Any new task begins with a First Big Step and writing an eulogy is no different from writing your first resume. Well done! You have already started the first step. You have decided to upskill! Many people when asked, or find themselves “expected” to write an eulogy, will stick with “No I couldn’t” without a second thought. It may be that after you have understood what an eulogy is and have followed the guide to writing an eulogy below, you will give the same answer. The difference is you will have given the request the respect it deserves.
A Simple Guide To Writing An Eulogy
1. List The Main Points:
Did you know that the best way to start writing is to start writing! That’s not an original quote by the way. Every book on writing I have read will list this in their “Top Ten Tips To Writing”
“Words create sentences; sentences become paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe” p 153Stephen King: On Writing
I have listed it as my number one tip to writing an eulogy because as Stephen King wrote, it all starts with words. Listing the main points is simply brainstorming everything you already know. The next step is to expand your list by asking others to add to it. This can be as simple as a chat over coffee or you can take it a step further and focus your questions to fill the gaps in your list. When writing about my ancestors I found the conversation flowed more easily when I came with a few prepared questions. Calling it an interview sounds far too clinical but it can unlock dormant memories which will , as Stephen King wrote, breathe life into your eulogy. ( You can read more about interviewing HERE) Finally, listing the main points for preparing to write an eulogy does not have to rely solely on words. There is nothing like a photograph to jog a memory. Whether its taken on a box Brownie or a mobile phone, clothing, cars, places and events can all be captured in one image.
a. brainstorm what you know
b. fill in the gaps by talking to family & relatives
c. prepare your questions
d) use photographs as memory prompts
2. Choose A Theme:
A theme is like a framework that gives the eulogy a focus. Having a theme will make it easier to decide which of the main points to use. If the person you are writing the eulogy for has lived a long life it can often be over whelming when faced with a whole lifetime of stories and photographs. A theme will give you focus and will guide your culling decisions. A point to keep in mind is that quality outweighs quantity every time.
a. Personal Eulogy: An obvious theme for an eulogy is to focus on the “person” rather than material achievements. A life remembered through travels, music or art make for an eulogy that will reflect the uniqueness of that life.
b. A Biographical Eulogy reflects an individuals life history via a timeline. If the life lived has been long it is more likely to need input from others. Because of this a biographical eulogy tends to include the memories of many people. Shared memories at times of sadness can bring some comfort.
c. A Humourous Eulogy is allowed. If the person was known for their never ending supply of jokes and a “cup half full” attitude to life then humour definitely has a place when the life of that person is being remembered. It may be difficult to get the balance right as other aspects of their life will need to be woven into the eulogy. I personally like “The Long Cup Of Tea” With my English roots it was always the case that in times of crisis some one would say, “Ill make us a cup of tea shall I?”
3. Style Of Presenting The Eulogy
The style you present the eulogy will flow more easily if it supports the theme you have chosen.
a. A lighthearted poem, funny photographs and happy memories make for a consistent style. There is nothing wrong about using humor if it fits the person. It is important to take into account the diversity of your audience.
b. If the eulogy is focused on a specific memory your role is that of the Story Teller. This is probably the easiest presentation style to give without having to refer to your notes. It’s also a style of presenting an eulogy that encourages others to share their stories. This style of eulogy often results in stories that many of the family and friends will be hearing for the first time.
c. A life history is best if you are the only speaker and you want to include all age groups, friends and family. It also needs the most material which you may have to gather from other family members.
4. Easy Writing Plan For The Eulogy
There are many ways to write an eulogy and the eulogy can be made up of a variety of material in many forms. However, eulogies in whatever form they take are a story of a persons life. Shared with those who were part of that persons life. Eulogies are stories and, like any story that is written and told, should have a beginning, a middle and an end. The length of an eulogy, in my opinion is what is right for you. You may research this your self and find suggestions of anything from 3-10 minutes. I have read that after 10 minutes you will lose the attention of your “audience”. I guess I’ll have to agree to disagree with that.
Writing The Beginning Of The Eulogy
Introduce yourself and your relationship to the person. The introduction will also signal the type of eulogy you are going to share.
a. I’m going share with you my favourite memories of my Grandfather
b. I would like to share with you the story that was Grandads life
c. My Smith has spoken of my Grandfather when he was a young man. I didn’t know my Grandad when he was young but I think we would have got on very well, probably got into a lot of trouble too.
Writing The Middle Of The Eulogy
Describe the person as you knew them.
Example: a. I would like to share with you the best memories that we, the 10 grandchildren, have.(This would be a good time to use photographs)
b. Fishing was the way I got to know my Grandad. Whether it was competitions or camping fishing was how we connected.
Writing The End Of The Eulogy
The end is usually the shortest part of the eulogy. It is where you add a personal rounding off of what you have spoken about. Because it is your personal reflections and feelings it can also be the most difficult for you to give.
a. Today my memories have made you laugh which is exactly what Grandad would have wanted. We will miss hearing his raucous outbursts but like you I am grateful that he left behind so many happy memories that will never be forgotten. Thanks Grandad. Your the best!
b. David packed more into his life than most of us could ever hope to. From his first back packing trip to Asia as a teenager to his retirement dream of sailing around Australia he lived his life to the fullest. He will always be my inspiration to do the same. Thanks David.
c. My task today was to share with you the life story that was Jane Dover’s. She loved the town of Jalna and saw no need to leave it. She always said everything and everybody she loved was right here. Rest in peace Jane.
Best Preparation For Delivering Your Eulogy
“Practise makes perfect” is not a quote I had in mind. Perfection is not your goal. The goal is to share the words that give meaning and respect for a life lived. The purpose of practising is for you to become as comfortable as possible with the contents of the eulogy
A eulogy is no place to air grievances or surprises to close family members. If you are in any doubt about the contents of the eulogy you have written it should be shared with those most likely to be affected. From a writing perspective sharing with someone with some writing skills will add to your confidence. Accuracy of dates is also covered if you share with a family member but you can get around this by being flexible. For example you can say, “It was about 1980 that Jane entered nursing school.”
Clothing may seem an odd preparation but it is important. The last thing you need to be distracted by are tight shoes or a slipping bra strap!
Be Kind To Yourself
Accept the task for what it is. You are going to be sharing your thoughts and memories with people you know. People who also cared/loved the same person as you. They will not expect you to give an Oscar winning speech. Their expectations will be to listen to your memories and to remember their own. It is not a job interview or a debating competition. There will be no score cards.
Suggested Links To Support Writing Your Eulogy
Postscript On Famous Eulogies
Before writing this post I read many “famous” eulogies. They were good. So good in fact that, had I not already written my eulogy, I would probably have decided not to! My eulogy had no memorable quotes or a life time of events that would find theie place in history. It was a daughter’s memories of her mother. Although my eulogy will never be on anyone’s famous eulogy list, I decided to share it in the hope that you would read my simple words & memories of ordinary life events and realize that simple & ordinary are what most lives are. As such they do have their place in history …………..family history. This the gift that those who find the courage to write an eulogy give to their family and to themselves.Just Vicki
If you would like to help others with writing an eulogy please contact me and I will add it to this post. It doesn’t have to be the whole eulogy and, of course, your identity will be protected.