The Five Steps
1 Collect Information
Ask those close to the person for their input. Others will likely have terrific memories, stories and impressions that you can incorporate into the eulogy. Call people who may not have been in contact for a while – the person’s childhood friends, an old teacher or boss. Make sure to get their permission to use the story. Contact these people at your earliest convenience; it may take them a while to come up with material.
Research biographical information - No matter how well you know someone, you still may need to make some phone calls or consult documents to discover basic biographical information about the person. You’ll want to create a very basic biography outline of the person’s life.
Key things to include are:
- Date and place of birth
- Date and place of marriage
- Education/work/career significant events
- Places the person lived
2 Gather Your Thoughts
Create a space for reflection and writing. Some people may say a prayer or meditate; some may take a walk or light a candle and play calming music. The goal is to have time to stop and focus on what you want to say in the eulogy.
Write down your thoughts. Don’t worry about punctuation, sentence structure or making sense, just get something down on paper. Make a list of everything you can possibly think of to include in the eulogy. This is a rough draft of your impressions and memories regarding your loved one.
Here’s list to help spark some things to consider. Of course, you don’t have to write responses to all these questions, just browse through the list and if something tickles a memory or interests you, stop and write a quick note about it.
- Who formed the person’s closest relationships - make sure and include family members who may tend to keep a "low profile" (gay partners, ex-spouses; stepchildren etc.).
- What were their special accomplishments? (ran marathon, gave up smoking, graduate degree, raising good kids)
- What were their greatest challenges and struggles? (low self esteem, alcoholism, learning disability, health issues, depression, financial difficulty)
- What type of personality did the person have? (Extravert, shy, leader, optimist)
- Do personality stereotypes fit? (Serious quiet man, daredevil tom-boy, life of the party, bookworm)
- What did they most love doing? (never missed an episode of Oprah, couldn’t take his eyes away from a football game, fishing trip to Canada, working in her craft room.)
- What was the happiest period of their life?
- What were their hobbies or special interests?
- What did the person value? Did these values influence you?
- What are your most meaningful memories of the person?
- What lessons did you learned from the person?
- What made the person unique? What made the person unique to you?
- What legacy does the person leave behind? Surviving family members, students, did the person improve the world in some way?
- What was the person committed to? – keeping the family together, church, political group, pickleball, scouts, arts organization, Kiwanis club,
- Did the person have any habits? – smoker, practical joker, story teller, hugger, whistler
- Did the person have any unique terms or ways of speaking? (alwaysmispronounced a word, regional accent, informal colloquialisms)
- What were the person’s talents? (singer, golfer, soccer player, woodworker, listener)
- If you could say only three things about the person, what would they be?
- What did you really like about the person?
- What did other people really like about the person?
- How would the person like to be remembered?
- Who were they really?
3 Organize the Material
You’re probably facing a long list of random stories, personal qualities and facts now you’ll need to decide what to include and organize the material into a cohesive format. This may be the most challenging part of writing the eulogy.
Try grouping the material into categories of similar topics and sorting it into a logical order. Look for common topics in the information and stories. Look for a logical order that develops with the information.
Review the three common ways of organizing a eulogy, perhaps one of these formats will work best for you.
Three Common ways to organize a eulogy:
1.Chronological Life History – the person’s life story starting with childhood and working through the highlights of their life. Another way to organize based on a life history is to go in reverse chronological order – starting with the present and working back through the person’s past.
This type of eulogy often reveals parts and aspects of the person’s life that friends and family may not have been aware of, such as childhood adventures, early work experience and military history.
2. Develop a special theme – as you review your notes and the information provided by others, a theme may develop. Choose one big area and give examples, anecdotes and stories to explain and illustrate it.
Example – Organize the eulogy around the way the person loved a challenge or was always there for a friend, how the person was a great humanitarian or how they were a “fighter” or “survivor”.
Example –This example is from an actual eulogy for a mother. The eulogy was organized around how the mother lives on in each of her three adult children. One daughter has the mother’s sense of humor – with examples of mom’s many practical jokes and great love of theater, another daughter has mom’s love of nature - with examples of mom’s extensive hiking and camping experiences, and a son who has the mother’s passion for sports - with examples of how mom played high school basketball, taught PE for many years and was a huge Red Sox fan.
3. Three Points – Decide on three major points or key things, focus the eulogy around these three points such as three passions, three careers. Introduce the three points at the beginning of the eulogy and go through each point by number. Conclude by summarizing the three points.
Example - In reviewing Dad’s life it became clear to me that he was devoted to three things 1) Mom 2) us kids and 3) hunting season.
Example - My aunt wore three hats: 1) Mother to her son Harry; 2) Political hot-shot at the Governor’s office, and; 3) devoted parish deacon.
4 Write the Eulogy
A eulogy is a speech. You don’t need to write it word-for-word, but writing out the eulogy word-for-word is recommended if helps you prepare or if you’re concerned that you may need to read it word-for-word or you’re concerned you may need to ask someone else to read the eulogy on your behalf. It’s a good insurance policy to have the words available should it need to be read word-for-word.
If you don’t write it out word-for-word, you may want to write out key points to keep your eulogy focused on the structure you’ve established. Some people like to put these points on note cards others prefer a single sheet of paper. You will want to write out quotes, poems or song lyrics in case you want the exact words available.
If you write out the eulogy word-for-word, remember the eulogy is written to be read aloud. When we speak normally, we don’t speak in perfect sentences. What’s important isn’t the grammar, but the points you are making and the stories you are telling.
Finally, be specific and personal. Including some details will bring make the stories real.
Eulogies, like most things in life, have three parts: a beginning, middle and end.
Beginning Section of the Eulogy.
The beginning establishes the theme for the speech.
Unless you are positive everyone in attendance knows who you are, introduce yourself and your relationship to the person being honored. Explain how you fit into the life of the person.
- Example - My name is ________ and I worked with Phil for thirty years at Amaco before he retired a couple of years ago.
- Example - My name is ______ and, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Janice’s oldest daughter from her first marriage to Jack.
It may be easiest and best to get straight to the point.
- Example - There are many things for which ____ will be remembered, but what I will never forget is her sense of humor…..
You may want to start the eulogy with a short quote, a story or a statement.
- Example - In the words of ________’s favorite hero, John Wayne: “A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.” ______ was a man who had a clear sense of right and wrong, and was consistent in what he believed. In his life and his work, ______ lived the core values that are the Marine character – honor, courage and commitment. My name is _________ and I’m _______’s nephew.
- Example - "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” - Matthew7:12 All us kids heard mom recite the Golden Rule many times while growing up. In looking at her life I can tell you mom practiced what she preached. My name is _______ and I’m Helen’s daughter.
If you are going to invite the audience to come forward and speak, you should give them advance notice in the beginning of the speech so they have time to prepare what they may want to say.
If you don’t know how to start, don’t waste time worrying about it. Write the middle first and think about how to begin afterwards.
Middle Section of the Eulogy
This is the main part of the eulogy. This is where you’ll use the memories, stories and impressions you’ve collected and organized.
End Section of the Eulogy
You may want to start the closing with a summary of the eulogy.
- Example - ____ lived a long and happy life
- Example - _________was an extraordinary person, she was a person of great passion, and devotion.
- Example - _____ certainly was a fighter
The closing provides an opportunity to thank those in attendance and acknowledge the importance of friends and family during difficult times. You may also want to thank those who supported the person and the family during a long illness.
- Example - Thank you to Dr. Barns, the hospice nurse ______ and all the wonderful people who brought meals to support us during the final weeks.
Close with a quote or reading. Explain why this verse is being read and then say the verse quietly and sincerely.
- Example - In closing I’d like to read the lyrics to ___‘s favorite song
- Example - I feel that ____ this poem best reflects ________
Close with a blessing.
- Example - Being Irish and I thought I’d conclude by reading The Irish Blessing
Close with a song. Explain why that song was chosen for the closing.
- Example - In closing I’d like to have _____'s favorite song played. She listened to this song on her last day with us.
Close with a short sentence of farewell.
- Example - I love you ______
- Example - ______ you will be missed and will always be loved.
5 Give the Eulogy Speech
Speaking before a group of people takes courage especially during times of stress and emotional turmoil. At a time when many are emotionally fragile your courage to stand in front of friends and family will be deeply appreciated. Everyone in attendance will appreciate that you’re standing up to speak on behalf of your loved one. They are on your side before you utter a word.
Practice Reading your Eulogy out loud. No matter it it’s memorized, perfectly written and you are extremely confident, standing and reading something out loud for the first time can be daunting. Force yourself to go into the bathroom or some other private place and speak the words aloud. It helps to have someone listen and give you feedback. One time through will take the edge off. Two times through will increase your confidence and three times through you’ll find yourself improvising and 100 times more comfortable with the eulogy. Ideally, see if you can practice the eulogy at the ceremony site.
Speak slowly and breathe. When we are nervous, we tend to speak too quickly. By speaking slowly, you give yourself time to think and choose your words. You also give people time to take in and think about what you’re saying.
Don’t worry if you become emotional during the eulogy and need to take a minute to collect yourself. Tears are natural; don’t apologize for them. Acknowledging and showing your feelings is healthy and honest.
Ask someone to help you read the eulogy if you become unable to continue. If you become overwhelmed with emotion and don’t want to continue, have your designated back-up person join you and continue the eulogy on your behalf. It’s a good idea to provide your back-up person with a copy of the eulogy before hand so they can review it and be ready to fill in for you should the need arise.
Writing and delivering the eulogy is noble and worthy of thought and effort. It is a gift to the listeners and yourself as it will help on the road to healing from your loss.