When someone you know sadly passes away it’s likely there will be a funeral held for them. This is a chance to remember their life, pay your respects and say goodbye. But if you’re going to giving a reading you may be struggling with how to write a eulogy.
If it was a family member or a close friend then being asked or wanting to give a eulogy for the deceased is normal. Having the chance to express how much they meant to you or to highlight the many achievements and good things they did throughout their life is a wonderful way to commemorate them.
But how do you write a eulogy? How do you compose something as emotional and moving as a funeral reading? And what are the right things to say in a eulogy and what should you not say?
Understandably most people aren’t sure of what to include in a eulogy or how to go about writing one. It’s not something you have to do very often, if at all.
So if you’re having trouble with how to write a eulogy and need some help then this guide is for you. It will go through who gives a eulogy, what you should and shouldn’t say in a one, how long it should be and tips for writing it.
As well as that we’ve put together an easy to us eulogy template and some example eulogies that will hopefully inspire and help you with writing your own.
What is a Eulogy
A eulogy is a speech or reading that is given at a funeral. It tends to focus on remembering the deceased and their life and is usually given by a friend or family member.
Multiple eulogies or readings can be given at a funeral. Eulogies offer those grieving the chance to reflect on and remember their friend or loved one and pay tribute to their life.
Being asked to give a eulogy by the family of the deceased is an honor. But it’s also understandable to feel the pressure and be nervous about making you’re eulogy, and what you say, just right.
Who Gives a Eulogy
The eulogy is given by someone close to the deceased. It could be a very good friend or a family member.
Sometimes multiple eulogies are given and you see many people from across the deceaseds life paying tribute to them.
As a funeral is such a difficult time to the family of the deceased they may feel unable to give a funeral speech or resting themselves. In this instance they may request either another family member or a close friend to give reading.
Why Are Eulogies Important?
A eulogy gives people who knew the deceased the chance to say goodbye and pay respect to their life. Often those close to whoever has passed away want the opportunity to remember and speak fondly of them.
The eulogy gives them that chance. The opportunity to say a few words about the deceaseds life, recount stories and generally remember them with the fondness and love they had during life.
It also allows for those attending the funeral and hearing the eulogy to remember the life of the passed. Maybe learn about them things they didn’t know and come away with a new understanding of the deceased.
Funerals are emotional for everyone involved. A well written eulogy can help to make sense of those emotions, provide some closure and chance to let go and maybe even bring some levity with happy memories to what is a very difficult time.
What Should you Include in a Eulogy
A eulogy should include whatever the person giving it wants to include. There are obvious areas you should avoid and certain things you shouldn’t say (see further down) but there is a freedom within a eulogy to talk about the deceased in the way you would like.
If you are writing a eulogy or funeral speech then you can approach it from the point of view of informing those in attendance about the life of the deceased. Making it mostly fact based. Or you might prefer to remember treasured memories or tell funny stories you have involving the deceased.
It can be as formal or informal as you like (unless the family specifically requests a certain style or tone) and include as much personal detail as you choose.
How Long Should a Eulogy be?
Whilst there aren’t any actual rules most eulogies are no more than 10 minutes, and usually less than 5 minutes. Longer than this might
Some funeral venues actually specify how long the entire funeral should be and so may even have a block of time marked for the eulogy. If that’s the case then the funeral director should be able to tell you how long you have and you can then plan your eulogy to fit that timeframe.
If you’re writing your eulogy and are worried about a word count then try not to. The timing is far more important than the number of words you say, mostly because the speed you make your speech will be a much bigger factor than the word count.
How to Write a Eulogy
Writing a eulogy is a very individual task and what would work for one person may not for another. Each person who has passed away is unique. Those writing a eulogy for them will have interacted and had experiences of them that will be different to other people.
That’s why every eulogy is unique. It’s you’re memories and feelings about someone and what they meant to you.
There are some things that are usually part of a eulogy though. You may choose to include some or all of them:
- The deceaseds date of birth and where they were born
- Any nicknames they might have had
- Names of close family members
- Their education or where they attended college/university
- How they met their partner/spouse
- How you knew them
- General accomplishments
- Favorite hobbies
- Contributions to their community or charity work they have done
- A favorite song or song lyric, poem or quote they especially liked or meant a lot to them
- Alternatively a poem, quote etc that you have chosen as you feel it is fitting
A good way to plan and then write a eulogy can be followed with these steps:
Think of the Audience
You need to always keep in mind who you are delivering the eulogy to. Its easy to get swept up in the writing process. But remember that the eulogy isn’t for you, it’s for the people who are attending the funeral. That’s going to be close friends and family of the deceased.
So ask yourself as your writing and composing your eulogy whether they will appreciate and like what you’re saying. Is it appropriate for them? Will it upset them or bring a smile to their face?
There will be many people grieving. They will be sad, hurt, angry and more. Your words need to offer comfort or remind them of better times.
So always have the audience you are delivering the eulogy to in the back of your mind.
Decide on a Tone
The tone of your eulogy is important. You need to make decision as to whether your eulogy will be somber or more uplifting. You might want your words to celebrate the life of the deceased and only remember the best times.
That might even be funny stories. Humor may seem taboo at a time like this but many people want to remember the good and happy moments rather than focus on the loss. So a eulogy with funny anecdotes or humor is acceptable.
A more traditional approach would be a reflection on their life and a serious, solemn tone. Both are used as eulogies and both can be fitting depending on the audience.
But you have to judge it right. Think of the audience again – are they likely to appreciate a more light hearted approach or will they find it inappropriate. You will have to be the judge of that.
Organize your Thoughts
It’s a good idea to write down notes as you begin to plan what you’re going to say. At first that might just be a mess of ideas but you can then start to arrange it into a proper eulogy and see it take shape.
Look at pictures, text messages, emails, letters etc. that you have from or to do with the deceased. Anything that helps you to remember them and the sort of person they were.
Triggering those memories and the times you spent with them will help you to capture their life and character. It will also help you to remember stories and anecdotes that you might want to include in the eulogy.
Talk to Friends and Family
It can help to speak with close friends or family members of the deceased. They can help you to fill in any spaces or any blanks you have as well as offering a different insight to them.
You can ask them what their most treasured memory of the deceased is, memorable moments, heartwarming stories or song lyrics and poems that they especially liked.
This will help you to flesh out your eulogy and bring additional details you may have missed.
Choose your Structure
Think about the structure of the eulogy as well. This will be informed by the tone and type of eulogy you’ve decided to write.
If it’s going to biographical and a more factual timeline of the deceaseds life then that will be written in a very different way to something more sentimental and that focuses on personal stories and memories. Whichever type you go with it will still probably follow a familiar introduction, middle and end structure.
The introduction should begin with your relationship to and how you knew the deceased, as well as some basic information about them. The introduction may be the trickiest part as it’s difficult to begin something as personal and emotional as a eulogy.
The middle will make up the majority of the eulogy. This will be where you talk about memories you have of the deceased, what they meant to you and maybe tell some stories. Funny anecdotes are popular as are special moments that you shared.
Finally choose how you want to finish and sum up the deceased. You may find this the most difficult part as closing a eulogy or speech about someone special to you is incredibly difficult, as well as finding the right words. A heartfelt quote or poem/verse that has special meaning can often be a good way to end a eulogy.
Edit and Reword
Once you’ve finished it’s a good idea to take step away from a while. Coming back to something you’ve written after a break can help you to see it in a new light and spot things you may have missed.
If anything doesn’t read well or sound right then change those parts until you’re happy.
Delivering Your Eulogy
Writing a eulogy may be the hardest part but the actual delivery is likely to cause the most stress and fear. A lot of people find public speaking scary in any situation, but the pressure of speaking about a loved one after they have passed away is going to be substantial.
If you’re worried about delivering a eulogy then these few tips may help:
- Speak slowly – it’s understandable to be nervous but unfortunately when you are you produce adrenaline, which has the unwanted effect of making you speak much faster. So try to breathe, stay as calm as you can and be aware if you’re beginning to speed up your speech. If so then make the effort to slow down and take longer on each word or sentence.
- Stay still – much like with talking too quickly adrenaline makes us fidget and move more. Try to be aware of any extra movements you’re making – drumming your fingers, shifting position a lot etc. and do your best to stop if it happens.
- Make eye contact – whilst you shouldn’t be starting directly at people throughout your delivery there are times when you may want to look up and make eye contact. This might be when you mention certain family members or friends as a way of making them feel included.
- Pause – rushing through your eulogy isn’t the best way to deliver it. Emotional readings require moments of silence and opportunities for reflection. Find the appropriate points in what you’ve written where a pause would make sense – be that after a very poignant section or to give the audience a chance to laugh after a very story.
You don’t want to deliver a eulogy on the fly. Take time to practice it beforehand so you’re familiar with exactly what you’re going to say. Become familiar with the flow of the words and so comfortable with it you could almost recite it from memory.
This will also give you a chance to see how long it is and whether it’s overrun and you need to cut any out.
To get yourself ready for public speaking you could also practice in front of friends or family. That will help you with delivering to an audience and they can also give you tips about how it sounds and your delivery.
What you Should NOT Say in a Eulogy
There are topics and things you should avoid mentioning in a eulogy:
- Anything offensive – this is quite vague but if there is anything that might offend those in attendance then leave it out.
- A grudge – even if you did have a grudge against the deceased there’s no lint holding on to it now. Bringing it up will only make you sound bitter and be upsetting for the family.
- Bad memories – no one is perfect and there may be things the deceased did wrong. But it doesn’t help to rehash them now. It’s best to stick to the positives.
- Any crimes – a eulogy isn’t the time to be going over the mistakes the deceased may gave made. A criminal background isn’t something to be celebrated but it doesn’t need to be brought up in your eulogy either.
- The details of death – it’s harrowing enough for family and loved ones to have lost someone, they don’t need reminding of how they died.
- Bad personality traits – it would be petty to bring this up in a eulogy.
- Old arguments or family rifts – let it go!
- Rude or inappropriate content – a eulogy is either meant to be a somber remembrance of the deceased or a positive, uplifting look back at their life. Rude or inappropriate things aren’t going to be welcome.
This is a very basic template for a eulogy that you can use as a base for writing your own.
Today we come together not to mourn but to celebrate the life of [name]. [name] was a truly outstanding individual, one I know we all loved more than we could ever say. He/she was the most selfless and kind person I had the pleasure of knowing, and as I look out and see the smiles and heads nodding I know that is the opinion of everyone who was lucky to know him/her.
[name] was born in [city] on [date of birth], the [1st/2nd/3rd] child of [mom and dad’s name]. They lived in [city] from [year] until [year] before moving to [city]. His/her childhood was (include some information you know about the deceased and their childhood – a story or memory you have).
Education and Work
[name] attended [name of schools] before graduating with [training qualification or name of degree]. They worked for [company name] as a [position name] before moving on to [names of companies or jobs]. He/She was (include some information about the deceased and their work life here. Did they enjoy their jobs, did they work hard etc).
Family and Marriage
In [year] [name] met the love of his/her life, [name of spouse], and in [year] they were married. They were blessed with [number] children – [names of children] who were the joy of their life.
Only last year [name] and [spouse name] celebrated [number of years, eg 40] years together with a lovely wedding anniversary. He/she (include more information about the family of the deceased, maybe a romantic moment or funny story involving the family).
Hobbies and Passions
[name] was an important active member of the [community, church, volunteer, theatre etc]. It was his/her passion and they dedicated so much time to [hobby or service]. They were known by everyone for (include more information or memories about their hobbies and what they treasured most about it).
I have so many amazing memories of [name] and also reached out to friends and family for their favorites: (include a few of those memories that meant the most to you or were especially funny/memorable and that demonstrated what sort of a person the deceased was).
We were blessed to have had [name] as part of our lives and the world has become a much sadder, less vibrant place now they’ve gone. Although we will miss [name] terribly we should treasure those memories we have, never let them go and remember just how fortunate we were that [name] touched our lives.
If you’d like some examples of eulogies to inspire or help guide you in writing your own then the following eulogy example should give you an idea of what they are like:
Dad was the light of my life.
Even as a little girl, I remember him making me laugh so much I would nearly cry. He had a wicked sense of humour that rubbed off on anyone that was near him.
No one was upset around Dad for too long – although he did have his serious side, too, of course.
Dad grew up in the country, on a dairy farm a few hours from Melbourne called Toora and was surrounded by sheep, farm animals and beautiful landscape.
But his love for the written word drew him to the ‘big smoke’ to study literature at Trinity College in Melbourne.
He said his passion came from his grandfather who used read endlessly to him.
Stories that even as an adult he loved dearly and would read to us when we were kids. His favourites were Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer.
My parents met at Trinity College and after graduating, decided to get married.
Two years later I was born, followed by my brother Charlie a year after that.
Dad was always so caring and giving to us children. Even when we ran in and out of his office a million times interrupting his writing, Dad never got too angry.
He would usher us away with suggestions of how we could occupy ourselves—always with creative and new ideas.
Dad was also inspirational to us, with his passion for music. He loved most types, but his favourite was Neil Diamond.
On Sunday afternoons, we would gather in the lounge room and Dad would put on his ‘album of the week’.
He would pull Mum in his arms and dance around the room while we clapped hands and giggled—and then it was our turn.
Dad would grab us both and swing us up and around until we were sick with laughter and dizziness. The fun we had on those Sundays, I will never forget.
Dad was a very clever man and could be introspective at times when there were serious decisions to be made.
He never made rash decisions, but thought long and hard before giving us advice—sound advice that has helped to shape my life profoundly.
He was always walking around saying that “life is too short to be hunched over a desk all your life, you must go out into the world and experience its beauty and learn its mysteries”.
Even as adults Dad inspired us, although we never really told him.
Every couple of months the family would receive invitations to one of his infamous week-ends away. He would find a mystery location—always near a river or the ocean, and send us directions at the last minute.
We were prepared, as we had learnt years ago what the week-end would involve.
We would pack everything needed to go swimming, fishing, snorkelling, or if in the winter months bush walks and sightseeing – it was always a week-end of fun and activity.
Times that we all and especially the grandchildren will never forget.
Dad: Your love, your patience, your understanding, your wisdom and your amazing sense of humour will live on inside us forever.
You have given us gifts that are more precious than anything in this world.
You will always live on in my heart.
If Asked to Give a Eulogy can you Say No?
Yes, you can and in some circumstances you should. For example if you have a genuine phobia of public speaking and couldn’t physically do it, or it would be a disaster, then it’s a good idea to explain this to the family. They will understand and ask someone else.
Also if you and the deceased didn’t get on or there was bad blood between you it might be inappropriate for you to give the eulogy. Families don’t know every detail of the deceaseds life so may be unaware of any animosity between the two of you.
So sometimes you aren’t a good fit for giving a eulogy and it’s better for you to explain to the family why so they can find someone else. Rather that than it being awkward or tuning the day for everyone involved.
Can a Eulogy be Funny?
Yes. Many eulogies are more light hearted or have focused on funny aspects of the life of the deceased. Funny anecdotes and stories are very common.
However you should always consider the family of the deceased and the audience your eulogy will be delivered to. Will they appreciate a funnier eulogy or will they expect something more traditional.
Is it OK to Cry?
Yes. Emotions are expected when delivering a eulogy. Obviously you don’t want those emotions to overwhelm and stop you from being able to deliver it properly. But a few tears is absolutely fine.
Writing a eulogy is tough. There’s no getting around it. It’s emotional and difficult to find the right words.
But if you are struggling to write a eulogy then remember that those in attendance of the funeral won’t be expecting perfection. As long as you are speaking from the heart and are sincere that will shine through. They will appreciate your words and the effort you’ve taken to express how much the dreaded meant to you.