Writing a eulogy for a loved one who has passed away is an honorable task but also a challenging one. You’re expected to sum up a person’s life story and their impact on the world in just a few minutes. This already emotionally-fraught job becomes even more difficult if your loved one died by suicide.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Steps for Writing a Eulogy for a Loved One Who Died By Suicide
- Eulogy Examples for a Loved One Who Died By Suicide
Suicide is often heavily stigmatized in cultures all around the world. Even though our societal understanding of mental health issues is improving, many people still view suicide as a selfish act. Here, we’ll outline how to write a eulogy for someone who died by suicide sensitively and respectfully.
Steps for Writing a Eulogy for a Loved One Who Died By Suicide
Eulogies are typically delivered by a family member or close friend of the deceased. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by this responsibility, especially if you’re not a professional writer or an experienced public speaker. But the advantage you have is a deep knowledge of your loved ones. Follow these steps to write a polished but deeply meaningful eulogy.
Step 1. Decide how to address the elephant in the room
Sitting down to write a eulogy is never an easy undertaking, but there are some times when it is more difficult than others. If your loved one passed away after a long illness or from old age, you've likely had some time to prepare yourself and come to terms with their death. It may be more emotionally challenging if your loved one died in an unexpected accidental manner, but you can still contextualize it.
But when someone dies by suicide, more care may be needed when writing the eulogy. Because of the stigma around suicide, some families aren't comfortable being candid about the manner of death.
Be sure you're on the same page as the deceased's closest family members. They may want you to be open about the dead's struggles, or they may prefer that you use more euphemistic terminology like "died suddenly." It's helpful to clarify the family's position before you even start writing.
Step 2. Create a comfortable and soothing environment
When you write a eulogy, you’re put in the unique position of being creative while actively grieving. It’s important to set up a space where you can feel both inspired and relaxed. That will look different for everyone. Some people may curl up on the couch under a soft blanket with a notepad and pen. Others may prefer to work at their desk in front of a computer. Figure out what works for you.
You can also create an ambiance that you find soothing and motivational. Make a playlist of songs that the deceased loved to feel more connected to them, and light candles to set the mood. Pour a glass of wine, or brew a mug of herbal tea. Do whatever you need to do to put yourself into the right headspace.
Step 3. Keep it short and sweet
Eulogies can vary in length. We recommend keeping them between three and five minutes long as a general rule. This is because grieving people won’t necessarily be able to focus on a lengthy speech. It would be best if you ultimately aimed to keep your eulogy between 450 and 750 words. Having a word count in mind before you begin can help guide you through writing.
Step 4. Understand content and tone
An obituary will include many biographical details about your late loved one, but a eulogy can get a little more personal. This is because obituaries are published and read for a wider audience, while eulogies are delivered to those who knew the deceased well enough to attend the funeral. So when you write a eulogy, you can eschew some of the formal biographical details in favor of more personal information.
The tone of a eulogy will depend somewhat on the deceased's character and the audience. If you're eulogizing your prim and proper grandmother in front of her church friends, you'll probably want to aim for a more serious and respectful tone. If you're eulogizing your lighthearted prankster brother though, it's acceptable to inject some levity into the speech.
Step 5. Make notes on what you’d like to include
Even professional writers can’t just sit down and craft a polished speech in one sitting. They start by making an outline or jotting down notes of what they want to include. Think about the things that were important to the deceased and start writing them down. Once you’ve done that, you can prioritize what you’d like to include. Topics you might mention in a person’s eulogy include:
- Favorite sports teams
Step 6. Write the eulogy
Once you’ve organized your thoughts, go ahead and write a draft of the eulogy. You can open by greeting the crowd, then transition into anecdotes and details about the deceased. Don’t be afraid to inject some heartfelt emotion into your words. And be sure to read our article on how to end a eulogy.
Step 7. Get feedback
After you’ve polished your eulogy, it’s often a good idea to get a second opinion to make sure it’s appropriate. Ideally, you’ll be able to talk to someone else who knew the deceased because they’ll have greater insight. Try to work with someone who isn’t a close family member: they may be busy planning the funeral or too mired in grief to be able to give advice.
Step 8. Practice makes perfect
Once you’ve finalized your eulogy, be sure to practice delivering it until you feel comfortable with it. It’s also a good idea to record yourself while you practice. That way, you can watch it back to make sure you’re not speaking too quickly.
Step 9. Write your speech on note cards
After practicing your eulogy several times, you may end up memorizing it. Even so, it’s imperative that you also have a written copy with you. Speaking in public can be stressful, and funerals are very emotional occasions. Both of these things can interfere with your memory. Be sure to number your index cards so they don’t get mixed up.
Eulogy Examples for a Loved One Who Died By Suicide
Even with all the steps laid out for you, it can be hard to know what exactly to say during a eulogy. While we don’t have room to provide examples of full eulogies, we have provided excerpts for several scenarios. Some reference suicide more explicitly, while others are more cautious.
For a parent or grandparent
“On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank you all for coming today. As I look around the room, I see the faces of many people who loved my mom as much as I did. Like me, I know that you wish that our love would have been enough to keep her here with us. Sadly, the mental illness she struggled with for most of her adult life prevented her from seeing how worthy she was of that love.
I refuse to let the end of my mom’s life define her legacy. Today, I won’t dwell on the darkness she dealt with at the end of her life. Instead, I’d like to talk about all the ways she brought light into so many lives.”
For a child or adult child
“For a parent, there is no scarier proposition than the loss of a son or daughter. Today, I stand here still trying to come to terms with the fact that my greatest fear has been realized.
Immediately after Andrew was born, they placed him on my chest. Much to the nurse’s surprise, he picked his head up and peered around the room. She said she had never seen a newborn do that before. But that was Andrew in a nutshell: he was an energetic explorer who wanted nothing more than to see the world around him.”
For a partner or spouse
“As you all know, my husband had the biggest heart. He was one of the kindest, most generous people I ever met. His thoughtfulness. His sense of humor. I’ll miss so many things about him. I’ll even miss the way he used to eat almost all the ice cream and leave me a single spoonful in the carton.
I’m sure Bill’s death was surprising to many of you. He was such a gregarious, larger-than-life character. Unfortunately, people with big hearts are often deeply sensitive. Bill internalized so much of his pain because he never wanted to burden anyone. I knew his struggles, probably more than anyone else. But I wish I had known how deep his pain ran.”
For a sibling
“Today, we are gathered here to honor and remember my brother Tom. While this is a day of mourning, it is also a celebration. For the last ten years, Tom lived with multiple chronic illnesses that drastically diminished his quality of life. Now, he has finally found freedom from the pain he dealt with every day. Over the last decade, Tom had so many choices taken from him. I’m incredibly grateful that we live in a state where physician-assisted suicide is legal. Choosing to die on his terms gave him back the agency and dignity that his illnesses stole from him.”
For a close friend
“Rebecca’s favorite book was The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. I’d like to conclude by sharing a quote from this book. It reads:
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so you must know pain.”
While we all carry the pain of Rebecca’s loss with us, we can also take comfort in the fact that she is free from pain.”
Sensitive Eulogy for Someone Who Died By Suicide
Funerals are always emotionally challenging events. This is especially true for a funeral after a suicide. Because of the stigma surrounding suicide, some funeral attendees may have complicated emotions. When writing a eulogy for someone who died by suicide, it’s essential to put aside any anger or confusion you may be wrestling with. Instead, focus on sharing all of the good things you can remember about your late loved one.