How to write a eulogy

Eulogies are short speeches about the life of a person who’s died. This guide explains what’s included in a eulogy, how to write one, and how to prepare before your reading.

A eulogy usually includes a timeline of the person’s life and details about their personality. Family or friends might ask you to read one at their funeral or cremation if you were close to them. But there are no set rules about who reads it.

You might have mixed feelings about reading a eulogy

A combination of writing, public speaking, and saying goodbye to a loved one can be scary. Emotions about the task can be a mixed bag. You might feel touched to be asked, or nervous to get it right.

The important thing is to work to your own comfort levels. If you don’t feel up to it, or are already feeling overwhelmed with organising the funeral or cremation, you might suggest someone else reads for you. 

Because of the emotions involved, it’s common for a parent, child, or spouse of someone who’s died to defer the eulogy to a trusted friend or another family member.   

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Eulogies often form a central part of funerals

You’ll read a eulogy at a funeral or cremation service, usually after a priest or registrar has given their reading, and before the cremation or burial occurs. 

If you’re not holding a traditional funeral, you can read a eulogy at a wake, or at any type of ceremony or memorial you choose to have. 

It’s also not uncommon for more than one person to give a eulogy. Sometimes multiple friends or family members will share a short speech, anecdote, or poem.

We write eulogies to remember the lives of loved ones

When we go, we want the people around us to remember us. Eulogies are a way of honouring that. They are a tribute to everything the person achieved and the lives they touched.

Eulogies are not just for the person who’s died, but for the friends, family, and acquaintances attending the service. It can be a big comfort to hear touching stories about the person, and to share memories with others who knew them. 

A eulogy is usually between 3 and 10 minutes long

As with many elements of funerals and grief, there are no rules. You can decide how long you’d like to speak for. 

Some people go through life very independently, and may not have a spouse or children to read their eulogy. If you’re tasked with reading a eulogy for someone you didn’t know well, it’s okay to keep it short, respectful, and complimentary. 

Two or three minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’ve given a speech before, you’ll know how many words you can fit into just a couple of minutes. Even a two-minute speech can contain around 500 spoken words.

For those larger-than-life personalities who’ve led very busy and sociable lives, there will likely be a lot to say. You might choose to speak for ten minutes or longer. You may wish to speak to friends and extended family of the person who’s died for stories, memories, and their own parting words.

If you’re unsure where to start, start with the facts

It’s common to start with an introduction, especially at larger funerals where guests may not know you personally. You might like to state your name and your relationship to the person who’s died.

The main part of a eulogy is usually formed by the timeline of the person’s life

You can include: 

  • Where and when the person was born

  • Who their parents or siblings are or were

  • Where they went to school 

  • When they left home

  • When they began their jobs or studies

  • When they got married or had children.

Focus on what made the person special

Once you’ve covered these things, try to go beyond the facts and figures. Talk about what made the person unique, and the impact they left on the world or on others around them.  

This might include things like:

  • Charity or community work

  • The joy they found in parenting

  • Major goals they achieved, like running a marathon or writing a book

  • Excelling in their job, craft, or hobby  

  • Military service 

  • Musical or artistic talent

  • Their love of gardening or DIY

If the person you’re writing a eulogy about lived a fairly quiet life, or you cannot think of anything that stands out, that’s okay too. In this case, you can keep the eulogy fairly short, and focus on the person’s personality traits. 

A eulogy usually includes sentimental details

Eulogies are a place where we can speak openly and emotionally. It’s traditional to use emotive, meaningful, and highly complimentary words.

If you’re comfortable including these details, some examples include:

  • Generous

  • Exemplary 

  • Beloved or much-loved 

  • Compassionate 

  • Kind 

  • Strong 

  • Inspiring 

  • Honest

  • Hardworking 

The word ‘eulogy’ comes from the Greek ‘eulogia’, meaning praise.

Eulogies have been part of traditions surrounding death for centuries. Their purpose has always been to express love and gratitude for those who have died.

The word ‘eulogy’ comes from the Greek ‘eulogia’, meaning praise.

It’s very normal to show emotion during a eulogy

Everyone deals with grief differently, and at different stages. You might be able to get through a eulogy with perfect composure, or you might not even be able to start.

Remember that people will be prepared to see lots of emotion during your reading, both from you and among those listening. Don’t worry if you cry, need to pause, or even need to stop reading.

In certain circumstances, it’s also okay to laugh. Depending on the relationship you had with the person who’s died, and the people attending the service, it’s common to add in some lighthearted comments or respectful jokes. 

This can be comforting and may provide relief to those who are feeling particularly sad or sorrowful. However, you’ll need to use your judgement to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not. 

It can be helpful to have a person on ‘standby’

If you want to read a eulogy but are unsure if you’ll get through it on the day, it’s a great idea to choose a person to fill in for you. They should be familiar with the speech you’ve written, perhaps having practiced it a couple of times. They can then step in on the day if you cannot finish (or even start) the speech yourself.

A eulogy is usually finished with a final goodbye

If you’re unsure how to end your eulogy, finish with a simple goodbye, or a thank you for the memories you shared.

You might choose to use traditional phrases like ‘rest in peace’ or ‘sleep well’. Or you can use something less formal, like a greeting or joke you used to share with the person who has died.

There are a few things you can do to prepare for giving a eulogy

Many people find it helpful to bring tissues and a bottle of water to the stage or podium. Taking a sip of water can be a good way to take a pause if you need to. 

It’s always good to practice a speech, but it’s also okay if you don’t. Eulogies should come from the heart, and no one is expecting a perfect delivery. 

Most people have their speeches written out. You might prefer to bring notes in ‘prompt’ form, as opposed to the whole speech. A few headings that jog your memory will save you from reciting the script robotically.

It’s also great if you can make some eye contact with your audience. They will likely be looking to you with support and encouragement, and many people find strength in this. However, if reading directly from your notes feels easier, that’s fine too.

What to expect on the day

There can be a lot of uncertainty surrounding funerals and cremations. Learning about them beforehand can help us to be better prepared on the day. 

Being conscious of your breathing can help you stay composed

Breathing slowly and deliberately in the minutes leading up to your speech can help to calm your nerves. Remember to breathe during your speech too. This will help you keep a good pace.

The “best” eulogies come from the heart

A short, simple eulogy in which you say the things that matter is just as good as a long list or elaborate speech. People who are having difficulty getting through the service or ceremony may even prefer a shorter speech, so they can move onto grieving privately or in their own way. 

If you’re worried it’s too short, you can always ask for help from friends and family if you’re struggling for things to include. 

Remember that your ability to give a public speech bears no reflection on how meaningful the person who’s died was to you. No one is expecting a big performance. Just a shared acknowledgement of the person who meant something to you.

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