How to write a eulogy

I probably wouldn’t have become a freelance writer at all, if I hadn’t volunteered to give my Nan’s eulogy a few years ago.  Nobody else in the family had wanted to do it (and if I’m being completely honest neither did I; public speaking has always terrified me) – but I couldn’t let Nan’s funeral pass by without some personal words said for and about her.  She more than deserved them.

It was in preparing, writing and delivering Nan’s eulogy that I realised how much I’ve always loved writing…but not just any writing.  I loved writing that could be of service; writing that can distil a complicated story into a simple, easily understood message.

These days, I will occasionally receive a request to help somebody else write a eulogy for somebody they care about, and whenever I do, I feel very privileged. 

The process I use is very simple, and will usually involve meeting for coffee in a quiet place, and then having a relaxed chat about the person’s life.  Perhaps strangely, these sessions are often gently uplifting, and I always come away feeling as though I’ve been introduced to someone special.

It can be hard to know where to begin when planning a eulogy.  For starters, you’re probably wracked with grief.  You may not know all the semantics, such as how long you have to speak for, and what to include.  You may not feel as though you’ve got the courage to stand up and talk to a group on a normal day about a normal subject, let alone talking openly about someone you love, when you’re worried you might burst into tears at any moment.

If you’re trying to write a eulogy, or you know someone who is, then I hope these simple tips will help along the way.

Length and scope

A ‘typical’ eulogy will last between three to five minutes, which is around two sides of A4 written down.  Typically, the funeral celebrant will give a formal summary of your loved one’s life, leaving you free to share something more personal.

How to begin

This may seem obvious, but you should begin your eulogy by explaining who you are, and your relationship with your loved one.  By beginning this way, you will set some context for people to connect with your memories.

What impression do you want people to be left with?

If you had to sum up your loved one in just a few words, what would they be?  What particular stories can you recall that will illuminate these words in others’ minds?  

It can be very helpful – not to mention therapeutic – to dedicate some specific time to writing down all the things you remember and value most about your loved one.  Some people find that once they’ve done this, they can’t wait to share their most treasured memories with everybody they know.

Don’t put extra pressure on yourself

While rehearsing your eulogy with a friend can often be very helpful, particularly if you’ve included some touches of humour, don’t feel you have to memorise anything.  It’s fine if you want to, but nobody will punish you for reading from notes, particularly if you’re worried about forgetting anything. 

This isn’t a formal business presentation at which everything has to be perfect; you are simply sharing treasured thoughts and memories about someone special, and you will mostly have the warm support of everybody in the room.

I hope these tips are of some help, and if I can help you write something personal for a loved one (or even for yourself), please get in touch for a friendly chat.