Wouldn’t it be strange if wedding speeches were made by someone who has never met, or barely knows, the bride and groom.
And yet all too often, at funerals, this is exactly the kind of thing that happens. Close friends or relatives of the deceased will often regret not plucking up the courage to say a few words for years to come.
It’s perfectly understandable that you struggle to get up and say something at a close friend or relatives funeral. The time between a person’s passing and the funeral is naturally a sad and emotional one for those left behind. And because many people are daunted by the idea of delivering a eulogy, it’s all too easy to leave it to someone else.
And yet the reality is that it doesn’t have to be that way. As well as being a great honor, and an opportunity to do something good for everyone who will be there, giving the eulogy is almost guaranteed to be a positive and moving experience for the person who steps up for the task. And, with the right approach and support, it can actually be a pretty straightforward speech to prepare. It will be challenging to deliver given that it is a highly emotional time, however it is considered one of the truly important speeches for a person to deliver, in part as a way to say a final good-bye to someone who meant a lot to you. While I’m not particularly old, of all the funerals that I have been to, I have never met one person who regretted giving a eulogy. And of all the eulogies delivered by someone close to the deceased, I have never once seen eulogy that wasn’t delivered from the heart and had a resounding impact with those in attendance.
So if you’re at all considering giving a eulogy or have been asked to speak, take heart, buckle up, and give it your all.
The advice in this post is based on Kevin Burch’s very helpful Eulogy Made Simple: How to Write and Deliver a Great Funeral Speech in Six Simple Steps. If you want to delve deeper into this topic I can highly recommend his book.
In this post I give you my version of Kevin’s six steps that you can follow to make the process easier and even more rewarding for you, those attending the funeral and an opportunity to say all those things that you really want to share with those who your loved one or close friend was close with throughout their life.
1. Take A Moment to Reflect
At a time like this, it pays to take a little time for yourself, so you can reflect for a while and connect with your memories of this special person. Remind yourself of the very good reasons you are doing this, and also bear in mind the truth, which is that people who hear your speech will be extremely supportive, and will actually be grateful to you for doing it.
2. Decide the Type of Eulogy You Want to Present
There are two kinds of eulogy; the short biography, and the personal view. It should be fairly obvious to you which one you want to present.
The short biography considers someone’s life as a whole. That doesn’t mean it covers everything, rather that you start at the beginning – when and where they were born, etc. – and mention the various parts of their life, up until their last days. This way you touch on the different aspects of their life, plus it can also be a very personal approach, especially when you include happy stories and memories.
The personal view is more like a slice of the person’s life, a series of snapshots. It can be purely your own experiences, stories and impressions of their character, or you can include other people’s memories too. This is very poignant, especially if you write as if you are talking directly to the person who has gone, e.g. “I’ll always remember the time when you…”
If it is someone close to me, I tend to present the personal view. I recently presented a eulogy for a close friend who passed away with few friends left in his life. I was asked to present as the only and closest friend who would be attending the funeral. This meant that I was in a position where I could share with all of the family in attendance a perspective and happy memories of my friend that they had never heard before. The personal view was very beneficial at this time. It also gave me a chance to reflect on the long friendship that we had shared and all the fun times we had together over the years.
3. Use Images and Videos to Remember Your Loved One
You may wish to collect some photos or videos taken throughout your loved ones life. You can rely on your own, or ask others for their input. When speaking with others to collect your visual media, you might want to take the opportunity to ask about their most precious memories, or things they remember that really show the person’s character. You may wish to gather facts on the person’s childhood, family, career, pastimes, passions, dreams, best ever holidays, etc. This information, along with any photographs or videos can be included in your eulogy if you feel that it fits with the story you want to tell.
4. Don’t Forget the Fun Times
When compiling your story, always have plenty of fun and funny stories. Humour in a eulogy is a good thing. Yes, funerals are sad, but this person also had happy and funny times in their life, and telling stories of these can be a great way to really bring their memory to life. And always remember, laughter heals many wounds so give this gift to your audience.
When I gave the eulogy for my close friend, I told a few stories about our childhood together. We had known each other since we were very young so I had plenty of stories about the mischief we got up to from our time in primary school and all the way through to our late teenage years. A number of family members, including my friends parents, came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they appreciated these stories as they were able to learn something new about my friend that they hadn’t known before. The stories also brought some smiles and laughter to a very sad day.
5. Maintain a Simple Structure to Your Speech
Every eulogy, and every speech for that matter, has an opening, a middle and a closing. For the opening, simply say a brief greeting and acknowledge the sadness of the day. For the closing you can sum up the person’s character, say how much they’ll be missed, thank those who have helped, and perhaps invite people back somewhere if required. The summary can be entirely up to you. For the eulogy I presented for my friend I simply stated that my friend was a kind and loyal person whose life had been cut too short and that I missed him dearly.
As for the middle, this is where you relate the few brief stories about your loved one that you have collected (whether your own stories or the ones your relatives and friends have shared with you). This is also the part of your speech where your images can be played as a slideshow in the background. If you want to keep your speech to about five minutes, you may need to discard some of them – trust your own best judgement on this.
6. Rehearse and Refine
Once you’ve drafted your speech, practice as much as you can. Through your various practice runs you may notice some key areas that need editing or refining. Take a look at my blog post about storytelling which may provide some valuable advice that is applicable to this topic.
You may also wish to use some notes for an occasion such as this. I have also provided advice on this topic in a previous blog post.
This is a time to make things easy for yourself. If you can, find out beforehand about the room layout, the lectern, the technology available for your use (particularly important if you are using a slide show for your images and videos), how many people will be there, etc. The more you know the more confident you will feel. Also, if you had any concern about being too emotional, ask someone to stand by as your back-up person for reading the eulogy, as this will give you some comfort on the day and ease your nerves.
And remember, the day, and the giving of the eulogy, is all about honoring the memory of your loved one, sharing fond memories of your loved one, and most importantly, saying good-bye in the most positive manner possible under the circumstances. Don’t be afraid to share a laugh about the happy memories you shared with your loved one. It’s these memories that are the most important to share to help along the process of healing at times like these.
The advice in this post is based on Kevin Burch’s very helpful Eulogy Made Simple: How to Write and Deliver a Great Funeral Speech in Six Simple Steps. If you would like to delve more deeply into this topic I can highly recommend his book for further reading.
Best of luck with your eulogy.