Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Get through the fear and grief and feel satisfied knowing you have honoured your loved one
Stress and grief
People in grief after the loss of a loved one can find personal tasks more difficult, particularly those they are unaccustomed to. One of these tasks is writing a eulogy. And, with public speaking consistently ranking as peoples’ worst fear, adding a feeling of fear to a time of grief can be an overwhelming and unenjoyable experience. These feelings of difficulty, fear, and grief are likely impacting on people’s feelings of the entire funeral experience.
SpeechForm’s survey of 250 people showed that 59% of people find it very hard or extremely hard to write a eulogy. 98% of respondents found all aspects of the eulogy writing process (planning, thinking, writing, managing grief) contributed relatively equally towards the difficulty of the experience. One respondent wrote, “Writing a eulogy has been one of the most difficult and frustrating things I’ve had to do in my life.”
Giving the eulogy is obviously a challenging and all-important role, though it can be incredibly rewarding. The eulogy can bring a sense of comfort and relief, knowing that you are honouring your loved one and taking the audience on a journey of reflection. You have many great moments you wish to touch upon, and so do the audience. The need to consider the audience when writing your eulogy, and focusing on how you, as the eulogy-giver, can take them on a journey that deepens their feelings of connection towards your loved one, means you have great responsibility on the day.
Where do I start?
Reflecting on your loved one’s background, anecdotes, values, characteristics, and what set them apart from others are the hallmarks of a great eulogy. Including these elements will ensure the audience feels satisfied, having reflected upon the person they knew and “connecting the dots” of your loved one’s journey. Considering both your expectations and those of your audience will ensure your loved one is remembered and honoured in a way that everyone desires.
This guide seeks to help you with some of the “challenge areas”, including understanding what goes into a eulogy, the structure of the eulogy, and ideas on thinking about content.
Let’s get started.
From the get-go, it is important that you consider:
How you, family, and close friends would like your loved one to be remembered
What the audience would love to hear
What the audience would expect to hear, as if it was the loved one him/herself behind the microphone
Was your loved one a barrel of fun and laughs? Better include jokes and humour. Was your loved one inspirational? Best to include the experiences, learnings, and quotes that made those in your loved one’s company feel inspired. Give these points some thought and the audience will appreciate it.
Remember - the eulogy is for everyone, including your loved one, close family and friends, and the audience. Your job is to take them all on a personal journey of reflection, and considering the points of view of many people will make the whole audience feel like your loved one is with them on the day.
The key to writing any great speech is a central theme. Think - what is the overall message I am trying to send through my stories and content? Nailing this down will help get the creative juices flowing when the time comes to think of ideas.
For example, if your theme includes “my father showed great strength and discipline, having spent his life in the military”, you will then recognise that the eulogy should include information about his military career, examples of when he showed strength and discipline, and how that had an impact on you.
Your theme will give you an easy platform to launch into crafting your stories, and your audience will appreciate it when they remember the eulogy long after the event. Make this your first task on your speech writing journey.
Hook and Open
The very first words in your speech. People frequently launch into a, “Hi everyone”. But, there is no need. Make an immediate impact and try launching straight into a story, quote, or comment to capture the audience’s attention immediately.
Traditionally, a eulogy includes where the person was born, how many children they had, where they grew up, what jobs they had, and various other biography-style information. This can be informative to your audience, particularly for those who didn’t know your loved one that well. It can also be unnecessary information, particularly if many in the audience knew your loved one well.
In modern times, the eulogy appears to be less about a linear “John did A, then B, then C…” biography of loved ones’ lives, and more inclusive of anecdotes, experiences, events, and characteristics.
Choose what you feel would bring honour to your loved one.
As someone who knew your loved one well, you will have insights into your loved one from behind the scenes. You have seen a side of your loved one that others have not. These could include stories about what it was like growing up with your loved one, interesting one-on-one conversations, and occasions you spent together that taught you something about your loved one or about life.
Reflecting on these provides an opportunity to highlight your loved one’s qualities that others probably don’t know about.
Hobbies, sports, time spent with family and friends - these “life’s loves” are part of your loved one’s identity. Many in the audience likely knew of your loved one’s interests. Acknowledging them will help your audience understand and connect with the journey, and it will help to create some happy feelings amongst the congregation as they reflect on what is important in life.
Values, beliefs, morals, traits, and characteristics differentiate your loved one from others. These have rubbed-off on others and had an impact on you and others who knew your loved one. Talk about how these qualities have had an impact on you and helped to shape your life. This could include:
“Dad’s love of the family meant he was always there for me at school, sport, and life, like the time…”
“Mum loved us, but she was the one who made sure we behaved properly. Here is an example…”
“My friend was stalwart and completely selfless, more than anyone I know. He was always there for me. I remember one occasion, where…”
Describing how your loved one’s qualities have helped you and others honours your loved one and helps to pass on learnings to the next generations.
Although not always necessary, circumstances may exist that you may wish to acknowledge. This could include a simple thank you to those who attended the funeral and attendees from overseas. Or, it could include special circumstances, such as those who supported your loved one towards the end of their time, those who helped to prepare the funeral, or those who had a profound impact on your loved one’s life. These will require a heartful acknowledgement.
If you feel the situation warrants a thank you message, help your audience feel acknowledged by including it.
So that the audience’s final memory of the eulogy is the summary of the important messages you were hoping to send, close by summarising your theme. Describing your lasting memory of your loved one, delivering a message to your loved one, or telling a quote will effectively complete this journey of reflection.