You are probably reading this because you have been honoured with the task of preparing the eulogy for a loved one’s funeral or memorial service. You might be sitting there feeling overwhelmed, thinking you have no idea how to write a eulogy and the task of writing your loved one’s life story is just all too much. But I’m here to tell you that you can do it, that the task will be a special part of your grieving process and you will be so very proud of the result.
What is a eulogy?
A eulogy is a speech given at a memorial or funeral service, usually by a family member or close friend. Eulogies commemorate and celebrate the life of the deceased, so sharing a life story gives purpose to that life and communicates a legacy for those they love.
The purpose of writing a eulogy is to tell a person’s life journey, their achievements and triumphs, and describe who they are. But is it also for those listening to learn, to take something away that they can use to live their own lives a little better. Therefore ensure that your story has some reflection of your loved one’s life that can be a lesson for those listening. The most important thing is to write from your heart and express what means the most to you. And remember you don’t have to do it alone – there are resources around that can help.
How long should a eulogy be?
A typical eulogy should be around three to five minutes long, but no longer than 10 minutes. As it’s a significant part of the funeral service, being too brief could come off like you didn’t put in much effort to memorialise your loved one. But if it’s much longer than 10 minutes, you might risk losing people’s attention, so somewhere in between is a good guide. When you’re happy with your eulogy, practice reading it out aloud and time yourself.
Below is a seven-step guide to help you write a eulogy that captures your loved one’s unique and special life:
Step 1: How to write a eulogy.
Before you begin the formal writing of your loved one’s life story from beginning to end, take a step back. You could take inspiration from what you see around the house by pulling out old photo albums, going through old letters, birthday or Christmas cards, and any other personal artefacts like drawings or books – whatever was significant to their life. Taking a walk around your loved one’s house and garden could even help trigger some lovely memories. Talking to close relatives, friends, and acquaintances is also an excellent way to remember things as well.
Don’t feel pressured to write the story from the word go. Take it in small pieces. Give yourself some time, settle in a quiet place. Take a pen and notepad or sit at a computer and just jot down or type briefly the memories that come to your mind first.
You have memories, ideas and thoughts that you naturally want to portray and they will come to your mind first. They are probably already sitting there, right at the forefront of your mind as you read this eulogy guide, so get them onto paper in brief notes before you do anything else. These thoughts are now safely recorded and your mind is free to bring other thoughts and memories to the fore.
Step 2: Your loved one’s history forms their eulogy.
What is vital for a eulogy is that we want to have it portray the essence of a person. We don’t need a blow by blow account of dates, places and details resulting in the character, nature and essence of the person being pushed aside for dry facts. But we do need some basics – so get the basics down now. These facts, names and places will be the skeleton of the story.
To do this, record the following:
- Full name
- Name known by
- Date of birth
- Brothers and sisters
- Places where they lived
- Schools attended
- Jobs held
- Husband/wife/ partner
- Any marriage dates, places
- Children and birthdates
- Number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren
- Major milestones, trips, significant events in life
- Death place and date
These facts are the skeleton that someone’s life story can now be built on. These facts though are not the sum of someone’s life so in the next few steps you will add flavour and detail to your loved one’s story by inserting extra information at appropriate places around the skeleton facts.
Step 3: Capturing a loved one’s personality.
You need to go beyond the basics now, so we can learn about who the person actually was and the experiences that shaped them. So, let’s now think about your loved one’s personality when you start writing the eulogy. Jot down the words that come to mind when you think of their personality.
- How would you describe their nature, their traits, what made them who they are, their uniqueness and quirkiness?
- Make a list of their qualities – good and bad.
- In thinking about their nature can you come up with one word that describes them, sums them up?
- Did they have any quotes/phrases that they often used that help explain who they were?
- What mannerisms did they have?
You may wish to have a paragraph that sums up their personality, or alternatively insert a few sentences around the skeleton at various places that highlight their personality.
Step 4: Personal achievements to include in a eulogy.
Have a think about some of the following topics. Do any of these resonate and need to be included in your loved one’s story?
- Spiritual life and/or beliefs
- Cultural heritage
- Community service/causes fought or issues they were passionate about
- Military service
- Political beliefs
- Recreation and hobbies
- Likes and dislikes
- Travel and holidays
- Animals, including pets and nature
- How they spent their spare time or alone time
- What made them happy?
- What made them sad?
- Dreams they had in life
Write about some of these topics and then insert them in the appropriate chronological section of the story you are creating.
Step 5: Share stories that paint a picture of their life.
Next, remember a few stories. Rather than a collection of lots of facts we can learn so much from someone by just a few stories.
Think of a few stories from various stages in their lives that could be included in the eulogy to paint the picture of who they were; a story from their childhood, a story that describes their relationship with their partner, a story of family life, a story of triumph, a story of when lessons were learned, a story of love, a story that highlights their personality. Just a few stories add so much depth to a eulogy and can often bring a smile or even laughter when being shared.
Step 6: How to start a eulogy.
Start a eulogy by introducing yourself and your relationship to the deceased. If you are an immediate family member, thank attendees for coming to the service, particularly those who have travelled from afar to be there.
By now, you should have all the components to create a full eulogy. Your skeleton of facts has been built upon with stories, memories, personality descriptions and information about their unique personality and passions in life.
Now, to figure out how to start writing the eulogy just ask yourself a few more questions:
- What is the most important message you want brought out in the eulogy? Have the facts and stories you put together achieved that?
- If your loved one could tell you what in their life they are most proud of, what would it be?
- How would your loved one themselves want to be remembered?
- What is something they would say to you now as their parting words?
Step 7: How to end a eulogy.
When considering how to end a eulogy, a simple, final thought can often be the most effective way. Mention the deceased by name, for example by saying “We will miss you, David. You’ll always be in our hearts. Rest in peace.”
Alternatively, you might find it more impactful to use someone else’s words to end your eulogy. Consider your loved one’s favourite writer, actor, politician or activist and research some appropriate quotes by them.
If you follow these steps – rather than sitting down thinking you have to write a full life story from beginning to end – the result will be a deep, heartfelt, warm and reflective story of the life of your loved one.
All the best on your journey. The effort will be so worth it.
"Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment
until it becomes a memory." ― Dr Seuss
We hope this guide to writing a eulogy has given you some inspiration on how to get started. You may also like to read our article Memorial or funeral poems for a tribute or eulogy or how to personalise an end of life service for some other ideas.
We would be honoured to support you in planning a befitting service with our dedicated celebrant team - whether that’s a more traditional funeral service, or a memorial ceremony. Visit our Bare Funeral page, or give us a call on 1800 071 176.