A quick guide to finding the right words
The term 'eulogy' comes from the Greeks, meaning literally 'words of praise'; eulogies are perhaps the most common form of memorial. They are a unique form of public speaking, as the person who delivers a eulogy is usually not accustomed to speaking for an audience, particularly not when they are in mourning. On top of all that, when delivering a eulogy you must remember to show respect for the deceased and show sympathy for the feelings of those in the audience. All of these factors can make writing a eulogy one of the most difficult aspects of funeral arrangement planning.
A eulogy doesn't have to follow the formal rules of speechmaking. It need not be succinct or particularly eloquent, and in fact, striving to achieve these qualities can actually take away from creating a good eulogy. Some of the best eulogies are rambling and conversational. What makes a good eulogy is the fact that it's a personal and heartfelt memorial, so it's important to be as open and honest as possible. However, there are some basic elements of a eulogy that you might want to include as a starting point:
- Three or four anecdotes (good stories) that illustrate some of the best qualities or even finest moments of the deceased. How did you first meet the deceased? What was the funniest thing that ever happened between you? What was the best or strongest thing the deceased ever said or did?
- Pick three or four standout qualities of the deceased, then fully illustrate with examples or short anecdotes. What will you miss the most about him or her? What things did other people tell you about the deceased that resonated with you?
- It's okay to very briefly mention some of the negative qualities of the deceased. In some eulogies this will add levity to the funeral proceedings and will make the good points more plausible. If possible, you can even use the deceased's own words, such as regrets they had or things they admitted they could have improved on. The idea is to provide a true account of who the deceased is, and why you loved him or her. There is no need to assign sainthood.
People will not expect a eulogy to be perfectly delivered or well read. They'll certainly understand if your voice cracks or if you break down. You might also stray from the speech you initially wrote if you feel moved by the moment. There's no wrong way to deliver a heartfelt, honest memorial for someone you love and who was loved by those who are listening.