How to write a eulogy
If you’ve been asked to write a funeral eulogy, or you’d like to say a few words at the ceremony of a loved one, it can be a daunting prospect.
Here, we answer your questions including 'what is a eulogy?' and 'how long should a eulogy be?'. We've also included a few tips for writing a eulogy that is both heartfelt, meaningful and well delivered. Read on to find out how to write a funeral eulogy that best commemorates a loved one’s life.
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A eulogy is the name given to a speech at a funeral that pays tribute to the person who has passed away. It is usually delivered at a funeral service, but it can also be common for eulogies to be read at the person’s wake.
A good eulogy is heartfelt, honest and personal. Funeral speeches don’t always have to be religious or serious - they can even be full of humour. The key thing with writing a eulogy is creating a farewell that both commemorates and praises the best things in the person’s life, giving everyone who is listening a moment to both remember and cherish.
There are no rules about who can give a eulogy and who can’t. That being said, it is usually someone who was very important and close to the person who has died, such as a spouse, a child or a close friend. Sometimes the occasion might be too overwhelming for the person closest to them to deliver a eulogy, and they may ask another friend or family member to give a eulogy in their place.
The eulogy can also be given by a religious leader or a celebrant; they will talk to the family and friends of the deceased to find out what to say. If you are writing the eulogy but find it too painful to deliver, they can do it for you.
A eulogy will normally be around three to five minutes long, and should take no longer than ten minutes. A funeral eulogy of between 500 and 1000 written words will take from around three and a half to seven and a half minutes to read aloud. Giving a eulogy can be very emotional, so you should also consider how hard it may be to hold it together for a very long speech.
Although there is no official limit for how long a eulogy should be, a lot of funerals will have an allocated time slot for the service. If you are not responsible for arranging the funeral, but have been asked to prepare the eulogy, you could talk to the funeral organiser to agree a suitable length that will fit in with the rest of the order of service.
Every funeral eulogy will be unique. Many people choose to write a eulogy in chronological order with a small personal note at the end, whereas others prefer to divide the eulogy it into different sections, beginning with their childhood and working through memorable moments of their life or even writing it as a letter to them.
1. Keep it brief
Eulogies need to strike a balance; including every detail of the person’s life isn't necessary and may result in a eulogy that is drawn out and loses meaning. The purpose is to summarise their life and achievements. Pick one or two qualities that you’d like to talk about, perhaps a story or an experience that you shared with the deceased, or maybe speak about a good deed or cause that they cared about.
2. Make a eulogy personal
Remember that eulogies are about the person who has passed away. When writing a eulogy, try not to be tempted to go off on a tangent - Instead, stay on track with anecdotes and messages that only involve them. This will also help your eulogy to stay on track from a time perspective.
How to write a eulogy - things to include:
- Their date of birth and where they were born
- Details of their early life such as the schools, college or university they attended
- Names of close family
- Where they worked and when
- How they met their spouse or partner, where and when they got married (if applicable)
- Your relationship with them
- Their favourite activities and pastimes
- Their favourite TV shows, films or music
- Charitable or volunteering work
- Any other achievements
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Not many people will know how to write a eulogy, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Religious figures are a good starting point if they are conducting the service, as they will likely have experienced many eulogies in services they have delivered, but you may want to speak to others who have recently delivered eulogies too. First-hand experience always wins.
You could also get help writing the eulogy from other people were close to the person who has died.
4. Plan it out
For many people, the hard part of writing a eulogy is the structuring of what you’re going to say. Instead of trying to get everything down all in one go, try building out a planning board or mood board to help you compartmentalise each section of the eulogy. Maybe get some photos of the person who has passed away, as well as any letters they wrote or even print-outs of meaningful texts or emails. Then, put them together on a blank wall or spare noticeboard and start organising each item by importance.
Use a timeline and lay out the things you’d like to mention in the funeral eulogy and perhaps use post-it notes to mark out the most important parts. Planning the eulogy ahead of time will help you to realise which parts of the person’s life were most memorable, or which parts you feel need to be shared with fellow mourners.
5. Keep it light if you feel like it
Despite funerals being solemn occasions, many people would prefer their funeral to be a happy occasion and more of a celebration of their life.
When writing a eulogy, don’t focus too much on the sadness of their passing, and think instead of happy or funny moments that would have made them smile. That humorous quip or downright hilarious moment from their life could help to lighten spirits even for a short amount of time and will help the audience to connect with the person through laughter or even just a knowing smile.
Our tips for delivering a eulogy might be familiar to those who are used to speaking in public, but at such an upsetting time, speaking aloud can become overwhelming for anyone. Here are some tips for delivering a funeral eulogy:
Try not to read the eulogy from a sheet
Some people prefer to deliver a eulogy that is conversational and sometimes even improvised. If you don't feel comfortable with this, jot down some notes and practice on other family members to judge reactions and get their feedback. As with any public speaking, reading out loud from a sheet of paper can be uninspiring and may get lost on those towards the back of the room. Make sure to look up at the congregation and speak clearly and use notes that can be glanced at rather than a script.
Don't worry about getting upset
There's no need to worry about getting upset during a eulogy. Funerals can be deeply distressing and will naturally affect the way you deliver a speech, especially if you have lost someone who you were particularly close to. Don’t worry at all about taking a moment to gather your thoughts, and don’t worry if you’re unable to finish the eulogy.
It's a good idea to practice your eulogy in advance and to take a bottle of water with you when you give your speech. We guarantee that there won't be a single person in the room who will judge you for stopping, pausing or not wanting to continue.
If you are struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one and don’t feel that you have anyone to talk to about it, then take a look at our Grief & Loss support page. Our specially trained bereavement councillors are available from 9am to 9pm and can be reached via our GriefChat service.
Public speaking doesn’t always come naturally to many, and it’s easy to start fidgeting with notes or try to move around. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, fold your hands loosely in front of you and concentrate on moving your head around the room, looking at each member of the audience as you speak – this will help you to take your attention away from your feet.
Speak clearly and with enough volume
You've thought long and hard about what you want to include in the eulogy, so make sure those at the back can hear you clearly. If you have trouble speaking loudly, then don’t be afraid to ask the venue if they have a microphone.
Pause for thought
Although it may be tempting to get through what can be a difficult moment as quickly as possible, taking your time when delivering a eulogy will help it to become more meaningful. Even a pause of a few seconds between sections will help mourners to process what you have said and spend even a very small amount of time remembering key moments they may also have been involved in.
Hopefully, these tips should give you some guidance on how to write a eulogy that will both honour the person who has passed away and to help mourners to remember the best parts of their life.
If you need any further guidance on organising a funeral service, then head to our guidance and advice section or for help arranging a funeral for loved one with a service led by you and your family, contact us today.