Help I have been asked to do a Eulogy!
You have been asked to write and give a eulogy and while you feel honoured you are understandably a little overwhelmed by the prospect. Firstly, it’s completely normal to feel the weight of this task. As funeral celebrants we often get asked to write and speak eulogies for families. Although we are always happy to do this task, we know that the eulogies written by family are the most heartfelt, after all no one knows their loved one like you.
So, where do you start? Well, literally at the beginning is a great place to start. Get together with some other family members and friends who knew your loved one. Grab a notebook and pen and brainstorm. Gather biographical information for example – date of birth, parents, relatives, birthplace, schooling, career highlights. Talk with your relatives and friends about stories and memories you all have, these stories will help you find a theme to follow in your eulogy. We always find that when we start talking to more than one relative, we find similarities in what they tell us, this helps us start to weave a story that everyone recognizes and feels connected to.
Once you have brainstormed, start organizing your thoughts into some kind of order for your speech. There are no hard and fast rules for how long a eulogy should be, but in our experience between three to six minutes, with no longer than ten minutes is ideal for the main eulogy speaker.
The next thing I would look at is the tone of your speech. Did your loved one have a wonderful sense of humour? Did they appreciate the funny side of life? This will help you decide upon the tone of your speech. Humour is not always appropriate in a eulogy, in depends on the circumstances. However, generally humour is a wonderful way to help people through their grief, used correctly and gently it can be a wonderful tonic at what is such a difficult time.
So, let’s break it down for you, what should your eulogy look like: -
Start with an introduction; acknowledge, welcome and thank everyone attending.
Explain your relationship for example; For those who may not know me, I am John Doe’s daughter.
Write a short biographical introduction; birth details, parents, birthplace and family.
Highlights of their life; what were they most proud of, what would they consider their greatest achievements, what sort of person were they?
Think about the character of your loved one and share stories and memories that honour this.
How to finish; it’s always hard to finish a eulogy, consider finishing your speech with a personal goodbye for example; thank you Dad for everything you have done for me that has helped me become the person I am today.I will never forget you, you will always be in my heart. Alternatively, you could finish your speech with a piece of prose, or poem.
For some people we meet writing the eulogy is the easy part. The hard part comes when they have to stand up in front of others and read it. I know for some public speaking is a terrifying prospect but there are things you can do to make it easier.
It is perfectly normal to be nervous, one of the things we always tell people is to remember that everyone who is attending the funeral is there to support you. If you stumble over your words, breakdown in tears or lose your place in your speech, no one will be there thinking anything other than supportive thoughts. It doesn’t matter if anything of those things happen, just take a deep breath, settle yourself and when you are ready continue. Don’t forget to bring some tissues, the likelihood is you will need them, and there is nothing worse than not having a tissue when you need one!
Someone once told me that if you raise your chin when you feel like you want to cry, it blocks the tear ducts, hence the expression ‘Chin up’. It does work and is worth remembering. It is also worth taking some deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth before you start, this opens the throat and fills the lungs full of air and will calm your nerves.
One of the ways you can help make sure you will be alright on the day is by practicing your speech a number of times. Become familiar with what you have written. If you can read it out loud to another family member or someone you trust that will really help, it will take some of the emotion out of it for you by becoming familiar with your words, and saying them out loud.
Try not to leave writing your eulogy until the night before, not only will you not have enough time to become familiar with it and practice it, the lack of time will mean you will inevitably forget important things you want to say.
In our experience the best eulogies connect people through memories and stories. It is these memories that bind you all together in your loss and love for the person departed. As human beings we connect with stories more than anything else, it helps everyone to relate to the person who has been lost.
Be yourself, be who you were to the person who has departed. If you can try to look up when you speak, make eye contact with those at the funeral. This of course is only possible if you have really practiced your speech. It’s worth it though for you and those present will feel a deeper connection to what you are saying.
Our last piece of advice would be to speak up and slow down. Take into account where the microphone is before you start and alter it if necessary. Remember those at the back of the room would like to hear what you are saying so try to remember to project your voice. Then, no matter how slowly you think you are talking, slow down a little more, because generally when people get up to speak when they are nervous, tend to rattle off what they have to say at great speed and much of it is lost. This of course is nerves at work again so just gently try to remember to keep the volume up and the speed down in your head.
Writing a perfect eulogy is almost impossible! You will almost definitely remember things for months afterwards that you wish you had said or wish you had done differently. It’s not about being perfect though, it’s about getting up there and being the best you can on the day, whatever that looks like. Give yourself permission to not be perfect, but just to do your best. It is one of the hardest things you will ever be asked to do and your best IS good enough.