What is a eulogy and how do I write a good one?

Eulogy writing

A eulogy is a speech, or piece of writing, in praise of a particular person, or thing. These can be living eulogies – i.e. given in praise of someone at a retirement party, for example.

Or, in the case of a funeral, a eulogy may be read as a tribute to the person that has died.

This may be written by a family member or a close friend, and is often read out by the person that has penned it.

If a family have chosen to work with a Funeral Celebrant they may ask the Celebrant to help with the writing and/or delivery of the eulogy.

This is often the case when there is no obvious other person to do so; or simply where the family feel they need the support of a Celebrant to help them with this part of the funeral.

It can be a tricky thing to get right, and it needs to hit the right tone. However, it is good to remember that a funeral audience will be one of the most generous and supportive audiences you will find.

There is no set formula for a good eulogy and they can take many different forms.

Most simply described, the purpose of a eulogy within a funeral service is to honour the life of the person that has died. This is usually done by acknowledging the contributions that individual made during their lifetime; whilst also paying tribute to the legacy they will leave behind.

Some popular elements that a eulogy may cover include:

  • Setting out some facts about the person’s life; especially their early life (i.e. where they were born and grew-up, what their childhood was like etc)
  • An overview of their family relationships (e.g. details about parents, siblings, children, grandchildren etc)
  • Main achievements and successes in their life (such as qualifications, jobs, awards and accolades etc)
  • Key markers of their personality (i.e. what people will remember about them, the kinds of impact they had on other people’s lives etc)

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Eulogies may sometimes be guided by a particular theme, based on a key pillar of that person’s life, for example, ‘friendship’ or ‘kindness’.

Eulogies very often also include:

  • Anecdotes from the person’s life, to illustrate particular aspects of what is being talked about
  • Quotes or sayings – these might be from a famous person that help demonstrate an idea. Or they might be a familiar phrase that the person who was died was known to use often
  • Words about what will be remembered most about the person that has died.

How long should it be?

Again, there are no hard and fast rules for this. And length may be governed to some extent by what else the family are planning to include in the funeral.

As a guide, a eulogy that is less than 5-minutes long would likely struggle to include enough about the person.

However, anything that goes beyond 15-minutes may be rather overwhelming – for both reader and listener.

If the funeral has a time limit, as is unfortunately almost always the case, then 10-minutes maximum, may be a good goal to aim for.

Within a 30-minute service slot, as is regularly given by crematoriums, this will ensure there is still 20-minutes remaining for other items such as readings, music etc.

Where do I start?

There are a number of step-by-step guides to creating a eulogy online.

www.remembranceprocess.com has a useful 7-step advisory, which also includes tips on the delivery of the eulogy.

www.verywell.com offers a 5-step guide, with some helpful thoughts around writing styles

www.loveliveson.com has an informative guide, with a very handy infographic to refer to. This site also has some useful examples of eulogies to draw inspiration from.

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What mustn’t I forget?

If you’re a friend or wider family member that has been asked to write the eulogy, you may well need to double check facts with the person’s closest relative or next of kin.

They may decide that they don’t wish to see the finished piece before the funeral, but it is a good idea to always offer.

If your Funeral Celebrant is creating the eulogy they will always liaise directly with the closest family members; to ensure they have captured the essence of the person that has died accurately.

They can also collate stories, facts and memories from a range of people to form the eulogy from. Plus, they will have experience of writing eulogies; so, they can be a good person to help with this task.

Remember also that this eulogy isn’t just about your own personal relationship with that person. It aims to give a wide-reaching view of someone’s life. It should be in some way relevant to all the people that hear it.

Naturally a eulogy is an easier task when it is about someone that has lived a long, happy and healthy life.

In these instances, there is usually plenty of available information to draw on, and less to give consideration to in terms of sensitivities; or family politics.

When a person has died very young, or in tragic circumstances. Or, when there has been a family divide or breakdown in relationships. Or if a person has taken their own life, then a eulogy can be much trickier to craft.

In these instances what is, and what isn’t, included needs very careful thought.

Discussing plans with members of the family in advance is a good way forward.

Whatever tragedy may have befallen someone, or whatever mistakes they may have made in their life, (or been perceived to have made), a eulogy should always focus on the positive.

Its purpose is never to right wrongs, or to take a moral high ground. A eulogist should be gentle and compassionate.

Difficult areas don’t need to be avoided altogether, and certainly false impressions should never be made about someone. However, there are ways and means of creating an appropriate eulogy – even if it was for somebody you didn’t much care for!

www.eulogy.com has an interesting article on this.

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I’m worried I might not do a good enough job?

Though it can be hugely daunting; being asked to create a eulogy for someone is an honour. It is a privilege that deserves time and energy to be put into it.

The best eulogies are always well researched, well edited and delivered with absolute kindness and respect.

What about professional help?

If you have been asked to create a eulogy for a funeral; and there is not a Funeral Celebrant to advise you on it, you could turn to a professional speechwriter for help.

Some speechwriters even specialise in eulogies. And, depending on how confident you are; you can choose from a range of different options.

Perhaps you want someone to write and even deliver it on your behalf. Or maybe you are just looking for help with editing and shaping your words. There are all kinds of services out there to help with writing a good eulogy.

It’s always worth checking out their credentials and looking at some independent testimonials before you engage anyone to help you.

Final words of advice…

My top 3 recommendations for creating a eulogy that everyone will remember, are as follows:

  • Be yourself and write from the heart.
  • It’s ‘what’ you’re saying, not ‘how’ you’re saying it, that is most important. It’s important it flows and can be understood, but it doesn’t need to be a literary masterpiece!
  • And finally, don’t forget less is more: focus on quality over quantity.

Good luck!

Photographer Credit: Bec Zacher Photography


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