Writing a fitting tribute for a lost family member or friend can be hard, especially at a time when you might be grieving too. Here are some tips to get you started.
A eulogy is a short speech given at a funeral or memorial service for a person who has died. The tradition originates from ancient Greece, and the word literally means “praise”. The key is to write the eulogy in a way that does their life justice and respects their loved ones’ memories and feelings of grief.
Speaking about someone who has died in front of their family and friends is a courageous thing to do. If you feel daunted by the prospect, ask people around you for support. While a close relative or friend usually writes the eulogy, it can also be delivered by an official, such as a religious leader. Do what feels right and keep it flexible. For example, if you want to write the eulogy but worry about breaking down in tears, ask someone else to be on standby to read it for you if need be.
Introducing yourself in relation to the person you are remembering can be a good place to start. Describe what they meant to you, and what qualities defined them in your eyes. This will establish a connection with other people at the service and put you in the picture for those who might not know you very well.
When thinking about how to write a eulogy, it’s a good idea to structure it with a beginning, a middle and an end. And while it is not the same as an obituary, it usually includes brief aspects of the late person’s life, such as their early beginnings, their education and career, and particular skills, achievements or interests. Saying something specific about their family life, and mentioning their partner and/or children by name, can feel particularly important to their closest relatives.
Just like our relationships with a particular person differ, so do our feelings about them when they die. To make sure you write a eulogy that will feel meaningful to others, ask a few close friends or relatives to contribute by sharing a favourite memory, a story, or anecdote. A range of perspectives will enrich your speech and help strike the right tone right with your audience. You might also discover a true gem in the process, like a beautiful quote that perfectly captures your loved one’s personality, qualities, and quirks.
Some eulogies are very brief and there are no set rules for length, but 3-5 minutes is common. Make it long enough to properly honour the person and say what needs to be said, in proportion with the rest of the funeral service. To get it right, try reading your eulogy out a few times while timing yourself and editing accordingly.
It is possible to talk about someone’s achievements and qualities without glorifying them and mention shortcomings or disappointments in a kind and accepting way. None of us are perfect, and we remember those we have lost in all their human complexity. Follow your instincts, even using some gentle humour if it feels right and relevant. And if you’re not sure, ask someone else for their honest feedback before you finalise your eulogy.
Ending a eulogy on the right note can be tricky. One option is to finish with a poem or quote that feels consoling and meaningful, even if it happens to come from a movie such as Star Trek or Lord of the Rings! You might find inspiration in famous eulogies, such as Matthew’s tribute to his partner Gareth in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Oprah Winfrey’s speech for Rosa Parks, Mona Simpson remembering her brother, Steve Jobs, or in books and online quote collections.
One of our favourite lines about death comes from the poet Edith Sitwell: “Love is not changed by death, and nothing is lost, and all, in the end, is harvest.”