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November 26, 2018 Beyond The Dash

How to Prepare a Eulogy

Give your loved one the perfect send-off with a thoughtful final tribute

How to Prepare a Eulogy
You can deliver a powerful eulogy with the right amount of preparation and thought. (Shutterstock)

Giving the eulogy at a funeral is an honor as well as an intimidating responsibility. Particularly if you are not accustomed to public speaking, it can be difficult to know where to begin. 

Well, take a breath and relax. 

With a little forethought, you can prepare and deliver a stirring eulogy. 

It is important to invest the time necessary to prepare in advance. Do not wait to "wing it" during the funeral. That is a recipe for disaster. You may freeze up, ramble on, and miss out on the opportunity to pay proper tribute to your loved one. If you plan ahead and organize what you intend to say, it will minimize those dangers. When the time comes, you may choose to digress a bit from your prepared statements, but you will at least have a framework to guide you. 

Writing the eulogy

To help with your preparation, make sure you carry a notepad, smartphone or tablet with you for note-taking purposes. Whenever you hear a family member or friend make a relevant observation about the deceased, quickly jot it down. This way, you can keep track of quotations, humorous stories, and factual information. Later, when you sit down to organize your thoughts onto paper, you can use your notes as a reservoir of ideas. 

If you are have difficulty recalling information or getting input from others, don't be afraid to ask outright. Spark conversations by asking questions such as: 

  • What is your favorite memory of your time with them? 

  • If you could sum up their life in one word, what word would that be? 

  • What kinds of hobbies did they have?

  • What nicknames were they known by? 

When you have gathered enough information, it is time to put it all together. While there is no right or wrong way to prepare a eulogy, the following blueprint can help you get started if you are unsure.  

To begin, describe your own relationship with the deceased. Explain how you are personally affected by the loss. Remember that many of the people listening to you will understand fully and may share many of the same emotions. 

Next, work in some personal details pertaining to the deceased, and include three or four anecdotes. Tell stories that included you, or that were shared with you by others. Heartwarming accounts of generosity are powerful when delivered in a eulogy.  Stories that demonstrate the person's character will resonate with the people who miss them. Humorous anecdotes provide much-needed comic relief from the tension of a funeral service. However, be sure to keep the humor respectful and appropriate. If the loved one was a person of faith, you can make note of that, too. 

Talk about life lessons you learned from them as well as the qualities that made your loved one special. Whenever possible, tie these lessons or qualities into your anecdotes. Beware, however, of the danger of turning the eulogy into a story about yourself. Keep the focus on the person you are honoring. 

Near the end of the eulogy, consider addressing the deceased directly. For example, you can turn toward the casket and say, "Mom, I love you and I'm going to miss you. You taught me well, I couldn't have asked for a better mother, and you will always be close to my heart." 

You may choose to end on that note, or you may opt to share a final poem or read a verse from a favorite hymn in closing. 

Delivering the eulogy

You should prepare a complete manuscript of what you plan to say. Though the process may be difficult, it will force you to focus and organize your thoughts in a coherent fashion. Using this manuscript, you can practice delivering the eulogy a few times to see how it flows and to edit for length. In most cases, a eulogy of five to ten minutes (two to four typed pages) is appropriate. If you expect that you will stray from the manuscript during delivery, aim for shorter. If you tend to speak faster when nervous, prepare a longer eulogy. 

Tell personal stories and humorous anecdotes that show the deceased's unique character when delivering a funeral eulogy. (Shutterstock)

Whether you take the complete manuscript to the podium or condense the eulogy onto cue cards is your decision. If you are nervous about speaking publicly, bring the entire manuscript up to the podium with you. Just having it handy can relieve your anxiety about getting lost during the eulogy. If you are a confident public speaker, condense the eulogy to bullet points on cue cards. This will help you deliver a more natural, conversational tribute to your loved one. 

Create an Obituary

If you invest the time and energy in preparing the eulogy, you can approach your responsibility with confidence. Step up to the podium, take a deep breath to calm your nerves and get your bearings, and tell everyone about this wonderful person you are honoring.

You might also be interested in How to Write an Obituary.

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