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How to Write a Heartfelt Eulogy for a loved one

Posted on December 17, 2020

Eulogies are a way of bringing a person to life - even in death.

They offer a portrait of the life of a lost loved one, through the lens of someone who knew them well. Funerals and celebrations of life are structured around the opportunity to share memories, stories and second-hand wisdom from the life of a lost loved one.

To be asked to deliver a eulogy is a great honor, reserved typically for those who knew the deceased best. Still, writing and giving a eulogy comes with its share of pressure, amidst the grief of death and logistics of funeral planning.

To help, we’ve compiled a set of best practices and tips to guide the process of creating a eulogy that helps you tell a complete, heartfelt story of your loved one.

What is a eulogy?

This might seem like a question with an obvious answer. But eulogies aren’t just defined as “a speech given at a funeral or a celebration of life.”

They are words of praise, spoken or written, in honor of a deceased person.

Eulogies are reserved for focusing on the best parts of the person you’ve lost. When you’re selected to write a eulogy, it’s because you have both the knowledge - and the ability - to do this well.

Eulogies aren’t just biographies or lists of facts. They are often the most memorable and personal aspects of a funeral because they are the only real opportunity for storytelling.

How long should a eulogy be?

Eulogies are generally between three and five minutes long.

Since you will be telling the story aloud, practicing giving your eulogy in the mirror or in front of a trusted friend or family member is a necessary step. This is where you’ll be able to determine if your eulogy is too long. Or, determine if your eulogy needs more substance.

To give a eulogy that is the best reflection of the deceased, it’s best to think of it as a story.

A foundation of storytelling

Thinking of a eulogy as storytelling can help relieve the anxiety and pressure that comes with delivering it.

Chances are, if you are delivering a eulogy for someone, it’s because you have a long and storied history with them. You have a special knowledge of their story, and how it’s interwoven with yours.

Approaching a eulogy with a storytelling mentality helps you define a true beginning, middle and end to your delivery. You can start by explaining who you are and why you’re delivering the eulogy, then follow through with a bit of history about your loved one. The middle is made up of memories and stories and titbits of wisdom from the deceased, drawing from all aspects of their life.

Sum up your delivery by reflecting on the death of the loved one and what losing them means to you and those in attendance.

How to plan a eulogy

You may choose to write your eulogy in detail. Or, go into your delivery with a rough outline of what you want to say.

In either case, there are a few crucial things to keep in mind, like:

  • Avoid rambling or steering away from the topic at hand.
  • Use plain language so everyone in the audience, regardless of age or educational background, can understand you.
  • Abstain from using inside jokes or telling stories that might be too specific to you and the deceased. Ensure it will be engaging and relevant to everyone.
  • Less is more. Try to sum up your stories and feelings in a way the audience can relate to, without overburdening them with intense emotion or becoming long winded.

Most importantly, decide on an approach. You can go with a “life story” approach, like telling their story from beginning to end. Or, you could stick to an overarching theme based on how your loved one lived their life. There is no right answer, but deciding on a definite approach can help organize your thoughts and create a smoother delivery.

Lean on loved ones

Like any writing project, eulogies are best backed by research. This is where you should rely on friends, co-workers and family.

One of the simplest ways to gather details for a eulogy is by asking questions to those who were close to your loved one.

You could ask questions like:

  • What is your favourite memory with ______?
  • What is something ______ helped you to learn?
  • What will you miss without _____?

The death of a loved one comes with a lot of busy work, beyond just planning the funeral. There are financial and legal matters, often paired with logistics like moving, travel, packing and home maintenance. It can be tiresome to add surveying friends and family members to the list.

You can make the process a bit easier by sending out an email to request responses to your questions, or start group chats on social media with select groups of friends or relatives. Most often, people will be happy to play a role in helping the eulogy come together and the opportunity to share in a conversation about the deceased can help the healing process.

Paint a complete portrait

People are multi-faceted and layered. Our experiences and relationships with people in our lives are unique to us.

The funeral or celebration of life will include people from all areas of your loved one’s life. Co-workers, acquaintances, friends, close family and distant relatives will all be included.

That’s why doing research is essential.

It’s important that a eulogy isn’t just a reflection of your experience with your loved one. It needs to encompass the person and their history as a whole.

In writing your eulogy, look at all of the pillars of your loved one’s life - like work, hobbies, travel and family milestones. Try to pull bits and pieces from each to build your story.

This helps those in attendance feel acknowledged and represented in the history of the person they came to mourn and celebrate.

Speak to your audience

Who will be sitting in the audience in front of you - and how do you best convey this story for them?

Eulogies are intended to celebrate a departed loved one. But, funerals are often wrought with sadness. It is a highly emotional situation for everyone involved. With that in mind, remember that eulogies are not meant to be mournful.

They should be uplifting expressions of the person you knew - a chance to highlight their quirks, stories and virtues.

In the case of a particularly tragic death, it is important to acknowledge the tragedy at hand. This can often set the tone for what the audience is prepared to hear - and what you’re prepared to say.

Tragic deaths call for a more serious tone, while still giving you the opportunity to celebrate happy memories with your loved one. There is a balance to strike between seriousness and light-hearted storytelling.

Don’t forget your introduction

By typical standards, most funerals have no more than two or three speakers. Eulogies are generally seen as the cornerstone of the service. They are a chance to really get to know the person who departed on a deeper level, celebrating them through the eyes of someone who knew them best.

Introducing yourself and giving a short, succinct explanation of your relationship with your loved one will help set the tone for those in attendance. It adds a personal touch and helps the audience understand why your reflection of this person matters.

Practice, practice, practice

Writing a eulogy can involve a lot of time spent typing - or writing words down with pen and paper. But, there is no substitute for hearing your words read aloud.

Since you will be telling the story aloud, practicing giving your eulogy in the mirror or in front of a trusted friend or family member is a necessary step. This is where you’ll be able to determine if your

You can also use time spent practicing aloud to refine your delivery. You may find there are certain words you are tripping over. Change those out for some that are easier to say.

Be kind to yourself

No matter the circumstances, death is never easy.

Exercise self-compassion. Go into giving a eulogy with the knowledge that everyone in the room is feeling sadness and everyone understands the difficulty of giving this kind of presentation - especially considering your closeness to the departed loved one. No matter how your delivery goes, people will only feel compassion for you. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but be prepared.

You should appoint a second person to help finish your eulogy in the event you’re unable to deliver.

A few more helpful hints

If you’re struggling to get started, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to start the writing process.

These prompts may be helpful:

  • What do you think your loved one would want to be known for?
  • How did they make people feel when they were with them?
  • What were they passionate about and why?
  • What was their motto?
  • How did they overcome hardships?
  • What made them laugh? What did they do that made you laugh?
  • What are things you’ve been hearing from

Writing a eulogy isn’t often easy, but it’s a valuable part of the grieving process. For those who deliver, you get the unique opportunity to tell a story about your loved one to a room of those who love them, celebrating the deceased and honoring their life. And for those who listen, you offer a window into the life of the person. Eulogies are an important part of our stories - and commemorating the people we’ve lost.

Author(s): My Coda's Editorial Team

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