Death is an inevitable part of being human, but we’re never really prepared when it happens to someone we love. Grief is emotional, disorienting, and complex. Rituals like the wake, funeral, and burial help us to process those feelings.
If you’ve been asked to give a eulogy, you might be feeling intimidated, worried, and overwhelmed. It’s all normal – you have a difficult job on your hands, but it’s an important one nonetheless.
Why a Eulogy Matters
What Is a Eulogy? Definition and Purpose
A eulogy is a spoken tribute to a person who has recently passed away. It is usually prepared and given by one of the deceased person’s closest family members or friends.
For you as the eulogist, it’s a chance to look back on your loved one’s life and the memories you shared. As you prepare the eulogy, you can draw comfort in thinking about the deceased person, what he or she meant to you, and what he or she gave to the world.
Helping Others to Grieve
The memories that you share will help to comfort others as well. Your listeners can hear you and feel a connection to the person that has passed. It’s a feeling that provides a great deal of solace to people who are grieving.
A Meaningful Tribute
When we talk about someone who has passed on, we help to keep their memory alive. Think of writing the eulogy as an opportunity to give a very special gift to your loved one – the gift of heart and soul living on after death.
How to Write a Eulogy, Step By Step
As important as they are, eulogies can be intimidating to write and to deliver. Your head might be swimming with stories and thoughts you want to share, so much so that you don’t know where to begin. You’re also deeply entrenched in the first days of the grieving process, a time that is already confusing and disorienting.
Take your time and make your way through the process slowly. Here is a step by step guide to help you along.
1. Collect Stories and Ideas
Start by writing down stories, memories, thoughts, and feelings about your loved one – as many as you can think of. This is just brainstorming, so don’t worry about whether or not your writing makes sense. As long as you can look at it later and remember what it meant, it will work.
If you’d like, call up a few people who were close to the deceased and ask them for their stories. Doing so can make your eulogy richer. It can also be a bonding experience between the two of you because it lets you process your grief together.
2. Choose a Theme
If you feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of stories that you’ve collected, read over the material and see if there are any central themes. Many eulogies include themes like:
- Love of family and friends
- Living one’s faith
- Giving to the community
Once you have identified one or two common threads, you can choose the stories that are the most fitting.
3. Make an Outline
Once you have one or two themes in mind, you can outline the speech. It doesn’t need to be complex or formal; a rough structural sketch is just fine. Here’s an example of what it might look like:
- Introduce myself and thank everyone for coming
- Mention Grandma’s devotion to her family and her love for adventure
- Tell a story about a family vacation
- Mom’s memory of backpacking through Europe with Grandma
- “You will be missed” + Grandma’s favorite Bible verse
There’s no right or wrong way to make this outline. As long as it helps you feel like you’ve organized your thoughts and makes you confident about writing, you’ve done just fine.
4. Write the First Draft
No matter what you’re writing, you never want to sit down expecting a perfect first draft. Remind yourself that there will always be time to edit. That way, you won’t get stuck in minutiae before you finish.
You may find that it’s easiest to start by writing out the stories and thoughts that make up the body of your speech. The introduction and conclusion will come naturally out of the “meat” of the piece.
That said, if you know exactly how you want to begin, or if you have the perfect quote that will leave your audience with a beautiful thought about your loved one, there’s nothing wrong with starting there. Let your heart guide you.
5. Edit and Rehearse
After you’ve written the first draft, read it over from start to finish. If you can, read it out loud in front of someone who can give you constructive (but gentle) feedback.
Time your eulogy as you read it out loud. Aim for three to five minutes, and definitely don’t go over 10 minutes. There’s much more for you to say, but the time you want to take is limited.
You and Your Loved One: Fitting the Eulogy to the Relationship
For Your Sister
Writing a eulogy for a sister can be particularly difficult. Siblings are often our first friends and can continue to be our closest friends as we go through life. Sibling relationships can also be strained and challenging, the weight of family strife often making it difficult to connect.
Whatever your relationship was with your sister, it’s okay to struggle with writing her eulogy. Take it slowly and start by thinking back to your shared childhood. Whether you grew up together or have only a few precious memories, write down your favorites.
Also, take time to brainstorm what you know about who she was as a person. What did she love to do? What made her eyes light up?
Next, take some colored markers or pens and connect stories that have common threads. For instance, if you and your sister used to make your parents’ holiday presents from scratch, you might connect that memory to a story about the scrapbooks that she created for her children. That might lead you to find other stories about creativity or love for family.
The next steps, the organizing and writing of your sister’s eulogy, will probably resemble those that you would follow for a different family member or friend. But the content will be unique to your sister.
For Your Brother
In many ways, a brother’s eulogy resembles a sister’s. There are usually some childhood memories, loving thoughts of his youth, and thoughts about the person he grew to become.
Start by writing down those own stories and thoughts as you remember them, and don’t worry about them making sense. You don’t even have to make a formal exercise of it. When a memory comes to you, write it down.
To make your brother’s eulogy even richer, sit down with other loved ones to gather their stories. You can also make a note of some of the most important events in your brother’s life. These are the moments that shaped who he became, and you may find that you want to include them in your eulogy.
Then, look at your material and identify any themes. Remember to keep it personal – you don’t need to write your brother’s biography. You just need to remember him and reflect on who he was.
For Your Mother
Eulogizing your mother may be one of the most difficult things you ever have to do. Your relationship with her may not have been perfect – no relationship is – but your connection to her is deep and profound.
Whether you’ve lost your best friend or wish you had more time to patch things up, the days and weeks after your mother’s passing are bound to be emotional. Adding a eulogy into the mix is even more challenging, so go easy on yourself.
First of all, acknowledge that you have many more memories of your mother than you have time to share. Don’t worry about this at first, just jot down whatever thoughts, memories, and stories come to mind. These may relate to times that you shared together or anecdotes from her own life that she loved telling you about.
You can also talk to other people who were close to her as well. Do you have siblings? Are her own parents living? What about your father or another spouse? Material from them can enrich your eulogy.
A mother is also one who teaches and passes wisdom along to her children. How would you complete the sentence “My mother always taught me …” or “My mother believed in …” These thoughts might help you to focus your thinking and select stories to share.
For Your Father
Losing a father can be just as difficult. After all, he probably helped to shape who you are and gave you countless memories. Start by writing down all of the stories and life lessons that you associate with him.
Once you have lots of material, see if you can identify a theme or a message. What encapsulates who your father was most accurately? What would he have wanted you to share? This is the most important part. The structure is something you can learn, particularly if you follow a step-by-step process of outlining, writing, and re-writing.
The most important thing is that you honor your father in the way he would have wanted. If you had a difficult relationship, it’s okay to acknowledge that, but focus on the positive.
Maybe you found a way to reconnect near the end of his life. Maybe as you grew older, you began to see him as a flawed but struggling person and learned to understand him in a new way. Or maybe in navigating your relationship, you learned things that guide how you live in the world.
Or maybe you and your father had a wonderful relationship. His eulogy is an opportunity for you to thank him for that, while simultaneously celebrating him and sharing what you know about his precious life. Whatever your story, you will honor your father in a way no one else can.
For Your Grandmother
Some people have their grandmothers for only a short time; others are fortunate enough to introduce their grandmothers to their own children. Some live nearby; some build a relationship across distance. Whatever your situation, the memories that you have with your grandmother are precious.
These memories will serve as the foundation for your speech. Get comfortable, maybe with a blanket or piece of soft clothing that she gave you. Make yourself her favorite snack or hot drink and journal about the stories and feelings that you associate with her. Be as vivid with your details as you can.
Once you have a selection of stories, see if you notice any kind of a theme, such as:
- Family vacations
- Childhood visits
- Holiday celebrations
As you pick a theme and choose anecdotes, remember what makes your perspective unique. Most of the people in the room – other than perhaps your siblings or cousins – won’t have memories like these. Your stories will help everyone who knew her to understand one of the most loving roles that she played in life.
For Your Grandfather
When your grandfather dies, you can feel like you’re losing part of your childhood. Whether he was the kind of grandpa who taught you how to build model airplanes or the kind who cracked corny jokes, or maybe a little bit of both, his absence leaves a hole in your life.
Even if you didn’t know him well, your grandfather helped to shape who you are today. His eulogy is an opportunity for you to honor his role in your life, share the memories that you have of him, and even pass on some of the lessons that he taught you.
Take some time to write these memories down. This is just for you, so don’t worry about style or grammar. Just make notes:
- Was there anything you always did together?
- Did you see him on certain special occasions?
- Did you have any shared interests?
As you think of the memories you have, you may find them taking shape into a picture of your grandfather. Was he funny or formal? Relaxed or energetic? Answering these questions can help you to decide on a tone for the eulogy, while also assisting you in choosing the stories that best encapsulate who your grandfather was and what he meant to your family.
For Your Friend
Writing a eulogy for a friend is an honor and a privilege. If the person’s family has asked you to speak, it means that they understand how important your relationship was and how much it meant to the person who has died. They may even consider you to be a part of their family, simply because you meant so much to their loved one.
Or maybe you are writing the eulogy because your friend had built a chosen family, and you are a crucial part of it. Either way, encapsulating and honoring this person’s life is a big job, especially when you are already blindsided by grief.
Take it slow, and go easy on yourself. Spend some time writing down your favorite memories of your friend. Think about:
- How you met
- What you loved about your friend
- Moments that defined your relationship
You can ask for others’ input if you want, but the most important thing is that you create a eulogy that honors the friend you’ve lost. Let it reflect the love that you shared and the enduring relationship that led you to where you are today, celebrating a life lived.
Getting Help with Your Eulogy
Whether you’re writing a eulogy for a family member or friend, you might be finding it overwhelmingly difficult. That’s normal. It’s a big job, and you’re already grieving.
It’s okay to ask for help when you’re going through the grief process, and that includes getting help with your eulogy. Compose.ly has a team of professional speechwriters that can work with you to create a beautiful tribute to your loved one. They can provide you with guidance as well as eulogy examples for a friend, father, mother, or anyone else who has sadly passed.
Let them take on the work of writing the eulogy. You focus on the process of grieving.
This post was written by Compose.ly writer Laura DeCesare.