Honoring a Life: How to Write a Eulogy

How to write a eulogy ... a type of speech said at funerals or celebrations of life honoring someone who has pasted on.

First of all, I'm sorry you're here ... as it means someone close to you has passed.

Eulogies can be difficult to write because the writers are also struggling with grief. But, the act of writing it (even if just for yourself, as in "If I were to give the eulogy") can be very healing.

Some things to think about first ...

Writing a eulogy involves more than simply stating facts about a person's life. It's about honoring his or her positive contributions and sharing how he or she touched your life (and/or others).

Usually someone close to the deceased--a family member or a close friend or a friend of a friend--writes the eulogy.

In many cases the person doing the writing isn’t necessarily expecting to write it or write it at the time they must. Death happens to us all, but the day is unknown. 

It is challenging to write about someone you love while grieving the loss. So, it is perfectly normal and okay to cry your way through writing the eulogy, as doing so helps with healing.

To help you write during this difficult time, I've placed 5 steps below for how to write a eulogy--one of life’s most emotionally challenging writing assignments.

How to write a eulogy
Step 1: Honoring the Deceased

A eulogy honors the memory of the deceased loved one. Before writing the first word, think about your loved one.

What things make you smile when you think about him or her? Was it something he or she did or said? What routines did the person have? What challenges did that person experience and overcome--or didn’t over come?

As you think about these things, I suggest writing a letter to that person asking him or her how he or she wants to be remembered. Of course, your loved one cannot physically read it the way they once could (though I like to believe they do through us). This is simply an activity to get you thinking and perhaps connecting spiritually with that person ... who is now on the other side. And more importantly, to bring out feelings and ideas about what you’d like to say about that person.

How to write a eulogy
Step 2: Idea generation

After the self-reflecting pre-writing activity, start writing down any important memories and ideas from your letter.

This is important: when you look at this list ... look beyond the physical items on the list.

For example, if the person loved gardening, you can mention that in the eulogy, but think about the greater purpose of why the person loved gardening.

What I mean is, why did your loved one do these things? What is the back story behind it? What made him or her like gardening?

For example, did she love gardening because she loved birds and lost her favorite one as a child. Was it a way for her to reconnect with a love lost? Or did she love gardening because she respected nature’s beauty and loved to share that beauty with friends and family? Or, was it because she found it a great way to exercise without calling it “exercise?"

You’ll notice a few ideas on your list will stick out. Those will be the ones you’ll want to focus on.

Pick three to five good stories that won’t overwhelm your audience but will make them shake their heads “yes” and smile at the memory. Or--better yet--pick one longer story that highlights three to five of your loved one's strengths. 

How to write a eulogy
Step 3: Focus ... and your time limit

When we are overwhelmed by grief, it is hard to focus on simple everyday living activities. Just getting up to shower and start the day is a challenge. But, so is writing a few lines and staying focused as you write.

As your going through the steps for how to write a eulogy, consider the funeral itself. Is there a time limit for giving the eulogy?

As a general rule, an average eulogy lasts about 10 minutes. But, it can go on longer depending on the circumstances, especially if there is no sermon.

But, if no official time limit is given, think about what other mourners want to hear too. By giving the eulogy, you are helping them process and move through their grief too.

So, I suggest sharing your favorite story about your lost loved one. Pick a story that touches on the 3-5 points you want to make about the person and how he or she lived their life. 

Even though this is a challenging time, you have to be respectful of time. Once you have those ideas, think about if it will fit into the time frame you were given or the time frame you are expecting based on the funeral ceremony. 

Once you’ve chosen what you’d like to share, move to the next step. 


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How to write a eulogy
Step 4: Moving past listing your ideas to writing the first draft

Find a quiet place and bring your Kleenex box, too.

With your computer or paper and pencil, begin writing. Write what you want to say about the person.

Include some or all of the things you wrote down in Step 2 and 3. Write it as if the person (or favorite pet) you're writing about is there with you ... listening and approving. (And ... many believe they are.)

When you're finished, take a deep breath.

Then, look at your writing objectively to check for organization. 

You’ll need to write an opening, a middle section with your main points or stories, and a closing.

Then take a deep breath, again. Get a drink of water. Do something else for about an hour or two.

When you're ready, read it again. Aloud, this time.

Remove anything that is too wordy or doesn't sound right to you. Add or fix any areas that read awkwardly. 

Then take a break from it. If possible, for at least 24 hours. 

How to write a eulogy
Step 5: Before delivering the eulogy...

Once you’ve written and polished your writing, wait a day to read it over. If there is no time to let your work sit a day, then at least give yourself an hour or two. Find something else to do. Garden. Grab a cup of coffee. But, let the writing sit.

If you feel comfortable allowing someone else to see your work, ask a friend or family member to read it over. Ask them to look for typos, but even more important than that ask them:

  • If the ideas are presented clearly
  • If the order of ideas makes sense
  • And, if the person is honored and remembered appropriately and the way he or she would like to be--and the way you intended.

You can also read it aloud to them, asking them to listen for the three points above. That would be more like a practice run before you speak at the funeral. 

This is your remembrance. It's you celebrating the life of someone you loved dearly. So, listen to the feedback, make a few changes (if needed) ... and then practice speaking it alone.

Yes. You read that correctly.

Go into the closet and read it aloud the way you will during the funeral or celebration of life. You'll have to give this eulogy speech then, so why not give it at least one go in front of the mirror or in a locked closet?

Final Thoughts about How to Write a Eulogy ...

This is not just about how to write a eulogy. Or, delivering it. It's about remembering the life of a loved one who meant something to you and so many others. 

Some people dread public speaking. But, remember, if you’ve been asked to give the eulogy or volunteered to do so, it is a great honor.

Your words will provide comfort to others while honoring your loved one too.

I'm so sorry for your loss. I hope writing the eulogy brings you comfort by remembering and presenting how special your loved one is to you and all those close to him or her.  

If you're struggling with grief, one of the best books I can recommend is Martha Hickman's book, Healing After Loss. It has short, daily readings to help you move through grief. It is helpful for a loss today, as well as a loss you experienced long ago. 

May you experience comfort and many blessings for giving the eulogy knowing you are also helping bring peace to those struggling with loss.

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