How to write a eulogy

Many of the families for whom I officiate funeral services, often ask me to pen the whole service, from start to finish. However, you might feel that you’d like to write some of the content yourself, but you don’t know where to start. 

I thought I’d break down some ideas that might get you off on the right foot and spark some thoughts of your own.

Keep It Simple

Firstly, you may just like to choose a poem, prayer or words that have been written by someone else. This can take the pressure off you writing anything yourself, but by doing some internet research you will be able to find a truly heartfelt piece that captures the essence of all you’d like to say. 

Timing

These are often only a minute or so to read out, which also means you not up at the lectern feeling like you’ve got to fill up lots of time. Thirty seconds at a loved one’s funeral can feel like an eternity. Make it easy on yourself by choosing a perfect piece that reflects your feelings and you can simply read it out on the day.

What is a eulogy?

The main part of a funeral service is the eulogy or tribute. This is the life story of the deceased and usually takes around 5 – 7 minutes of the service. It is entirely possible for family members to write this themselves and is often the piece that, as a celebrant, I write for them. Either way is just fine.

It is usually the highest praise of the person, sums up their life, tells some warm memories and reflects on all their lifetime achievements.

Who gives the eulogy?

The eulogy, tribute or funeral speech, is an opportunity to pay tribute to the deceased. It is about their life and what they meant to you. It may be delivered by the celebrant but it doesn’t have to be. A highly regarded family member, elder, dear friend or next of kin may be asked or even want to, read the eulogy.

Honour or Poisoned Chalice?

It is often regarded as an honour to be asked to give a eulogy for a loved one or friend however the sense of responsibility that comes with it can make it feel like a heavy burden. 

It doesn’t have to feel that way though and if you’ve been asked, it’s a real indication that you played an important part in that person’s life.

All eulogies are unique so providing you speak from the heart, you are bound to strike the right note.

Where to start

One of the best ways to begin writing a eulogy is to talk to family members and close friends about their loved one. Is there anything that they would like you to include or mention, or a favourite anecdote or story they’d like to share?

Consider any military experience, sporting achievements, hobbies, schooling, favourite colour and historical events that happened in their lifetime. 

Often talking about the person with other people sets off memories as one story leads to another. Allow yourself plenty of time to go down memory lane. You might look at old photographs, go for a walk or visit a place that holds many positive memories for you.

Chronologically speaking 

It tends to land better when the tribute is, broadly, in chronological order. It can be easier for the mourners to follow if it maintains the natural order of time, rather than jumping about. Think about birth, school, courtship, marriage, children, career, retirement and passing away. 

Timing

When you’re writing a eulogy for the first time, don’t feel that you’ve got to write pages and pages. Practice reading it out, quite slowly, and time yourself to see how long it takes. It only needs to be about 5 minutes long, or 900 words roughly. 

Celebrants Role

A good celebrant will guide you through this process. Do ask for help or for a professional eye to glance over the piece you’ve prepared. A top-notch celebrant will help fine-tune your script, give encouragement for any improvements and also be ready to step in on the day, should it all get a bit much.

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