If you’ve been asked to give a eulogy at someone’s funeral, it’s natural to be a little nervous … or a lot nervous. Writing a eulogy is both an honour and a big responsibility. But you’re not alone. Here, we’ll be talking about how to write a eulogy that does someone justice, and really celebrates their life.

 

What is a eulogy?

A eulogy is a speech given at a funeral that pays tribute to the person who has died. It typically tells the story of their life, shares fond memories, and says something meaningful about the legacy they’re leaving behind.

That said, no two eulogies are alike. After all, no two people are alike. While we can guide you on what to say in a eulogy, the result should be personal and special to the person who has died. 

 

Who gives a eulogy at a funeral?

There are no rules on who can give a eulogy and who can’t. But it’s usually someone who was very important to the person who died. A spouse, a child or a close friend, for example.

The eulogy can also be given by a religious leader (a vicar, a rabbi, etc.) or a celebrant. They will talk to the friends and family of the person who died to find out what to say. If you’re writing a eulogy but find it too painful to deliver, they can do it for you.

 

How long does a eulogy have to be?

Eulogies are typically around 600-650 words and take 5-7 minutes to deliver. 

They can be shorter (450) or longer (up to 1,000) depending on how much time you have to speak. Remember, there may be other people giving speeches or readings at the funeral. And giving a eulogy takes an emotional toll, too. It can be hard to hold it together for a very long speech.

 

How to write a eulogy

Writing a eulogy can be daunting. But it’s a true honour to be asked. It means that you were loved, respected and valued by the person who has died. And we’re here to help. Here’s how to write a eulogy in six steps…

 

  1. Do your research

Don’t go it alone! Get help writing the eulogy from other people who were close to the person who has died. Here are some things you might want to find out:

  • Their date of birth, and where they were born
  • Where they went to school, college or university
  • How they met their partner, where and when they got married (if applicable)
  • Where they worked, and when
  • When their children were born, number of grandchildren (if applicable)
  • Achievements the person who died might have liked you to mention
  • Any hobbies, passions, charity work or club memberships
  • The names of their close family members

As well as a biography, a eulogy should give a sense of of a person’s character. It can be very rewarding to ask friends and family things like:

  • What’s your best memory of [the person who has died]?
  • What words would you use to describe them?
  • Did they have any nicknames? How did they earn them?
  • What were their favourite music, books, TV shows, poems or plays?
  • What were they like to work with/live with/study with?
  • Did they have any favourite sayings, favourite stories to tell?

Try to track down people who were close to the person who has died at different times in their life. Each person will have something to tell you about how to write the eulogy. A sibling could tell you about their childhood, while a colleague might reveal something new about their working life. 

And make notes! Lots of notes.

 

  1. Brainstorm ideas

Gather together all your notes, memories and thoughts and try to organise them. You could try:

  • Creating a timeline of the person’s life, including events and anecdotes from each period
  • Making a big spider diagram of words to describe them
  • Writing down the first thing that comes to mind
  • Making a scrapbook of everything you’ve learned, with photos, quotes, stories and drawings

Now think. Which events are most important to mention, and which can you leave out? What are the best anecdotes? What do the stories about the person who has died have in common? Is there a theme emerging? Finding a theme can help a lot when you’re working out how to end a eulogy.

Eventually, you’ll be able to pick out the key things you want to say. Then, it’s time to…

 

  1. Write a rough first draft

Turn your thoughts into something with a beginning, a middle and an end. This is easier said than done. Figuring out how to start a eulogy can be particularly tricky. 

Here is a standard framework you could try:

  1. Acknowledge why you are there. Explain that you are there to celebrate the life of [Name], your husband/wife/father/mother/friend. 
  2. Thank the guests for coming. You might say that it means a lot to  that they came.
  3. Give a short biography, from birth onwards. In between life events, you could add in little personal details from that time — the details people told you. Be sure to mention all the close family members. 
  4. Share a memory of the person who has died. Something you’ll never forget about them. It could be something great or funny they did, or a little habit they had that was so like them. Anything that means something to you.
  5. Finish with the most important thing to remember about the person who has died. What do the things you’ve talked about say about the values of the person who has died? Is there a lesson that could be taken from their example? What would they want people to remember? Is there something people can do to honour their memory?

“More than anything else, Ron liked to take his grandchildren out fishing. He did this every month from the year Thomas, the oldest, turned five. That’s because family was the most important thing to him.”

But there’s no set eulogy formula that’s perfect for everyone. You could also try something like:

  1. Acknowledge why you are there, and thank guests.
  2. Talk about the type of person they were. Pull out one to three attributes, and share a story about the person that demonstrates each of them. As you go, acknowledge key life events and the people who were important to them.
  3. Share a quote from a book, poem or film. One that the person who died loved (what does that say about them?). Or one that says something meaningful about the kind of person they were.
  4. Talk about the impact the person had on you, the family, and the community. What lessons did they teach you? What will people remember them for? 

“In 1982, dad met Susan, our mum, at the midsummer fair here in Hastings. He always said that a happy wife makes a happy life. And he did everything he could to make her happy from that day on. The life they shared was very happy. So many of you have told me that you’ve never seen two people more in love.”

Or:

  1. Acknowledge why you are there.
  2. Give a short biography.
  3. Use a quote to introduce a theme.
  4. Share memories and anecdotes about the person who died. Ones that illustrate the theme.
  5. Summarise the lesson to be taken from their life.
  6. Thank the guests for coming.

It’s up to you.

 

  1. Read your draft aloud, then edit

Leave your eulogy draft alone for a bit, if you can. Then, come back and read it through. Give it an edit. Now try reading it aloud, timing yourself. This gives you a few advantages:

  • Find out if it flows okay. Sometimes, things that look normal when you write them down sound stilted when you say them out loud. Comb out long sentences, complicated words and language that sounds too formal (or chatty).
  • Practice your delivery. Find out the best moments to pause and look around you. Pace yourself, so that you’re not speaking too quickly.
  • Get used to giving your speech. Delivering a eulogy can be very emotional. Practicing takes some of the sting away, so that you’re less likely to break down at the funeral.

 

  1. Get a second opinion

Give the eulogy to someone else who was close to the person who has died, and get their feedback. This gives you a chance to practice more and get over any self-consciousness. They can also help you fact-check: are all those names and dates correct?

 

  1. Format your final draft

Once you have a final draft, type it up in big font (size 14 or 16 is good), adding a new paragraph after every sentence to remind you to breathe. This will make it easier to read your eulogy out at the funeral.

At the end of the eulogy, type a few lines of gibberish, too. This is a clever celebrant’s trick. Often, people get more emotional at the end of the eulogy, and struggle to finish. By adding these lines, you can trick your brain into thinking there’s further to go. 

 

Once you’ve written the eulogy, why not add it to an online memorial page? That way, family and friends can all share in the wonderful tribute you’ve created, even after the funeral. Beyond offers beautiful free online memorials that take just 15 minutes to set up. Find out more here.

 

A quick note on using humour in eulogies

You can make the odd joke in a eulogy if you think it suits the character of the person who has died. Just tread lightly; don’t tell jokes that are cruel or unfair to the person who died (or anyone else). 

 

Eulogy examples

If you’re not sure how to write a eulogy for a mother, or father, or you’re not sure what a normal eulogy is like, it can help to take a look at some examples of eulogies. We have examples from real funerals in our article here. 

 

What to say in a eulogy — and what not to say

When you break the word down, the meaning of ‘eulogy’ is good words or true words. The original word in Classical Greek simply meant praise

That doesn’t mean a eulogy is a whitewashed version of a person’s life and character. A eulogy should be true to what really happened. But it does mean that you should generally try to cast things in a kind and positive light. A eulogy shouldn’t be used to settle a score.

For example, if the person who died went through an acrimonious divorce, you can still mention their marriage in the eulogy. It was an important part of their life. But you don’t have to talk about whose fault the divorce was, or go into the gory details. Sadly, they went their separate ways.

 

How to get help with writing a eulogy

If you’ve been asked to write a eulogy and you’re stuck, you can get help. The celebrant or religious leader running the service should be able to advise you: they’ll have plenty of experience. There are also professional speech writers you can talk to. But remember: the most important thing about the eulogy is that it’s heartfelt. It should be specific to the person who died, and true. You don’t have to be a genius writer or use special, flowery language. Just say what you feel.

 

For more advice on how to write a eulogy…

Hoping for more advice on what to say in a eulogy? Over on our blog, we talked to four celebrants to get their tips on writing and delivering a speech at a funeral. The guide’s in two parts: here’s part one (how to write a eulogy or funeral speech) and part two (how to deliver it).

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