How to write (and give) a great eulogy

Eulogizing a loved one can be a daunting task. Eulogies are not a type of writing typically taught in English class, and those who are grieving feel tremendous pressure to create the best possible eulogy to honor their loved one. All this, within a time constraint and while feeling the stress and emotions that accompany such a loss.

There are no hard rules, but a few guidelines can help get you through the basics. You should write out what you plan to say, at least in note form, rather than simply speaking off the cuff. A typical length for a eulogy is around 1,000 words, which takes the average speaker around six to seven minutes to read.

If no one will be introducing you, begin with a short explanation of who you are and how you knew the deceased. Beyond that, remember that the eulogy is not about you. Focus on the person being celebrated and don’t worry about being formal — it’s a personal remembrance and can be conversational and relaxed.

Include some kind of story, a personal anecdote involving the person you are honoring. Part of the exercise of eulogizing a person is sifting through your many memories together and deciding which tale really captures the essence of who they are. Recounting that memory helps everyone in the room come together and form a picture, celebrating what everyone loved about the deceased.

Be honest. No one will recognize an idealized version of the person you are remembering. Everyone in the room loved the deceased, warts and all, so don’t feel pressure to sanitize what you say.

Don’t be afraid to include some humor. As long as it suits the person being honored and the family has a sense of humor, a bit of comic relief can be a welcome way to cut some of the tension. The best eulogies are solemn and respectful, but many contain a moment or two of levity or gentle “roasting” of the person being remembered.

Just as weddings end with a toast to the newlyweds, and graduation speeches end with words of wisdom to the class, eulogies often end with a direct message to the departed loved one. You can thank them for a specific lesson they taught you or for being there when you needed them. This type of personal message may be the most difficult part of a eulogy to get through without becoming overwhelmed with emotions — so saving it until the end makes perfect sense.

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