How to write a eulogy

A speech at a funeral or memorial service that celebrates the life of the deceased is called a eulogy. But how do you go about writing and delivering one? You want to tell everyone about the person you’ve lost and how wonderful they were, but standing in front of a large gathering – even of close friends and family – can be daunting. But even if you’re not naturally a public speaker or a writer, you are still the best qualified person to deliver this eulogy, because of what your loved one meant to you.

Here are some tips to get you started.

What makes a good eulogy?

A great eulogy combines many different ingredients: praise for the person you’ve lost, sadness that they’re gone, special memories and (usually) some humour to lift peoples’ spirits. Everyone should feel that the person is with them again, and be prompted to recall their own personal memories by listening to yours.

Where to begin? It helps to look through old photos to help spark those special memories, or browse the person’s old letters, emails or social media for ideas. Ask friends and family for their favourite memories, which in turn might bring to light a forgotten memory of your own that’s perfect to include. You might also like to spend some time at their favourite places, think about different periods in their life or even look up their long-lost friends for childhood anecdotes.

If more than one person is speaking at the funeral, make sure you check with each other early on to avoid overlaps. Try to make each reader’s eulogy personal and specific to the relationship they had with the deceased, rather than discussing the person generally. Usually this isn’t difficult, as every relationship is unique and special. You can make sure you have the right balance of speeches and speakers by making this part of your funeral checklist.

How long should a eulogy be?

Bear in mind that the average traditional funeral does not allow for much time, so brevity is important – keep to the most important things for you and keep to under 10 minutes if you can. A good rule of thumb is that 1,000 words roughly equals 10 minutes if read out slowly and clearly (which is also important to do).

What to include

Many eulogies include humour or funny memories, as it can diffuse some of the tension and sadness that a funeral inevitably brings. You can also celebrate the person’s achievements in their career and life – not everyone at the funeral will know as much as you do, and it can be eye-opening for them to learn, for instance, that their uncle or grandfather was also a keen painter or traveller in times past.  But don’t try to cram everything in – a eulogy is not a biography, but more like a snapshot that captures the essence of your loved one, using a few special moments in time.

Structure

Bearing in mind the short length of your eulogy, you want every word to count. For this reason, resist the temptation to start with their early life and proceed in chronological order. A good tip is to start with your favourite memory of the person, and build out from there. For instance, you might open with something like, ‘If X was here with us today…’ and then evoke a typical example of your loved one’s speech or behaviour, which will break the ice and prompt everyone to think about the person they knew.

Don’t be afraid to use humour – many eulogies are extremely funny, and laughter at funerals is very common – but do of course use your discretion. Funerals for those who have died prematurely or unexpectedly tend to be far more sombre, compared to those for people who have lived a long and fulfilling life. Nevertheless, some humour will usually have a place in any eulogy, as happy and amusing memories can be some of the most vivid, and shouldn’t be discounted.

Should you write out the whole thing word for word? Most people find this easier, but there are some who prefer not to read from a full text and want to improvise from a few notes. If you’re more comfortable with that approach, just remember to keep to your ten minutes or less, and make sure you trust yourself to deliver on the day.

You will probably prefer to write a word-for-word script if you want to include quotes from poems or songs, or if you’re worried you’ll be too emotional to think clearly. You may also wish to have someone else read out your eulogy, if you worry you won’t get through it yourself.

Practice reading your eulogy

It may feel strange to read your eulogy aloud before the day of the funeral, but you should aim to do so for a number of reasons. Firstly, to give yourself confidence that you can get through it, secondly to see how it sounds (you may get ideas for improvements this way), and thirdly to time it so you don’t over-run.

You might also find that you’d planned not to have a script, but struggle without one – in which case, you’ll have time to write up a full speech. You may decide to practice alone, or with some close family members who can give you useful feedback.

Don’t worry if you still stumble on the day. Funerals are emotional, and this is not a performance but a shared celebration. You may even find it easier to deliver the eulogy in front of friends and family, as their support and good wishes will carry you through.

Here are some more ideas for celebrating your loved one's life.