A simple five step guide to giving a eulogy

When someone passes away, it’s left up to the family members to deliver a eulogy to help celebrate the loved one’s achievements, stories and memories. Eulogies draw family and friends of the deceased together; to heal while they remember the significant moments of someone’s life.

New Zealanders know that funerals can have a substantial toll on families, both emotionally and financially. The recent Cost of Death Report found that a majority of people (69.2%) who had recently suffered a loss say that it took them six months or longer to recover from the financial hardship that they experienced, and more than one in three New Zealanders (31.1%) felt that it took them more than a year to fully recover.

Writing and delivering a eulogy can seem like a daunting duty when you are in a period of grief. Often, there is not a long time to prepare, and those faced with this task might feel nervous about ‘getting things wrong’. Although it’s a job that might seem overwhelming at first there are a few steps you can take when giving a eulogy to make the process easier.

Step 1: Get in the right frame of mind for the task

When delivering a eulogy, you are likely to be in a distressed frame of mind, and you may feel that you’re under a time pressure. Organising a eulogy can actually form part of the healing process, as you coordinate your thoughts and memories of your loved one into a logical sequence, to share with others.

Something to take heart with is that Kiwis are now holding more relaxed ceremonies for their departed loved ones. The changing tone of funeral services is now shifting from an event of mourning to celebration. Services are no longer as ‘serious’ as they used to be, with a ‘celebration of life’ vibe replacing solemn mourning. In fact, around 66% of New Zealanders say they prefer a relaxed and informal service. Up to 76.8% of people want a greater focus on celebrating life, rather than mourning.

Step 2: Remember your loved one’s achievements, memories and stories

A good place to begin when starting the eulogy writing process is to find out how much time you’ll have for your speech. Around three quarters of the people questioned in the New Zealand Cost of Death study said that a funeral service shouldn’t go for more than one hour. For this reason, your eulogy should not have to be more than 10 minutes. This equates to less than two thousand words, with the average person taking just under eight minutes to speak about 1,000 words of text aloud.

Think of your loved one’s life as a timeline to plan your speech. Eulogies do not have to have a chronological flow, but key events can help you organise your thoughts. If you get stuck, or are unsure of what to say, consult family members and other loved ones and share their stories and memories too.

A poem, a spiritual verse, or even song lyrics can help to break up memories and can be a nice way to reflect on your loved one’s passing. You could even include a quote, or passage from a favourite book in giving your eulogy.

Step 3: Organise your thoughts into a coherent structure

The Cost of Death report also revealed that New Zealanders have started to shift away from traditional religious services to non-traditional, non-religious services. The survey revealed that a majority (71.2%) wanted less religious funerals, while 63.6% of respondents felt that funerals today should be more modern, contemporary and less traditional; with the trend continuing over the past five years.

With this in mind, try to think of the eulogy as a snapshot of your loved one’s most memorable and unique moments, rather than a general ‘list’ of their whole life. Here are some eulogy thought-starters to help you along:

  • Talk about the year/time period and location where your loved one was born
  • Discuss their family; for example, marriages, children and grandchildren
  • Any educational, career, achievements or awards
  • Clubs or community groups that they participated in
  • Significant events in their life
  • What were they particularly proud of? Perhaps their home, their car, their fitness, their pets
  • Interests in art, sports, outdoor activities, hobbies etc.
  • Any favourite sayings, quotes etc.

Step 4: Practising your eulogy

It’s OK to feel sad, and it’s OK to cry. Understand that everyone in the room will be there to support you, and that funerals are a place of non-judgement. Try to take the pressure off yourself and allow yourself to ‘make mistakes’.

Remember that there are no rules on how a service funeral service is structured or conducted. The important elements you choose to include should draw family members and friends together on the day to celebrate your loved one’s life. Don’t be afraid to insert quirky details that tell the person’s story in an unusual or unexpected way.

Give yourself some time at home to run through your eulogy before the service. Practise your eulogy from start to finish at least a few times, complete with the personal anecdotes you plan to tell, and any other elements you’re planning on including, such as a slideshow if you choose to use one. Some people find practising in front of a mirror, or in front of a friend/relative helps to prepare themselves for public speaking.

Step 5: Giving the eulogy on the day

When you are satisfied and happy with what you have captured on paper, it’s a good idea to spend some time on your delivery. If you find yourself overrun with emotion on the day, then find some time away from the crowd to reflect on your own, even for a few moments. Take a walk to gather your thoughts.

On the day, speak from your heart, and even if you can only remember a story or two – it’s fine. Take deep breaths, carry a bottle of water with you, and make sure you have some tissues or a hanky in your pocket. If you encounter any problems at all, such as a slideshow skipping, or an unexpected late arrival, take it in your stride.

Remember what you are there to do: to share memories with the departed’s loved ones. Giving a eulogy might seem like a daunting task, but if given a bit of thought and preparation, you will be just fine.