulogy. As the chosen speaker at the funeral service, you will be asked to prepare a eulogy. When doing so, communicate with the one closest to the loved one to make sure you’re supporting their needs and those of the audience as well.
- Open Mic. Funeral services that do not include eulogies will open the floor, if you will, to the audience so they can offer a story for all to hear. These stories often encompass all of the types of stories listed above, spanning a person’s entire life.
- At the reception. In a more relaxed environment, you’ll mingle with other mourners and share personal stories of your times with the deceased. Like the open mic option, these stories run the gamut, but, again, know your audience before you tell your story.
Steps for Preparing a Short Story for a Funeral
Learning about preparing a short story or how to write a eulogy may feel heavy, but you’ve been given an opportunity that can affect how people transition through their grief and mourning process.
1. Consider your audience
Like most things, your audience is the primary consideration for any good story. You wouldn’t tell a joke at the funeral of a child, but you might share a big laugh with others at a reception. So, make sure to think about who will hear your story before thinking about which story to tell.
2. Speak with the family
If you've been selected to give the eulogy, then you'll want to speak with the closest members of the family to gauge what they're looking for. Some may give you the green light to tell the funniest stories about grandpa. Still, others may feel more inclined to hear the compassionate moments.
3. Gather your thoughts
Next, you’ll want to spend some time thinking about the various stories you can tell. If this means you reach out to some friends or additional family members, then do so. But make sure you have a plan of action in mind so that when you ask them questions, you have a directive or a purpose ahead.
4. Write the rough draft
Look at your writings from an outside perspective. Write it all down on paper or in a computer document. Ask yourself if the words are appropriate. Do the ideas flow easily from one idea to the next, and if so, is there a better way of supporting the stories with more details and facts?
5. Read your story to someone else
Reading your story aloud to another person will help you gauge your patterns, fluctuations, and timing more easily. That, and a listener can let you know where the story falls flat. Or, by listening, you can determine if you’re hitting the right note or emotion with them.
6. Write a final draft
Next, revise your work in a final draft, considering how your one-person audience reacted and how you felt about hearing what you wrote out loud. Check your grammar, make any edits needed, and don’t be afraid to cut entire pieces out of your document.
7. Just breathe
People want to hear your story. They don't care about any flubs or mistakes, or even if you’re nervous. They are at a funeral service to share in their grief, mourn in gathering, and find solace in the stories and words of others. So, take a breath and tell your account from the heart.
Short Story Examples for a Funeral
We’ll take a few of the ideas from above and give you some examples from which to tell your story. Look at the story's basic idea, how it starts and finishes, and then try it on your own.
Inspiring story example
Hello. My name is Mary Smith. My son, Sam, and I knew Mrs. Woodard well; she was his speech pathologist throughout high school. She was so kind. Every summer weekend between high school years, we visited her home. For about an hour on Saturdays, she worked with Sam to help him speak.
We were fortunate enough to get to know her family throughout those years, too. Many times, though we were there for support from Mrs. Woodard, we’d both feel comforted by her entire family as they welcomed us inside their home.
Sam cannot be here today, but he wanted me to stand up to speak with you all. He asked that I tell Mrs. Woodard’s children how grateful he is to have known her and for all the extra time and support she showed him.
As I said, Sam couldn’t step away to be here today since he’s speaking at the UN this afternoon at the international conference for peacekeeping. His schedule is often busy as he travels extensively to share stories with people from a podium, something that he wouldn’t have had the confidence or ability to do without the love and support of Mrs. Woodard.
For that, both Sam and I are eternally grateful. Thank you.
Funny story example
Thank you for joining us today.
Dad was a family man; his laugh was contagious; his heart was bigger. Most of you know my dad as the standup man he was, but few of you know about that twinkle in his eye. They would come out of nowhere, these unsuspecting moments. Close friends were subject to his pranks, but the family got the brunt of it.
From the time I was small, I recall Dad triggering several screams from Mom. Whether from a douse of cold water in the shower, hidden plastic snakes, or tall tales of circumstances you’d think we’d catch onto – but we never did. He was such a good liar, but he was even better of a human.
Bumper stickers were Dad’s favorite prank. And he’d leave just enough time between visits that you’d forget he was sticking NRA stickers right next to a Support the Yellowstone Wolves one. I think he learned his ways from Grandma, believe it or not. Family stories go way back to her on the farm as a young girl, often harassing her siblings to the point of bedroom turf wars and manure fights.
But Dad was so much more than this, too, because every day – every moment was a chance to laugh with his loved ones. You know, he always used to say, “It’s a short trip around the sun. I don’t have time to be unkind.” And it’s true, he spent every moment full of life, even when he was the butt of the joke, too.
Dad loved the joyful moments because they got you through the tough ones like this. And when you share stories later today, remember he’s still here gut laughing with us.
Comforting story example
I am honored that John and Sue asked me to speak on their behalf today as we gather to mourn the loss of their young child, Jenny. We're never ready for these moments, especially when a short life so full of spark and joy is extinguished too soon.
And as I was preparing these words for you all today, I thought about what great thought leaders have said about youth, tragedy, and even climbing out from grief. I remembered what a good friend told me once about pain. She said, "The deeper the crevice carved from pain, the more room to fill it with joy."
At the time, I was going through something traumatic of my own, and I certainly didn't understand the meaning of what she meant. But as I went through my stages of grief and acceptance, I heard those words come back to me.
I had been holding on to my pain because it was comfortable, and I knew that without it, I would have to face my loss head-on—and I wasn't ready to do that. Yet when I did, and over time, I also found that joy of which she spoke.
I realized that the pain is more of a gift than we understand. My pain became gratitude so that every moment I grieved in loss, I also learned how much of a blessing it was to spend time with them. And slowly, my crevice filled with their memory – and not my loss, subtly overflowing into everything I now do.
It took many years, but I realized I was lucky to know someone, love someone that much, and then ache like nothing I’ve ever known before for their loss. Without that pain, I'd never know what it was like to feel such joyfulness in their memory.
Sharing Stories at a Funeral
When thinking about how to plan a funeral for a loved one, consider how you’d like to share stories. While the traditional eulogy is recommended in religious settings, a celebration of life or a non-traditional funeral service will allow you to open the floor to more speakers so that everyone can benefit from the stories.