Writing a eulogy is hard. It’s a big deal to publicly honor someone close to you who has died. How do you begin to find words, let alone organize them into something that makes sense and does the person justice? There are ways to do it. Let’s walk through the steps together.
Let the Purpose of a Eulogy Guide YouA eulogy is nothing more and nothing less than a fond remembrance of someone you cared about. It’s a tribute that honors who the person was and the ways he or she was important in the lives they touched. A eulogy honors the deceased and comforts the living by fostering a continued bond between them. A eulogy says, “Our loved one isn’t gone. He’ll forever touch our lives through stories and memories.” Think of your eulogy as a tapestry woven between the deceased and the living, a blanket of stories covering everyone. With this big-picture purpose in mind, it becomes a bit less daunting to start the eulogy-writing process. You are telling a story about someone you cared about. Stories are informal with room for creative license. Knowing a eulogy’s purpose in mind, you are ready to prepare to write.
Preparing to Write a EulogySitting down at your computer or with a notebook in front of you and trying to write can lead to a great deal of stress and anxiety. You're likely susceptible to emotional distress if you're grieving, and trying to write cold will make you feel worse. Instead, do some prep work. This lays the foundation for the eulogy, making it both easier and better. Consider these helpful steps in the eulogy-writing prep process.
1. Free-WriteSit down in a comfortable spot, settle in with some tea, coffee, or water (stick with things that are beneficial to your brain), turn on some music, and let your thoughts wander. Think about the person who has passed away and let your ideas flow. Scribble down things like
- Personal memories you have
- How the person touched your life and the lives of others
- What the person did
- How the person was (personality, strengths, traits)
- What was important to him/her
2. Consider a ThemeAfter you free-write, study your words and phrases. How do they relate? What keeps jumping out at you? You might see patterns of
- A personal quality
- Behavior or actions
- A strength
- Personality traits
3. Reach OutSure, you were the one asked to write the eulogy, but you aren’t the only one with memories and experiences with the dearly departed. Ask others what they remember about the person. To make it easier for them, and for you, ask them questions that relate to the theme you’ve chosen to develop. If you’re going to talk about how much your aunt loved learning and passed that on to those around her, ask people to share memories of reading or exploring or going to museums with her. Write these examples into your homage.
4. Other Information to IncludeYou can include additional information than what relates to the central theme. Topics often included in eulogies:
- Crucial milestones in your loved one's life history
- Meaningful accomplishments
Writing Your EulogyFirst and foremost, do write it. Sometimes, people think they'll be able to stand up and "wing it” because they know what the person was like and feel that they have a lot to say. That’s dangerous! Funerals and memorial services are emotional events, and your grief will likely prevent you from ad-libbing a eulogy. You don’t need to worry about formal writing, though. The best eulogies are well-prepared and from the heart. Tributes are usually informal and conversational. They're like telling stories—stories with the purpose of honoring the deceased as well as keeping them alive in everyone’s memories. While casual, you do need to have a logical flow so grieving people can easily follow what you’re saying. To do this,
- Choose your theme
- List primary pieces of information and examples that show how your loved one was courageous, reliable, caring—whatever trait you've selected
- Organize them into a logical order and progression
Some Final Eulogy-Writing TipsKeeping these general thoughts in mind will guide your process:
- Be brief. If it’s too long, your message about your loved one will be lost. Typical eulogies are about five or ten minutes
- Think about capturing the essence of who your loved one was rather than reciting their resume
- Keep things personal rather than generic
- Include quotations from literature, songs, great thinkers, or religious writings
- Stay positive. This isn’t the time to point out flaws. If it’s hard to be nice, at least stay neutral. Stick to facts and information rather than memories and stories. Or decline the invitation to eulogize.