The word eulogy comes from two Greek words, eu meaning ‘good’ and logos meaning ‘word’ or ‘thought’. A eulogy is a speech in praise of or tribute to a dead person.
It can be very difficult to deliver a eulogy when you are grieving. Public speaking or writing a speech can be daunting under the best of circumstances but, when someone you love or care deeply about has died, being asked to “say a few words” at the funeral service can feel like a thousand-ton weight on your shoulders.
According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Now this means to the average person that, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. (Jerry Seinfeld)
A eulogy should be a healing experience, for you and for the deceased’s family and friends.
Here are a few tips to help you:
• Write the eulogy in a form that will help you to deliver it. This can be key words on paper or a computer tablet, bullet points, a slide show or a full speech written out;
• Use your memories and ask the deceased’s family and friends for their stories;
• Sometimes, the most poignant eulogies can be read like a letter to the deceased;
• Your eulogy can include absolutely any type of words you like: humorous, sad, poetic, thought provoking, inspiring, dramatic, anything;
• It may help to think about the big achievements in the deceased’s life, the hurdles they overcame, the milestones they reached;
• Don’t be afraid to use poetry or quotations if they mean something to you, friends or family; it doesn’t matter whether it’s the words to a pop song or a Shakespearean quote;
• Try to avoid clichés or common eulogy sentences, such as “We are here today to mourn the death of (name) …” or “(Name) will be sorely missed by all …”;
• You’re not on your own; others are grieving too. If you have to stop in the middle to compose yourself, don’t panic;
• Consider ending with a farewell to the deceased using
a piece of music or a video or a reading.
Few of us are saintly, but the eulogy should concentrate on what was positive in the deceased person’s life; if you must mention the negative, try to do so in humour.
Follow this advice and you will not go far wrong:
• Start with what you know: What you know is your relationship with the deceased, so start with your
memories, take out old photo albums or get online and go through some photos of you both to jog your memories. Remember the good times as well as the bad;
• Make a list about the person: Include details such as dates – birth, marriage, children, work dates, etc; names – spouse/partner, children, grandchildren; locations – childhood, teen years, trips abroad, etc; work life; hobbies; achievements;
• Seek out what you don’t know: Talk to the deceased’s family, friends, members of groups they belonged to about what they remember of the deceased;
• Humour: In the midst of mourning, your audience will appreciate some light-hearted, tasteful humour; referring to an anecdote, funny quote or accidental mishap is generally appreciated. But be careful – you’re not auditioning for stand-up comedy!
• Create your flow: Every speech or piece of writing should have a beginning, middle and an end – your eulogy should too. Interpret that chronologically or based on lifetime milestones – whatever seems appropriate;
• Time: Depending on the circumstances (religious ceremony or not), a eulogy should be no longer than 10 minutes and probably no shorter than two or three minutes. Speak slowly and calmly. Give yourself time and allow the audience to take in your words;
• Practice makes perfect: Practise your eulogy with close family or friends because they may wish to change some of what you say or add to it.
NOTE: If you’re delivering a eulogy for someone who has taken their own life, focus on understanding and empathising with the family’s grief and refrain from rationalisation and explanation. Arrange for loved ones to share good memories about his / her life. Humorous stories can be appropriate as they will lift the mood, if even momentarily, but be cautious. If possible, have anyone wishing to speak about the deceased write out their comments, as this will prevent any inappropriateness, however unintended, that may cause additional hurt or pain to the family.