How to Start a Eulogy That Honors Your Loved One
You have been honored by being asked to write a eulogy for a loved one or a dear friend. Congratulations.
You’ve graciously accepted, and now it is time to begin.
But it’s shocking at how blank that computer screen looks. There is, literally, nothing on it and it’s all up to you. How DO you start a eulogy? What do you say at the very beginning?
Getting started, of course, is the most difficult part. Getting the first words down on paper (or computer screen) is the first hurdle.
Those first few words tell your audience that what is about to come will be good and worth listening to. Their expectations become their reality. Your eulogy will be better than any they’ve ever heard – if the words are right. And, if you’ve done it properly, your eulogy will be a wonderful tribute to a life well lived.
Those first words are important because what you have to share is meaningful and the words you choose will bring wonderful (or not so wonderful) memories to the minds of your listeners and, perhaps, a smile to their faces or tears to their eyes.
A eulogy is different than any other speech you will ever give because of its intensely personal nature. You will be telling the life story of someone you’ve lost. That’s emotional. You will be telling of memories personal and public and that is, sometimes, the most vulnerable a person ever gets. You are putting yourself on the line to honor the one who has passed.
The first words of the eulogy are important because they set the tone for all you will be saying.
There is an internal psychological defense mechanism that numbs our hearts and minds when we lose a loved one. “Tell me about Uncle John?” is a question a funeral celebrant or someone writing a eulogy may ask the family. The response is often a blank stare or useless generalities.
“Uncle John was a very nice man.” “Uncle John loved everybody.” “He liked to work hard and play hard.” Virtually NOTHING to use in a eulogy! It’s “Memory Block” brought on by loss and grief and questions that are too general.
To overcome memory block when writing a eulogy, you need to ask yourself specific questions. Ask things like, “What parts of Uncle John’s character do you think he would most like to have passed on to his nieces and nephews?” “How do you think he impacted his world?” “Who were his heroes?” “How would you describe his outlook on life?”
See? All of a sudden, you can answer those questions because they are thoughtful, specific, and have some depth. Including them in your eulogy will make the eulogy you write much more interesting and not just a listing of facts. The eulogy will bring the story of Uncle John’s life to life.
Go to a eulogy writing site and look at their questions. Those will be most helpful in getting the memory juices flowing.
If you find a list of good questions, copy them and actually fill in the answers. This will help immensely in the writing of the entire eulogy and not just the beginning words.
Standing to Speak
You win or lose your audience in the first few sentences (maybe the first few words) of any speech. What you say is important, but even more important is the way you say them.
As you approach the podium, clench your teeth. Those few seconds of clenching will make your enunciation crisper.
When you get to the podium, take a deep breath before you say the first word. This will send a relaxation signal to your body, infusing it with a tiny burst of oxygen that will produce calmness.
Then speak with confidence as though this were the most natural thing in the world.
Use inflection. Use pauses. Use a higher or lower volume with your voice, as indicated by your content.
The Sound Barrier
Unless you are an experienced public speaker, the first thing you will want to do is hear the sound of your own voice in the microphone.
You will want to say something that is emotion neutral before beginning to share memories and stories.
Even though there is a microphone, speak up. People appreciate being able to hear what you are saying. Even a microphone cannot improve on mumbling. Speak up. Speak clearly. Speak confidently.
One of the ‘tricks of the trade’ of public speakers is the utilization of the fact that our minds can do several things at the same time. One of the things you will be doing is speaking, of course. But try also to ‘see’ yourself almost as though from an ‘out of body’ experience. Imagine YOU watching yourself give the speech.
This technique brings amazing calmness, because you are no longer the one speaking (even though you are). You are now one of the guests watching and listening and enjoying.
The first words of your eulogy – Thank you
Always begin a eulogy by thanking guests and mourners for coming. This is common courtesy as well as an opportunity for you to build your own confidence as you hear your own voice and gain the hearing of your audience.
Too often, the person delivering a eulogy fails to recognize that people have given up their time to attend the funeral or memorial service. They forget that everyone likes to be appreciated. You gain points by doing so with your opening remarks. SAY THANK YOU!
Here are a few examples as to how to begin the eulogy by saying expressing appreciation :
NOW the Eulogy Begins
The ‘thank you’ is prelude to the eulogy. It allows you to get a feel for the environment, to hear your own voice, to settle your nerves, to begin to build a positive relationship with your audience.
The first real paragraph can vary in content quite a lot, depending on whether it is a eulogy for a father or a mother, a sibling, or a friend.
Begin with something that the questions you asked yourself from the questionnaire revealed as most interesting or something about the person that others may not have known – or something that EVERYONE knew to be one of the hallmarks of the departed loved one.
Following are first paragraphs for a variety of situations. These are the first paragraphs of eulogies actually written by a professional eulogy writer. Feel free to borrow and adjust them to fit the life and personality of the one you are eulogizing.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Mother
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Father
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Grandmother
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Grandfather
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Sister
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Brother
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Daughter
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Son
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Wife
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Husband
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Friend
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Co-Worker
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Neighbor
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Difficult Person
Steve Schafer is the founder of TheEulogyWriters and is probably the most prolific eulogy writer (and, no doubt, the best) anywhere. He lives in Michigan and has been writing eulogies for well over thirty years. The articles in this blog are designed to help people through the process of losing loved ones.