Writing a eulogy is a difficult task. It can be hard to condense a lifetime of experiences into a short speech to be delivered at a memorial service. Eulogies don’t have to be depressing and formal. A eulogy can include favorite poems, meaningful reminiscences, war stories, or even jokes.
Here are some quick tips on how to put together a thoughtful eulogy.
1. What do you want to say?
First, collect the facts: age, family information – including children and marriages, places lived, career information, etc. Now think about the person you’re remembering. What stories come to mind? What kinds of stories or quotes capture your loved one's personality? Talk with other survivors and family, so their ideas can be included as well.
2. Decide on a theme
A theme gives purpose to the eulogy and helps your audience see an overall pattern of behavior and what the deceased’s life stood for. If you’re writing a eulogy for your Grandfather, for example, your theme could be how he was always a great story teller and confidant to his grandchildren. With your theme in place, you can collect stories that he told to other survivors and yourself, how he went on endlessly about the war, and how he helped his family through the rough patches with his wisdom. If your theme was his important work and career, you might speak with coworkers to get stories and remembrances of his working life and contributions made to his field or place of business.
3. Organize your notes into segments
Rewrite your notes onto index cards or sheets of paper that you can shuffle around and work with. This will help you group the information into like stories or similar topics. Once you have organized your notes into an order than flows well, jot the information into a rough outline.
4. Write your speech
Write out a first draft, sticking closely to the outline you’ve developed. Fill in any gaps by putting information in to link the topics, making each idea flow into the next. Try not to let the speech get to stiff, you don’t want a fact sheet on your loved one’s life. Try to incorporate real life experiences or anecdotes, using bits of humor and lightheartedness, if appropriate.
5. Practice delivering the eulogy
Read your speech to yourself out loud. This will help you point out any areas that don’t sound right or are not appropriate. Practice your speech in front of another person to get their input or deliver it in front of a mirror to get used to saying the words. Even delivering the speech on a trusted family pet, while imagining an audience, can help you work the kinks out. While giving the speech, remember to relax and breathe normally. If you get nervous speaking in front of a group, pay attention to the speed that you are speaking. We tend to speed up when we’re nervous so take it at a normal speaking pace. It’s ok to add pauses to collect your thoughts or provide time for the audience to digest your information. Remember, no one will be judging you; they are all there to honor your loved one. Always take a second copy of your speech and provide it to a backup in case you can’t continue at any point. It is common to get emotional or break down during delivery. People will understand, but having a backup will ensure that your information will be delivered if you cannot finish. Above all - relax! If you start to feel nervous, try to imagine that you are giving the speech only to your loved one. This can help take the pressure off.
~ Michele Baskin-Jones