Writing a eulogy, while grieving the loss of a loved one, is difficult. Writing about how to write a eulogy is not easy either. It feels cold and impersonal to turn a final tribute to a friend or family member into a formula. That may be why I had difficulty finding resources or how to write a eulogy guidelines when I was faced with the task of memorializing my father.
First, my sympathies are with you as you embark on seeking the right words to express what another’s life has meant to you. It takes a strong and loving person to honor the death of another, and whether you give a eulogy or simply write a eulogy to remember the loss of a loved one, I found the process a step closer to healing.
How to Write a Eulogy
1. In writing, we call it brainstorming, but for the purpose of writing a eulogy, let’s call it reminiscing. Reflect on the person’s life, what he/she has meant to you, things he/she said or did that affected you, moments you never want to forget, and memories of words or actions everyone may not know or remember regarding the person.
2. Narrow your focus. A memory, event, favorite phrase, place, song, poem, object, little-known fact, or other memorable aspect of the person’s life make touching and meaningful memories for everyone who knew the person.
If you’re having trouble focusing, try using one of these sentence stems:
I’ll always remember when…/I’ll never forget the time…
I didn’t know (name) until…/I thought I knew (name) until…
My favorite memory of (name) was…
(Name) always loved___ because…
I wish I had the chance to tell (name) how much…
(Name) taught me…
Something many people may remember about (name) is…
Something many people may not know about (name) is…
Use a quotation/phrase the person liked or repeated as a starting point.
Tip: Consider a format that is comfortable for you. I chose to write my father’s eulogy as a letter to him recalling what I learned the day he took me to volunteer at a soup kitchen.
3. Write exactly what you want to say. Don’t edit yourself. If you’re angry, sad, overwhelmed, frustrated, relieved, confused, or any number of emotions, let it out.
Tip: Don’t worry about being clichéd or overly emotional. This is an emotional experience. You will not be judged for what you share as you recognize the loss of a loved one’s life.
4. Examine what you wrote. Decide what you wish to share with others.
Tip: If the person had a well-known flaw (ie: alcohol/drug addiction, gambling, narrow-minded view, character flaw), while I suggest not highlighting it, if it is part of your life or story, don’t erase its existence. To do so denies the person of who they were and how they affected those around them.
5. Take out unnecessary details that distract from the story. Add details to help mourners visualize your story.
6. Practice. Ask someone to read/listen to what you plan to share. Because delivering a eulogy is such an emotional experience, practicing will help you get through the more emotionally charged parts of the speech. While it is perfectly okay to tear up during a eulogy, and taking a few moments to collect yourself while reading may be necessary, practice may help you to control emotion during its reading.
Tip: Do not worry if you are unable to follow typical public speaking guidelines. This isn’t about public speaking. A eulogy is about recognizing and remembering a life lived, not about eye contact and poise. If you must keep your head down, keep it down. What is important is that you share your loss with those who are grieving with you. Practicing is more for you than for appearing “professional” and everyone listening will understand this as well.
7. Find someone (clergy, friend, or other family member) who may be able to take over for you in the event you feel too overwhelmed to continue giving your eulogy. Hopefully you will not require assistance, but the support of another may help sustain you during the reading.
8. Make sure to create a copy in the event you are unable to complete the reading.
9. Share your eulogy at the service.
Don’t worry about what you say being “perfect”. When remembering someone important to you, chances are you may never feel you will reach perfection. What you do choose to share will be perfectly beautiful and greatly appreciated.
This is only one suggestion for how to write a eulogy. Just as grieving is different for everyone, these steps and suggestions may not work for everyone.
Support for Grieving the Loss of a Loved One
There are many sources of support to help you through the grieving process. Compassionate Friends is a support group for those suffering the loss of a child to share their tragedy with the support of other parents suffering the loss of a child. GriefShare offers a listing of support groups on their “find a group” webpage for those who wish to attend a support group meeting. Also, GriefNet provides a community of people who are dealing with the death of a loved one.