How to Write a Eulogy for a Loved One
When a loved one dies, you feel numb and you are speechless. I know this because I just lost my father six months ago. You are overwhelmed with emotion and feel weak in your limbs. Your mind is spinning trying to put meaning behind the loss you have experienced. Yet before long, you stand in front of the important task of writing a eulogy. Ready or not.
To write and give a eulogy is actually a tremendous honor. But during a time of much sadness and grief, it seems more like a tremendous challenge. I was chosen by my mother and two sisters to speak on behalf of our entire family. We all agreed the job was suitable for someone like myself who is sensitive, introspective and has a knack for words.
Planning for the Eulogy
When you begin writing, consider the setting of your ceremony or service. In our case, we fulfilled my father's wish for an informal gathering at his home. Free of any religious background and in the company of only family and close friends. We did find it appropriate to pay our respects by placing a few of his picture on a side table, next to a decorative cross and a lit orange (his favorite color) candle. It was simple, yet beautiful. This also became the backdrop for my eulogy when I spoke.
Because I was in the company of roughly 50 people, there was no need for a formal podium or fancy gadgets to amplify my voice. I simply stood next to my mother and two sisters and across from the guests. My six-year-old son joined us 'up front' unexpectedly - I think he sensed I could use a helping hand during a very difficult delivery.
Next, consider the guests in attendance. I knew in advance of the celebration that a few key people would be joining us. To that end, I wanted to make sure that I singled them out and recognized them during the eulogy. For instance, my father's physician and long-time family friend was able to be with us, and I wanted to make sure that I acknowledged his incredible work and support.
Also, I feel that a well written eulogy should have a beginning, middle and an end. Much like the plot of a well written story. Giving your eulogy such a layout will enable you to take your listeners on a journey and create a more relaxed atmosphere. Celebrating a loved one after death is obviously a very personal event, and I believe your guests will feel more at ease if the message you are conveying is presented in the context of a whole life.
Finally, I suggest typing your eulogy rather than handwriting it. This provides you with the freedom to let your ideas and emotions roll out onto the 'paper'. If you consider a rough draft a helpful writing tool, it is almost a necessity when it comes to writing a eulogy. I know I was raw with emotions and at a loss for words, and I was glad to be able to make changes easily. And for those who are unable to attend the ceremony, sending them a copy of the eulogy brings you closer together at a time of grief.
Deciding on Content for the Eulogy
Now to the most difficult part. How do you possibly summarize decades of a person's life on a few sheets of paper? Although there is no limit to the length of a eulogy, I do feel there is definitely a fine balance between paying your respects and belaboring your point. It is an emotional event not just for you as the speaker but also for many who are listening, so keeping it short helps keep your listeners engaged.
- My overall goal was to keep my father's eulogy light and positive. I wanted to celebrate his life rather than mourn his loss. As a family, we have always believed that laughter is the best medicine.
- A great and very manageable beginning is usually to thank the people in attendance for joining you. I think your family and friends really appreciate knowing how deeply you value their company. Support from others is what really makes a difference.
- I spoke about my father's ongoing health struggle. And about the toll it had taken on him and the entire family as we tried desperately, for many years, to save him. I singled out my mother who deserved all the credit for being a fearless advocate and fighter, never losing hope even during the most difficult times.
- I tried to relate to others how much we missed my father. I spoke about the void he had created and our attempts to get used to the new reality. I spoke about the need for acceptance, which would come in due time, and the need to enjoy the memories, which would enable us to smile again.
- I continued by listing a few quirky and humorous habits, a few favorite phrases, and a few funny experiences. This was a wonderful way to connect with others in the room who could relate directly to the footprint he left behind. It felt good to bring a smile to everyone's face.
- I returned once again to speak about my father's declining health as a segue to his wish to die with dignity. And the relief his passing provided to him and our family, knowing he was free of pain and resting in peace.
- I concluded with a handful of specific thank yous to a few key people without whose help we would have never survived.
- I concluded with a brief message I felt my father wanted to be remembered by. He felt passionately about 'keeping it simple' and I encouraged others to live out his dream.
Delivering the Eulogy
Unfortunately I don't have many helpful hints when it comes to delivering the eulogy. It is probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
So, give yourself a break and do what comes most naturally. In my case, I read most of the eulogy but made frequent eye contact. I knew I would not be in a position to remember my words by heart, so I encourage you to proceed however you feel most at ease.
I reminded myself to go slow and steady, and to stay as calm as possible. With many deep breaths, I got through it. And, much to my surprise, I still had a few tissues to spare.