How to write a eulogy or obituary

How to write a eulogy or obituary

So you’ve been chosen to prepare the eulogy. Of course it is a great honour, and also a great deal of pressure! Where do you start? What is the protocol? How do you put into words just how special this person was to you and everyone who loved them? How do you tell their story, in a way that is dignified and meaningful?

The eulogy is the opportunity to tell the story of the life that has been lived, and what that life meant to others, including family, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances. It is the recollection of the characteristics and traits, that made this person, them. The significant events in their life, the anecdotes and funny stories of times shared together, their passion in life and what they will be remembered for.

It may be presented in chronological order and include dates and places or may be a composition of “typical tales”. Reflecting on memories help to personalise the funeral service and make it a celebration of their life.

There really aren’t any specific rules when it comes to presenting a eulogy, however you may like to consider the following;

The timing
A funeral usually has a time limit, according to the venue that has been selected by the family. The eulogy should ideally be kept to between 3-7 minutes (1-3 pages), to ensure other significant aspects of the service are not rushed, and to retain the interest of the mourners.

The content
While it is good to include important dates, try to use stories that people can relate to. It makes for a far more meaningful and interesting story. Is there anyone else speaking? Check in with them to make sure you aren’t doubling up on anything.

The audience
Never shy away from telling funny stories to bring a smile or a laugh. The most meaningful funerals make people both cry and smile, but consider who will be present, and reserve any particularly embarrassing stories for another time.

Some points to assist you in your preparation;

  • Place and year of birth
  • To parents, (names)
  • As a child?
  • As a teenager?
  • As an adult?
  • Nicknames?
  • Where and how they met the love of their life?
  • Children? (names) – what year?
  • Grandchildren?
  • Favourite holiday destinations or travel stories?
  • Life achievements?
  • Sporting interests?
  • Memberships?
  • Main occupation?
  • Passions/interests/hobbies?
  • Quirky characteristics?
  • Favourite sayings?
  • What he/she will be missed for?
  • Who he/she will be missed by?
  • The legacy left behind. What made them special?
  • Funny stories?
  • A special reading or poem, or line from a song?
  • Significant/life-changing events

Some tips to help you on the day;

  1. Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  2. Have a glass or bottle of water handy and some tissues.
  3. Have a back-up plan. If you can’t continue, have someone else on hand and prepared to deliver the speech for you. Give that person, and the celebrant, a copy of the eulogy beforehand, just in case. Make sure it is typed and in a large font so it is easy for anyone to read.
  4. Remember that it’s OK to show emotion. If you become emotional and start to cry, that’s perfectly normal. Take time to regain your composure, but if you’re unable, defer to your back-up person.
  5. Bring your courage!

So, overall, the process is as follows;

  1. Recall your personal memories
  2. Gather relevant information
  3. Write! (start with dot points)
  4. Review and revise (ask someone else to read it over for you)
  5. Rehearse (read it aloud)
  6. Type the finalised copy and give it to both your backup person and the celebrant (preferably the day before)
  7. Deliver

Good luck! You are doing a wonderful thing. You were obviously a very special person in this person’s life.

When a story needs to be told, tell it well.

Erin Erceg

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