It’s fun to picture a loved one holding up a bubbling glass of champagne in your honor. Imagine the rousing chorus of “Cheers!” that might immediately follow. Wouldn’t it be great to be honored that way?
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Toasts aren’t appropriate for every occasion. For example, if you stand up at a funeral with a bottle of whiskey, you may find yourself discreetly escorted out the door by the funeral director. Many people think traditional Irish wakes feature lots of toasts, but that practice has largely fallen out of fashion. These days, a toast to the deceased is usually reserved for a post-funeral gathering in a pub or bar or in a more lighthearted celebration of life ceremony.
No matter the occasion, there are certain rules you can follow to ensure your toast to the deceased is a special moment. Here are some guidelines to ensure that you craft the perfect tribute to your loved one.
Toast to the Departed Examples
There are a few different ways you can make a great toast. We’ve broken them down into categories to give you some guidance.
Incorporate a quote
You may not know what to say about someone you’ve lost, so a quote can be a great jumping-off point. Choose a quote that meant a lot to a loved one. Pick a passage from a book he or she loved or a lyric from a song.
Here are some examples.
1. “The author Kahlil Gibran wrote, ‘When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.’ I chose that quote because Gibran wrote ‘The Prophet,’ which Mrs. Reece gave to me as a gift at the end of my freshman year. That book, along with Mrs. Reece’s influence, helped me realize I wanted to become a writer. Teachers have an unparalleled impact on our lives, and Mrs. Reece was one of the best. I’m so grateful for the delight she brought to my life.”
2. “In the book ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’ Mitch Albom wrote, ‘Death ends a life … not a relationship.’ That’s so true. Even though Grandma Joy is no longer with us in person, her spirit surrounds us. Whenever I see a rainbow or hear big band music, I feel her. Even now, raising this glass of her favorite whiskey, I feel like she’s just about to pour herself a glass, too.”
3. “Andy Warhol said, ‘The idea is not to live forever but to create something that will.’ Mom’s legacy lives on not just in us, her children. It also lives on in the art she created that we all get to take with us. Cheers to Mom and to all of her beautiful creations. May she live on through them.”
4. “When my sister and I were little, our grandpa used to read the book ‘Winnie the Pooh’ to us. There’s a quote from that book that goes, ‘If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.’ Every time I pick up that book again, I feel like I’m about to meet Grandpa for a walk through the Hundred Acre Wood.”
Share a personal story
When you make a toast to a departed loved one, it’s important to keep it personal. Sharing an anecdote about the deceased can be comforting to other mourners. It gives them a chance to revisit a positive memory.
They may even be learning about your story for the first time. Knowing we can continue learning things about our loved ones after they’re gone makes it feel like they’re still with us.
5. “Kelly had the kind of face that made people want to open up to her. While I’d rather go to the dentist than talk to a stranger, Kelly loved meeting people and hearing their stories. She could sell a table on Craigslist and end up with a new friend for life. I don’t know what happens after we die. But I like to believe that if there’s a heaven, Kelly’s up there making a thousand new friends.”
6. “Many of you knew my husband as the life of the party. You may not realize the depth of the true affection he had for his friends and family. Bob always knew a good mood could be contagious. When he knew someone was having a hard time, he made an effort to really crank up his charm and energy. No matter what he was going through in his own life, he wanted to give his best self to people and lift them up. He would’ve hated being the cause of anyone’s sadness. So, if only for a moment, let’s raise our glasses — and raise our spirits — in honor of the way he lived.”
7. “Most of you know that Dad was a real beer snob. He never could pass a craft brewery without giving its wares a try. We made sure to stock the bar with some of his favorite beers (except the sours, which no one liked but him). It may be more traditional to toast with whiskey or wine. But tonight we lift our beer bottles in Dad’s memory instead — it’s the most fitting tribute.”
8. “My brother was not a man of many words. In my family, most of us learned to speak loudly in order to be heard. Mark was always content to sit back and listen. Even though he was so quiet, the room feels empty without him. Let’s toast to an amazing brother who was as supportive as he was silent.”
5 Tips for Making a Toast to the Departed
When you’re composing a toast to the deceased, there are some key points to keep in mind. A toast is all about creating a mood. Here are some tips and tricks to help you make the perfect memorial toast.
1. Keep things light
Eulogies are often tremendously emotional and moving speeches. They tend to be fairly sad. Toasts are a different creature entirely.
The point of a toast isn’t to make people cry. Keep the focus on a positive memory. It’s even appropriate to tell a funny anecdote. The saddest a memorial toast should be is bittersweet.
2. Be positive
You honor someone when you make a toast to them. A toast isn’t the time to be critical. Always be sure to celebrate the person you’re toasting in a genuine way.
A memorial toast should be an expression of love and respect.
3. Keep it brief
A eulogy should be between about three to seven minutes. At most, you should speak for ten minutes. Toasts to the deceased should be much shorter. Wedding toasts can go on for three to five minutes but a memorial toast should last one to two minutes.
You can take your cue from the individual event. If most people talk a bit longer, you can always speak a little longer, too.
4. Be prepared
The general rule of thumb as you make a toast is that you should speak from the heart. Some people take that to mean that they should speak extemporaneously in the moment. That’s not always a great idea. You can prepare in advance and still keep things heartfelt.
Even though toasts are lighter than eulogies, it can still be an emotional time for the person delivering them. If you’re unprepared, you may find yourself stammering and leaving empty pauses while you search for the right words to say. Write your toast in advance, or at least prepare an outline. It will set you up for success.
If you're speaking at a funeral or celebration of life read our tips for speaking at a funeral, too.
5. Keep things personal
When you’re delivering a toast in someone’s memory, you’re not just talking about the deceased as a person. You’re sharing with people what the deceased meant to you.
When you share a story or anecdote in your toast, you’re giving a glimpse into what that particular relationship meant to you.
Paying Tribute to a Loved One
There are many different ways we can pay tribute to our loved ones after they pass away. Obituaries are good for giving biographical details. Eulogies are a great opportunity to pay a moving and emotional tribute to a loved one.
Toasts give us the chance to revisit fond and even humorous memories. The grieving process isn’t linear, and it isn’t always about sadness. Taking even a minute or two to raise a glass and share a happy story is just as important in the healing process.