How to Write a Eulogy

Are you preparing a eulogy? Here’s some help:

It is an honor to commemorate the life of a person who has recently died.

The eulogy serves many purposes for those in the audience:

  • It fulfills the human need for ceremony to mark an occasion; the death should not go unrecognized.
  • It comforts the listeners to have their feelings put into words.
  • It comforts the listeners to know that the deceased was understood.
  • It provides a cathartic opportunity for the listeners; they can weep with no censure.
  • It is a way to immortalize the deceased; your words will live on.
  • It is an opportunity to educate listeners about some personal traits of the deceased.
  • It is an opportunity to bring some respectful levity to a sad event.

To get ready to write the eulogy think about the deceased and jot down about ten words that come to mind. The words can be positive or negative, silly or serious. Then think about some experiences you had with the deceased and write them down. You can write just a few words to represent each experience or incident that you recall – no need to have a full sentence. These jottings are random thoughts and ideas.

Keeping the page you have just written in front of you, begin to follow the directions below. Use the words and phrases on your page to help follow these instructions. After it is all written find ways to include any unused items on your original sheet of paper.

  • The first word you say should be the name of the deceased.

This is not about you. Do not begin by saying, I loved my brother. Instead say, Larry was my older brother.

  • The next sentence or two should explain and then describe your relationship.

Larry teased me every day of my childhood and inspired me everyday of my adulthood.

  • Summarize in one or two sentences the essence of Larry’s life.

Larry was a good husband and father and a devoted employee of the publishing company where he worked as a production manager for 24 years.

  • Now tell the audience something they don’t know about the deceased. Reveal some accomplishments.

You may not have known that Larry was on his college fencing team and that he won several national competitions. Also, Larry was voted employee of the year by his fellow-workers just a couple of years ago.
And
Reveal some character traits, humor encouraged.
You always saw Larry looking neat and clean. I am here to tell you that this man took two showers every day and often changed his shirt during the day. Some might think that he was obsessive; he thought he was setting a good example for those around him. In our family we called him Mr. Clean.

  • Create a scene that will permit audience members to visualize the deceased.

You know if Larry were sitting there with you now he’d have his hand under his chin, as usual, and he’d have his serious face on. He’d be studying everyone who was speaking. Probably he’d be wearing his blue tie that he saved for funerals and weddings. As soon as the service is over Larry would rip off the tie – he never was comfortable in ties – and rush home for his sneakers so he could go for a run, or maybe a jog. Oh, and if you saw him in his house you know where he’d be sitting – on that great big recliner, with two pillows propped under his head and he would be reading USA Today and the TV would be on but he’d have no idea what program he was watching.

  • Describe an incident that will enlighten the audience.

Last month Larry and I went to a train auction. Not toy trains. Real railroad cars. Larry had no intention of buying them but he enjoyed hanging out with guys who did really buy trains. He wanted me to come along with him to share the excitement. I actually was bored but it was clear that my brother was in all his glory inspecting the trains beforehand, chatting up the engineers who were there, and then watching the bidding. 

  • If you are religious this is the place to make a religious statement.

Larry is in a good place now. I know he’s with our mom and dad and I know he’ll be watching over all of us.

  • Say what you will most miss about the person.

I’m going to miss Larry’s Sunday morning phone calls – we spoke to each other every Sunday morning for as long as I can remember.

  • Gently and humorously say what you won’t miss

Now that he’s gone, I hope I don’t start feeling a need to go to railroad car auctions.

  • Put your feelings into one or two sentences.

I feel so lost and so bereaved right now. I can’t imagine going about my daily life without my big brother.

  • Say how his life has touched and influenced you.

Because of Larry I feel guilty if I don’t take a shower every day, I feel guilty if I drive in to the city and don’t take a railroad train in, and I learned how to be a good husband and a playful dad by watching him.

  • Mention what you have learned from the person, what he has taught you by example.

In addition to extreme cleanliness Larry taught me to be a stand-up guy and take responsibility for whatever needed to be done. By observing his life I learned how to be a decent family man and a hard working employee. Thank you, Larry.

  • Death tends to get us to think about life. We think about what is really important and what we most value. Talk about the values of the deceased.

As you know, Larry really valued hard work. He cared about trying hard and he put all his energy into everything he did, whether it was raking the leaves, going to a meeting for work, or preparing a sandwich.

  • Say how his death has touched and influenced you.

Larry went through a couple of months of serious illness and he never once complained. Instead, he cheered up everyone who came to visit. He told us not to feel sorry for him. He wanted us to tell him jokes. I now have a huge repertoire of knock-knock jokes.

  • Mention any family members or close friends who deserve recognition.

My nephews, Howard and Gary, and of course my sister-in-law, Linda, are amazing people and deserve so much recognition for all they did during these past months. I know you join me in wishing Linda, Howard, and Gary an easy road through bereavement and a life filled with good memories. 

  • Again, mention how you feel -  sad? Lost? Relieved? Empty? Exhausted?

This has all happened so quickly it’s hard to believe that at Thanksgiving dinner none of us thought about Larry’s death or illness. I think I am still stunned.

  • This is the place for a particular quotation or bible passage or brief poem. The reading you select should:

Describe how you are feeling    or
Describe how the deceased led his life    or
Offer courage and inspiration to the listeners

You have my permission to quote from Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again. Here are some sample quotes you may wish to use. I’ve slightly modified and changed some words – feel free to do the same -- to better suit your circumstance.

Think about making the world a better place because of one or two little things you might do in Larry’s memory. Acts of kindness go a long way.

Larry would wish your days to be filled with kindness and goodness and your nights to be filled with secure sleep and sweet peace.

When you finish writing the eulogy, practice saying it aloud. Read it several times. Insert a new sentence or two and eliminate any sentences that don’t seem right. Time the eulogy with your watch while reading it aloud. If there are several speakers at the service your eulogy should not be more than 3 minutes. If you are the only speaker you may go on longer, but not long enough to bore people.

It is a good idea to use a recording device. Then you will have a permanent record of all eulogies at the funeral. You can make copies to distribute to friends and family. Throughout the mourning process listening to the eulogies will provide comfort. Later generations will regard the eulogies as important family/genealogic history.

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You deserve to be understood
Talk to Dr. Roberta

Dr. Roberta Temes provides individual bereavement counseling sessions by phone and in her NJ office.
If you would like to schedule a session with Dr. Roberta Temes please click here.