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What is a Eulogy?

Being asked to give a eulogy is an opportunity for you to honor a deceased loved one. Here's what you need to know about how to give a great eulogy.

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So, what is a eulogy? A eulogy is a speech made in remembrance of someone who has died. The eulogy speech is typically made at their funeral, and pays tribute to their life in some shape of form. The funeral might feature two or more eulogies made by individuals who were close to the deceased. The person making the eulogy might tell a personal anecdote about their relationship of the person being honored, or they might touch on that person’s achievements, or share general memories.

Writing a eulogy is a delicate artform, and not one that we hope to get good at. If you’re reading this, perhaps you recently got shoulder-tapped to make a eulogy speech, and you’re not sure where to start. Let us give you peace of mind - this article will give you everything you need to know about eulogies, how to write one, and some helpful tips to remember on the day that you’ll be delivering it.

What is the Purpose of a Eulogy? 

The main purpose of a eulogy is to pay tribute to someone who passed away. However, there is a hidden purpose that is just as, if not more, important. That is to aid in the collective processing and grieving for those who just lost a loved one.

Mentioned earlier, eulogies are speeches made at the funeral or ceremony of the deceased. A good writer will always keep their audience in mind. Through the power of storytelling, you’re giving fellow guests the opportunity to reflect, remember, process, grieve, and begin the healing process. 

So, what kind of stories should you tell? Here are some angles that will help you carry out the purpose of the eulogy:

  • Memorable stories about the person who passed

  • A reflection of your relationship with the deceased

  • An account of how that person impacted your life

  • A list of their achievements

  • Memories from the perspective of others

Who Gives the Eulogy Speech at a Funeral?

There is no hard and fast rule as to who should give the eulogy speech at a funeral. It’s typically given by those who were particularly close, or had a special relationship with, the loved one who passed. It could be a best friend, a spouse, a child or grandchild, or even a co-worker. However, some direct relatives may find it too difficult to give a speech during their time of grieving, and that’s okay as well.

If you have a close relationship with a loved one who just passed, you can also volunteer to give a eulogy. The person organizing the funeral will be responsible for coordinating eulogies, and they may be super grateful for anyone who is willing to step forward. 

How to Write a Eulogy in 5 Steps

Writing a eulogy speech in itself will be an emotional experience, and you might even feel a little bit of imposter syndrome. If you have been shoulder-tapped to give a eulogy, and you’re worried that you’re not worthy, know that you were approached for a reason. You have a unique voice and story to tell. Also know that there is no “right” way to write a eulogy. Do whatever feels most authentic for you and your relationship with the person you’re honoring. Here are some helpful tips to consider as you get started.

  1. Be considerate of the audience 

  2. Decide on a tone 

  3. Cover the basics

  4. Pick a story to tell

  5. Consider adding a favorite quote 

Be Considerate Of The Audience

Remember that the eulogy is for the audience, and not for you. Although the process of writing and delivering the eulogy will help you with your grieving and healing, your audience will be those at the funeral who are very much grieving. It’s best to avoid any stories that would shock, upset, or confuse anyone. Try staying as positive as possible, and if you must mention anything negative, allude to it very gently. During this time of grieving, do your best not to say anything that would be jarring to someone.

Decide On The Tone

Eulogies don’t have to be somber, although they can be. As long as it’s appropriate, you can choose to take a more light-hearted or even humorous approach. Laughter heals, and if you have a funny story to share about your loved one that would delight the audience, then why not share it? The context of the person’s life, cause of death, and your relationship with them will help inform what tone would feel best. Again, be mindful of the audience and what state of mind they might be in.

Cover The Basics

Again, there’s no set way to write a eulogy, but in general, you do want to provide some structure. Any speech requires a beginning, middle, and end if you wish to keep your audience engaged. You can start out with a brief self-introduction and how you know the deceased, some basic information about them. If you want to honor and thank some family members, you can certainly do so as well. Then, you can move on to your pièce de résistance, your story.  

Pick A Story To Tell

Eulogies almost always include a story. This is because it’s human nature to communicate through stories, and it’s what helps us relate emotionally. You can choose an anecdote, a favorite memory, or a funny story to help your audience members remember and honor the deceased. Here are some prompts to help you think about what kind of story to tell:

  • What was the person like, and what were some unique attributes?

  • Is there an anecdote you can share that highlights their achievements?

  • How did the two of you meet, and why was your relationship special to you?

  • Do you recall any specific moments that evoke emotion?

Once you draft up your main story, be sure to take a step back and consider it. Is there anything in your story that could be upsetting or triggering to anyone? Is there anything about the story that doesn’t honor the deceased loved one in the best light possible? If you answered “no” to these questions, you’re golden.

Consider Adding a Favorite Quote

Last but not least, don’t forget to close out your eulogy with a heartfelt conclusion. A helpful trick is to use a quote. Pick out the deceased loved one’s favorite quote, or a quote that describes their character. A powerful writer’s trick is to open the eulogy with a quote that will help motivate the story or anecdote you plan on telling, and then repeating the quote at the very end to seal in the emotion you hoped to deliver. That way, it’ll give the audience a focal point to hold onto.

Tips for Delivering a Eulogy

As you’re writing your eulogy, you’re probably trying to picture how exactly you want to deliver it. Most people suffer from performance anxiety, and perhaps you’re feeling really nervous. It’s okay to feel nervous, because that means you care. You also don’t have to be perfect; everyone will be emotional, and it’ll be understandable if you are overcome by emotion and need to pause here and there. Here are some tips for delivering a eulogy that will help calm your nerves:

1. Write it Down Word for Word

It’s perfectly acceptable to write down your eulogy speech word for word. Actually, it’s recommended. The idea of having to memorize a speech will add to your nerves on an already emotional day. On the actual day, you might freeze up and forget certain parts. Very few people can wing it, and luckily, this is not a performance. Even if you have to read every word of your page, you’re still doing a great job. 

2. Keep it Short and Sweet

Try to keep your speech between 5 to 7 minutes, 10 minutes at the most. The eulogy is just one part of the funeral service, and there may be other speakers scheduled as well. Keep it brief. Ask a friend or relative sitting toward the front to give you a signal when you hit the 5-minute mark, and then once you pass the amount of time you allot yourself.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

Delivering your eulogy will be an emotional experience. It’ll help calm your nerves on the day of if you know your speech inside and out. Reading it aloud a few times will also give you the chance to get your cries out before the funeral. Any feelings that bubble up during your speech are valid, but you also want to make sure you can deliver your speech well. Also make sure to rehearse the speech in front of someone, so that they can give you any feedback. 

4. Speak slowly and make eye contact

When we’re nervous, we tend to speak a lot faster than we normally would. Even if you think you’re going at your normal cadence, it’s likely that you’re still a bit uptempo. When delivering any type of speech or performance, you want to make sure the audience can hear every word. Slow down, enunciate your words, and take appropriate pauses. Pauses allow your audience to process what you had just said, so it’s great to give them a moment after any thoughts or statements you want to highlight. Finally, making eye contact is a great way to connect with members of your audience. (Don’t worry if the only strength you can muster is to read off of your notes. That’s okay too.)

5. Remember to Breathe

Remember - you don’t have to be perfect. Everyone will be emotional, and it’ll be understandable if you are overcome by emotion and need to pause here and there. If you feel a wave of tears or other emotion coming on, simply pause and take a deep breath to soothe yourself. Everyone in the audience is on your side, and on your same wavelength. There is nothing to worry about.

Famous Eulogy Examples From Movies

Since we can’t get a sneak peek into private funeral services, we can look to movies and other moments in pop culture to get our eulogy references. Here are a couple of examples to help you get started:

Robert F. Kennedy’s Eulogy for Martin Luther King

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of injustice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

This powerful speech was in Robert F. Kennedy’s eulogy for Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was the American civil rights leader who was assassinated by a white man on April 4, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee. Dr. King is remembered for leading the historical 1963 March on Washington. Kennedy’s speech honors Dr. King by spreading his message and continuing the conversation on equality and social justice.

Love, Actually: Daniel’s Eulogy to his Wife

In the 2003 holiday classic Love, Actually, Liam Neeson’s character Daniel makes a heart wrenching but also slightly humorous eulogy to his late wife. “Jo and I had a lot of time to prepare for this moment. Some of her requests, for instance, that I should bring Claudia Schiffer as my date to the funeral.” He closed with, “She’s going to say her final farewell to you not through me but, inevitably, ever so coolly, through the immortal genius of the Bay City Rollers.”

At the end of the speech, the song “Bye Bye Baby” by the Bay City Rollers comes on. In this unique instance, you could tell that Daniel used warm humor to help alleviate the pain caused by the terrible grief.

Oprah Winfrey’s Eulogy for Rosa Parks

In 2005, Oprah Winfrey delivered a memorable eulogy for Civil Rights leader Rosa Parks. During the speech, Oprah talks to the audience about how she remembered hearing the story of Rosa Parks as a little girl growing up in the south, and attributes her as the reason for her success. This is a great example of how Oprah’s personal anecdote shows how Rosa Parks’ legacy touched others’ lives in profound ways.

What is a eulogy? You should now know what a eulogy is for, but you should also know that there is no set rule for how it should be written or delivered. What’s great about eulogies is that they’re an opportunity to honor and remember your loved one in your own way. As long as you remain authentic, keep the audience in mind, and honor the deceased, you’ll surely make a meaningful impact.

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