How to Write a Eulogy

When a loved one passes away, a family member, friend or clergy member is often asked to give a eulogy at a funeral, celebration of life or memorial service. A eulogy is a short speech that pays tribute to a person’s life. Sometimes formal, sometimes funny, a eulogy serves to share your remembrances with others. They can be as different as the people they pay tribute to.

What is a eulogy?

A eulogy is defined as “a speech or writing in praise of a person or thing, especially a set oration in honor of a deceased person.” A traditional eulogy covers both basic information about a person’s life as well as memorable stories that paint a picture of their personality, likes and dislikes, hobbies and even their unique quirks.

How long should a eulogy be?

Our friends at Better Place Forests suggest that a eulogy should be about five to ten minutes long spoken or about 750 to 1,000 words. The eulogy is not meant to be a comprehensive biography of a person, and many times, more than one person will be speaking, so it is best to keep it short. Toastmasters International (a nonprofit group that teaches public speaking) suggests you pick two or three main points to focus on. “A eulogy should be a tribute to a life, not a chronology of it.”

What’s in a eulogy?

The eulogy should cover some of the same ground as an obituary: basic facts, key milestones and career, family or education accomplishments. Many eulogies will begin with a poem, favorite stories, jokes or memories to set the tone as the speaker begins.

You can find suggested content and examples on sites like Everloved, Farewelling, Cake and Lantern.

How to prepare to give your eulogy speech

In addition to sitting down to write the eulogy, you should prepare for the delivery of your speech. Like giving a toast at a wedding, don’t wing it: write it down, practice, consider your audience and get comfortable with the words.

Delivering a eulogy “calls for grace under pressure, and usually courage. You have said yes to comforting those who mourn, even as you are one of them,” writes the Huffington Post’s Carol DeChant.

Make them laugh

Laughs are the pivot point of a eulogy, Tom Chiarella writes in Esquire. “The best laughs come by forcing people not to idealize the dead. In order to do this, you have to be willing to tell a story, at the closing of which you draw conclusions that no one expects.”

Famous eulogies

Some eulogies are so well written and about someone so famous, they’ll land in the New York Times (like Mona Simpson’s about her brother Steve Jobs or Barack Obama’s of John Lewis) while others are more humble and personal, but still as important to the people we love.

Above all else, DeChant reminds us that a eulogy is a gift. “Your heartfelt remembrance is one of the sweetest gifts you can give.”

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