How to Write a Eulogy
The writing and reading of a eulogy is, above all, the simple and elegant search for small truths. This can be surprisingly hard, to take notice of the smallest, most unpolished details of a life and set them up for us to stare at in the wonder of recognition.
Tom Chiarella, "How to Give a Eulogy"
How do you begin writing a eulogy? Editor Carol DeChant explains, "Obituaries are usually mini-biographies, focused on what a person did, but the eulogy is much deeper, more about who the person was...It's meant for the select group of people who knew and cared for that person, or who care for the survivors."
Christina Ianzito, in "How to Write a Eulogy," offers these suggestions; many of them come from Garry Schaeffer's book, A Labor of Love: How to Write a Eulogy:
Outline the eulogy: In addition to helping you stay focused, an outline will keep your eulogy organized and effectively break down the task of writing into manageable pieces.
Ask for the input of other family members and friends. They may be able to provide you with some great stories to share.
Always try to share examples of the statements you make about your loved one. If you want to say, "she was generous with her time," tell a story that supports the statement.
Do not focus too much on yourself. After all, this isn't a eulogy for you; keep your writing focused on your loved one. You may even want to ask others to read your first draft to make sure the focus is in the right place.
Go for the humor. Shared laughter is a very healing experience so don't be afraid to make people laugh.
Write the first draft. Don't fuss over every word; just get your ideas on paper.
Put it aside for a while. This has, no doubt, been an emotional experience. Take some time away from the writing desk to get perspective and release stress or sorrow.
Come back to edit and polish. This is the time to refine the eulogy into its final form.
Print a legible copy of the eulogy, in a large font, to assist in the delivery of your well-chosen words. There's nothing worse than not being able to read your handwriting when you're standing in front of a crowd of people.
Delivering a Eulogy
Unless you're a seasoned public speaker, delivering a eulogy can be a scary, emotionally-trying time. It is recommended that you:
Take your time with the delivery.
Take regular sips of water.
If you have any doubts about your ability to perform in front of an audience, consider appointing a back-up person to fill in for you. Or, you may ask someone else to take over the duty of reading the eulogy aloud on your behalf.
"Giving a eulogy is good for you. Period," says author, Tom Chiarella. "It may hurt to write it. And reading it? For some, that's the worst part. The world might spin a little, and everything familiar to you might fade for a few minutes. But remember, remind yourself as you stand there, you are the lucky one. And that's not because you aren't dead. You were selected. You get to stand, face the group, the family, the world, and add it up. You're being asked to do something at the very moment when nothing can be done. You get the last word in the attempt to define the outlines of a life."
An example of an excellent eulogy is the one Senator Robert (Ted) Kennedy delivered for his nephew John F. Kennedy Jr. John was an accomplished lawyer and magazine publisher. Understandably, growing up with the last name Kennedy is no easy task. As a member of such a high-profile family, John spent much of his life in the spotlight. Despite growing up in the shadows of his father and uncles’ successes, Kennedy was able to carve his own path build a legacy of his own.
The eulogy itself is quite lengthy. To read the full version of John F. Kennedy Jr’s eulogy, click here
We have collected a few different excerpts from the eulogy to help demonstrate how to write a eulogy.
"Once, when they asked John what he would do if he went into politics and was elected president, he said, "I guess the first thing is call up Uncle Teddy and gloat." I loved that. It was so like his father."
After thanking the President and his family for attending, Ted begins the eulogy by making a joke at his expense. Choosing to start the eulogy with humor is quite effective in this case. Not only does it help lighten the mood, this specific joke establishes a personal connection between John and his uncle.
"He had amazing grace. He accepted who he was, but he cared more about what he could and should become. He saw things that could be lost in the glare of the spotlight. And he could laugh at the absurdity of too much pomp and circumstance.
He loved to travel across the city by subway, bicycle and roller blade. He lived as if he were unrecognizable, although he was known by everyone he encountered. He always introduced himself, rather than take anything for granted. He drove his own car and flew his own plane, which is how he wanted it. He was the king of his domain."
In this second passage of the obituary, Ted goes on to describe John’s values, beliefs and who he was as a person. Throughout this section of the eulogy, Ted does an excellent job making John relatable to other people. Despite growing up in one of the country’s most prolific families, he makes it clear that John was always destined to form his own path and stayed humble while doing so.
John was also the son who was once protected by his mother. He went on to become her pride -- and then her protector in her final days. He was the Kennedy who loved us all, but who especially cherished his sister Caroline, celebrated her brilliance, and took strength and joy from their lifelong mutual admiration society. And for a thousand days, he was a husband who adored the wife who became his perfect soul mate. John's father taught us all to reach for the moon and the stars. John did that in all he did -- and he found his shining star when he married Carolyn Bessette.
In this passage of the eulogy, Ted goes on to acknowledge other members of the Kennedy family and the connections they shared with John. In this case, other than John’s sister Caroline, everyone that is mentioned has passed away. By doing this, Ted is not only talking about the personal relationships John formed but also acknowledging and paying tribute to deceased family members.
It’s important to make sure that the eulogy you deliver is not exclusively about your relationship with the deceased. Ted does an excellent job of speaking very little about himself and more about other loved ones who were close to John. Throughout all of this though, John remains the focal point and the star of each anecdote shared.
Where to Find the Best Eulogies Online
All you need to do is search online for "best eulogies" or simply "eulogies" - you'll be directed to literally dozens of videos and articles.
Should you still find yourself in need of support, please give us a call at 732-229-8855. We will be delighted to discuss other available resources.
Chiarella, Tom, "How to Give a Eulogy"
Ianzito, Christina, "How to Write a Eulogy"