You were probably asked to deliver a eulogy because of your close relationship to the deceased, and because the family trusts you to honor his or her memory on behalf of family and friends. The family doesn't want to make you feel uncomfortable, foolish or as though your grief is on display. It's an honor they've bestowed upon you. Helping others say goodbye may turn out to be a rewarding experience. Don't worry about making mistakes during the memorial service. A eulogy comes from the heart of the deliverer. I can't see how a mistake could be made as long as it is honest and true.
"I can't write."
Don't let the thought of writing intimidate you. You don't have to be a novelist to move people. Everyone has a story to tell and that's your job as a eulogist. Tell people your story. In the book "A Labor of Love: How to Write a Eulogy," author Garry Schaeffer says a eulogy should convey the feelings and experiences of the person giving the eulogy, and should be written in an informal, conversational tone. Schaeffer dispels the misconceptions that a eulogy should objectively summarize the person's life or speak for all present. Sit down and write from the heart. Eulogists often write about the person's attributes, memories and common times that were shared together. Sometimes they include the deceased's favorite poems, book passages, scripture verses, quotes, expressions, lines from songs or items that were written by the deceased. Whatever is selected, it generally reflects the loved one's lifestyle.
These questions should get you thinking:
- How did you and the deceased become close?
- Is there a humorous or touching event that represents the essence of your passed loved one?
- What did you and others love and admire about the deceased?
- What will you miss most about him or her?
Some of the simplest thoughts are deeply touching and easy for those congregated to identify with. For example, "I'll miss her smile," or "I'll never forget the way he crinkled his nose when he laughed," are just as good as "I admired her selflessness."
"I can't speak in front of people."
It may not be easy, but you can do it. Funeral services are one time you'll surely have a kind and empathetic audience. They feel for you and are on your side. You'll only have to speak for five to ten minutes, but your gift will live in the hearts of the deceased's family and friends for long thereafter.
If you're worried about choking up or breaking down in the middle of your eulogy, you can take a moment to compose yourself, then carry on, as Schaeffer recommends, or you can have a back up person ready to step in. Give a copy of your eulogy to the minister or funeral director so that person can finish the eulogy if you're unable to continue.
- Be honest and focus on the person's positive qualities.
- Humor is acceptable if it fits the personality of the deceased.
- "If you are inclined to be a perfectionist, lower your expectations and just do what you can given the short time-frame and your emotional state," writes Schaeffer in "Labor of Love."
- Keep it brief. Five to ten minutes is the norm, but it's a good idea to verify that with the minister or funeral director.
- Leo Saguin recommends interviewing family and friends in his book "How to Write and Deliver a Loving Eulogy."
- Put the eulogy on paper - at least in outline form.
Eulogy or Sharing Time?
If you're planning a funeral, you might want to consider "sharing time" as an alternative to a eulogy. In sharing time, the people congregated pass a microphone or take turns standing up to share their thoughts. It's like a lot of mini eulogies and is more spontaneous.
Books Offering Help, Examples and Inspiration:
- "A Labor of Love: How to Write a Eulogy" by Garry Schaeffer
- "The Book of Eulogies: A Collection of Memorial Tributes, Poetry, Essays, and Letters of Condolence" by Phyllis Theroux (editor)
- "How to Write and Deliver a Loving Eulogy" by Leo Seguin
- "Final Celebrations: A Guide for Personal and Family Funeral Planning" by Kathleen Sublette and Martin Flagg
- "In Memoriam: A Practical Guide to Planning a Memorial Service" by Amanda Bennett and Terence B. Foley
- "My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes and Conversations, Plus a Guide to Eulogies" by Florence Isaacs
- "Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death" by Sarah York
- "Readings for Remembrance: A Collection for Funerals and Memorial Services" by Eleanor C. Munro
- "Remembrances and Celebrations: A Book of Eulogies, Elegies, Letters, and Epitaphs" Jill Werman Harris