Being asked to give a eulogy can be a huge honour, but it can also be a nerve-wracking experience – and not just in terms of public speaking.
“People often admit to having difficulty in finding the right words to say in front of family and friends, as they reflect on the life of someone special,” says Catherine Powell, co-founder and director of Pure Cremation. That’s why it’s important to spend time preparing and practising your speech.
Dan Garrett, CEO and co-founder of will writer and funeral provider Farewill, says: “The most touching eulogies come from the heart, celebrating the legacy, personality and passions of the person who has died. Saying goodbye in your own way can also help everyone attending reconnect with the loved one they’ve lost.”
Here, experts offer their advice on how to research, structure and deliver a eulogy.
1. Start with the basics
While a eulogy isn’t the same as an obituary, it’s sensible to start with some basic details about the person.
“The eulogy should include the key milestones in the person’s life,” says Powell, as well as details of “their character and personality and how these were expressed. What were the things they loved most in life? What didn’t they like? What were their achievements?”
2. Take your time
“As with many elements of funerals and grief, there are no rules, and you can decide how long to speak for,” says Garrett. “It’s OK to keep it short, respectful and complimentary – even a two-minute speech can contain around 500 words.”
Powell says: “Ideally, tributes should run no longer than 20 minutes, which does present a challenge when honouring a busy life.”
3. Ask for input from others
Before you start writing, you may want to ask friends and family members to share treasured memories you can include in the speech.
“Eulogies are not just for the person who’s died, but for the friends, family and acquaintances attending,” says Garrett. “It can be a big comfort to hear touching stories about the person, and to share memories with others who knew them.”
4. Celebrate your loved one
“Once you’ve covered the basics, try to go beyond the facts and figures,” says Garrett. “Talk about what made the person unique, and the impact they left on the world or others around them.”
While you want to celebrate their life, you don’t have to gloss over any difficult times. Powell says: “Don’t be afraid to touch on the person’s flaws – they were human, after all! Look for the positives, such as the lessons they learned from any mistakes, whether their regrets offer inspiration to mend fences or seek support before it’s too late, and what their relationships say about the power of love and forgiveness.”
5. Comic relief can be comforting
The loss of a loved one can be devastating, but a eulogy doesn’t have to be sombre throughout.
“Depending on the relationship you had with the person who died and the people attending the memorial, it’s common to add in some light-hearted comments,” says Garrett. “This can be comforting and may provide relief to those feeling particularly sad, but it’s important to use your judgment.”
6. Don’t bottle up your emotions
No one is expecting a flawless public speaking performance in a eulogy.
“Remember people will be prepared to see lots of emotion during your speech, both from you and those listening,” says Garrett. “Don’t worry if you need to pause, shed some tears or even stop reading. Taking a sip of water can be a good way to pause and breathe before continuing.”
7. Finish with a farewell
“A eulogy is usually finished with a final goodbye,” Garrett advises. “If you’re unsure how to end your speech, finish with a simple goodbye, or a thank you for the memories and good times you shared.”