Eulogy writing can be a very difficult thing given the time constraints, the flood of disconnected memories and emotions running hot. Nevertheless, writing and organizing memories can be an amazingly cathartic activity. But sometimes even the best writer and the most dedicated friend can’t ‘put it together’ and may need a bit of professional help. That is what we do at TheEulogyWriters.com We take your words and your memories and organize them and skillfully craft for you a beautiful eulogy. Following is a guide for your use in writing a eulogy for a friend.
Finding the ‘Right’ words There are no right or wrong words – only YOUR words. If you can put a eulogy together in the way you speak every day, you are doing it correctly. A eulogy is not an obituary. You will want to know the difference: An obituary is an announcement of death usually published in the newspaper. It is a brief statement of the facts – name, age, occupation, education, names of family members living and dead. An obituary makes no attempt at telling a life story. It is a bare-bones, fact-based ‘resume.’ A eulogy is the story of your loved one’s life. Because of time constraints it needs to be relatively brief, but it needs to pay tribute to the life lived and summarize accomplishments, personality traits, talents, and relationships. A eulogy is what you would want someone to say about you after you’re gone – but you’re saying it about the one you’ve lost. It is a celebration and encapsulation of his or her life.
Brainstorm Your Eulogy Sometimes a person will simply want to start writing about anything and everything that comes to mind. This is not a bad idea. Getting those ‘first impressions’ or first memories will certainly result in having the most important things about your loved one out front. The eulogy can flow from there. If you have other family members or friends involved, you can collect all kinds of great memories and not worry about forgetting anything essential.
A Few Brainstorming Tips for a Great Eulogy When you get together with family and/or friends, begin by asking the following questions. Be sure someone takes notes on what people offer.
How would you describe him/her – outgoing, quiet, funny, etc.?
What was he/she best known for? What trait or talent or gift stands out most obviously?
What is your favorite story about him/her?
How do you think he/she has influenced others?
What ‘saying’ or mannerism or ‘quirk’ did he/she have?
What would you most want to say to him/her now if you had five more minutes?
In the course of exploring these questions, more will come to mind. Let the discussion flow and take notes of all the memories people share.
Know the Subject of Your Eulogy Consideration must be given to exactly who the person you are memorializing was. If he/she was a very funny person, you will probably not want to make the eulogy too somber. If he/she was a pretty straight arrow you will not want it to have too humor. It would be incongruous. Likewise, your audience and the location of the funeral or memorial service will be a consideration. A church or synagogue or mosque requires a certain degree of solemnity and reverence, whereas a funeral home may be a ‘looser’ kind of environment. A light hearted eulogy is, by no means, disrespectful if it ‘fits’ the situation and the person. In fact, there ought to be a touch of humor. Everyone’s life contains some kind of funny event or circumstance. Talk to another friend about humorous stories to see if they believe them to be appropriate.
Organize the Eulogy Speech Look over the notes taken during your brainstorming session. You will, undoubtedly, notice certain things that seem to be themes or things that are repeated in different ways – something he or she did or some attitude or some talent. That’s probably the place to begin. The most important things are what you want to lead with. It is not necessary (nor desirable) to have a chronological eulogy. Neither is it necessary to give an extensive ‘back-story’ one stories you do tell. Most of the guests present will be familiar enough with your loved one and his or her life to understand the context. That means that the eulogy, for the most part, won’t contain any surprises and guests will smile along with each story you tell. Don’t forget, within the body of the eulogy, to include the names of important people in your loved one’s life – names of children and grandchildren at the least. They will be present in the funeral home or the church and mentioning them is very meaningful to everyone.
Follow the Rulesof the funeral home, church, or cemetery Don’t be that person who doesn’t bother with the restrictions and protocol of the place in which you are meeting or is oblivious to others. Funeral homes and churches have a way of doing thing. The funeral home may have a specific time limit allowed for the funeral service. If you take more than your allotted time it becomes awkward for others involved. Memorial services at churches are the same. Ministers have an agenda and a long-winded presenter will make them (and the guests present, too) uncomfortable. As a rule of thumb, no one should take more than five to seven minutes in presenting their eulogy or sharing memories of the deceased. Longer than that will most certainly violate the standard procedure of the funeral home or church and will lose the attention and respect of the funeral guests.
Outline to Eulogy Manuscript When planning your eulogy, it is a good idea to begin with an outline. From your brainstorming session you should be able to define major points and then, under each of those points list examples and stories and incidents and interesting things about the deceased. A well organized outline will help immensely as you write the eulogy. Many people believe that an outline is not necessary, that they should be able to speak ‘off-the-cuff’ about the person they knew and loved. However, in the midst of grief and loss – in the midst of people who are grieving – among family and friends who want the best possible funeral service and the most honoring of memorial speeches – not only is an outline needed, an entire manuscript is strongly recommended. It IS possible, of course, for some people to stand at a lectern and speak eloquently about the dearly departed without even a note in front of them. If you are one of those people, great. But if you have searched the internet for an article on how to write a eulogy and arrived here, you are most likely not one of those people. Take notes, make an outline, write a manuscript. We recommend a manuscript for one simple reason. A manuscripted eulogy is more precise in wording, more crisp in phrasing, more well organized and ‘professional’ sounding. Eulogies and memorial speeches are meant to be celebratory and honoring of the deceased. That means planning and thoughtful and heartfelt speech delivered in the very best way possible. If you think it through, call on others for input, organized it well and write it out, you will be proud of the great eulogy you produce and deliver.
Writing the Eulogy The most important aspect of eulogy writing is making it sound like you. Work hard to write it in the same way you speak. There is a temptation to write a eulogy using flowery or ‘impressive’ words. Don’t. If you can manage to write it in your own voice, using your own words and your own way of speaking, it will come across as natural and authentic and from the heart. Before you deliver the eulogy – before you even get to the funeral home, church, or synagogue, practice it out loud – in front of someone if possible, to see if it sounds like you. Some words look great on paper, but when spoken out loud they sound very non-conversational.
Part 1: The Introduction Begin the eulogy by telling the funeral guests who you are and what your relation to the deceased is. Many will already know, of course, but not everyone. Telling them who you are gives context to your words and credibility and an important ‘identification’ factor as you express your words of loss and grief. It is not necessary to give your entire dossier, however. Just say something like, “My name is Joe Smith. I’ve been best friends with Sam since we were in elementary school. Over the years we may have drifted apart from time to time, but every time we reconnected, it was like we were never apart. I loved him like a brother…” Then move on into the eulogy.
Part 2: The Body of the Eulogy Expressions of grief are understandable, but most of the body of the eulogy should be made up of stories and incidents and quotes of the deceased. What you want to say should be positive and happy and respectful as you tell the story of his or her life. Don’t just list attributes. Give examples of those qualities you admired. These need not go into great detail, but should bring memories to the minds of your listeners. Your task is to elicit nostalgia and good feelings in the hearts of those who grieve with you. Organization is the key to success in giving your memorial speech. Seven minutes isn’t very long, but you can do amazing things for and with your audience if your eulogy is well crafted. (if you need help, don’t forget about TheEulogyWriters.com)
Part 3: The Conclusion The conclusion is what will stick in the minds of your audience. Quickly summarize who your loved one was and why you admired him or her so much. You might even make a statement to him or her, saying the ‘final’ thing you’d like to say, like this: “Janet, you were such a great role model. Your zest for life and your amazing insights into what make others ‘tick’ inspired all of us. You will be missed, but you will never be forgotten. We love you and always will.” It is an amazing honor to be one of the people chosen to say the final words of farewell to a loved one. Take that honor and do the very best you can through thought and organization and writing and speech.
After your Eulogy is Written
Editing The eulogy is written. Great. Now it’s time to look it over and make adjustments and tweak it to perfection. Proofread it – several times. Read it aloud – several times. This will two things. It will bring to light any errors in speech or organization and it will allow you to become familiar enough with what you are going to say that it won’t be so emotional when you are actually making the speech. That is a very real issue. Even when you know what you are going to say, when you actually say those words to an audience, emotions can run high. After you’ve looked over the finished, edited version, give it to someone for a final check to make sure you didn’t overlook anything and that everything is clear. Amazingly, sometimes when we think we’ve made a point, to a third party it is obscure. Having another person check it over will be extremely helpful.
Memorization Some people can memorize their eulogy. Some will want to have it on note cards containing the main points and some crisp phrases. Most will read it word for word from a manuscript. You’ll have to decide which is best for you. There is no shame in reading it word for word. This is the most common choice unless you have been trained in rhetoric or acting. For most people memorization is impossible or extremely difficult. And even if you can memorize the entire eulogy, presenting it in a conversational tone is a challenge.
Delivery It is said that public speaking is a more common fear than heights, spiders, or open water. This does not have to be the case for you. Grappling with a fear of speaking can be especially difficult during an emotional time like a funeral or memorial service. Here are a few tips to help you:
Slow your speech down significantly. We tend to speak faster when nervous. You can control this by moving through your speech at a deliberately slower pace. It may feel strange at first, but it will prevent you from losing your audience’s attention or sounding rushed.
Allow for mistakes. It is perfectly natural to miss a word, lose your place, or stumble a bit. When you do, pause for a moment to regain your footing, and move on. Every person in the room understands how stressful public speaking can be, especially in the form of a eulogy. They admire the fact that you are standing up there doing something they would never be able to do. This will be an especially forgiving crowd, given the circumstances.
Vary your eye contact. Scan the room. Don’t look down or away for too long, though. Direct eye contact with an individual can offer a more intimate feeling to the speech and often individuals will give you positive, non-verbal feedback that can be immensely encouraging.
Speak clearly and enunciate. There is no real purpose to writing a beautiful eulogy to your friend if his or her loved ones cannot understand it. It is best to practice at the lecturn before the crowd arrives if possible. Some funeral homes will be without a sound system. In this case, be certain to speak louder than you would expect is necessary.
After Your Eulogy is Delivered Your loved one would be proud. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for completing a very difficult and emotionally demanding speech about someone you’ve loved. Congratulations. Eulogy writing is difficult. Don’t hesitate to give us a call and ask for help. We can have a great eulogy in your hands within twenty four hours. TheEulogyWriters.com
The Eulogy Writers 4100 Old Dominion Dr. West Bloomfield, MI 48323
Writers: Steve Schafer, Ralph DiBiasio-Snyder, Abi Galeas, Miriam Hill Steve's Personal Cell Phone: (734) 846-3072 Our email address is: Write4Me@TheEulogyWriters.com