The 5 Guidelines of a Eulogy

  • 1: Tell a story

    2: Make it meaningful

    3: Not too meaningful

    4: Make it personal, but not necessarily to your person

    5: Be respectful— a Eulogy is not a roast

     

    So you’ve been tasked with writing a Eulogy?  You have earned the challenging honor of standing up in front of all the love ones of the Dearly Departed and encapsulating their life, their personality, and all the many relationships that he/she has had, in front of a bunch of people who have strong opinions about all of this material?  Writing a Eulogy is tricky business- you can thrill your audience, bring about some meaningful catharsis, maybe even entertain; or perhaps you can scandalize, confuse, or (worst of all) bore everybody.

     

    As you start to prepare your Eulogy, consider the 5 guidelines below.  Don’t think of them as hard-fast rules, but rather as tone-setters to get you started.

     

    1: Tell a Story

    The audience at most funerals is comprised of a congregation of people that all know SOME of the deceased’s story, but few if any know ALL of it.  A Eulogy is therefore an opportunity to give a narrative structure to someone’s life, and bring the audience along for the ride.  Not a “once upon a time there was a man…” kind of story, but some tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end that forms a structure for the audience to follow.  The story can be chronological (part 1 - early life, part 2 - adult accomplishments, part 3 - the waning years), or it can center on a theme, like the deceased’s passions, or personal struggles, or professional path.  Whatever the structure, a story-like beginning, middle, and end, helps the audience follow, and can help the eulogist write.

     

    2: Make it Meaningful…

    A Eulogy acts as the “last word” on a person, so that word should have some gravitas.  If you’re using guideline 1, then you should aspire to convey through the story you tell some greater truth about the deceased, some important theme.  Don’t be shy about talking about the deceased’s spiritual character or the struggles that he/she faced.  If the passing was sudden and tragic, then say that, for the whole audience to hear; if the passing was agonizing, don’t be afraid to express a note of relief and release.  The best Eulogies give voice to some part of what everyone at the funeral is thinking and feeling. 

     

    3: …but not so Meaningful that you can’t get the words out

    If you’ve been tasked with giving a eulogy, chances are that the deceased meant something to you.  You’ll speak in front of many loved ones, many of whose hearts will be in their throats.  You need to be able to get through the eulogy, with all your meaning intact, for the audience (and yourself) to go through the powerful catharsis that a eulogy can deliver.  Therefore, if there’s an issue that is too emotional or troubling or you just can’t get through it, skip it.  Let someone else cover that one and instead, focus on the important portions that you can get out.  If you have to excise entire portions, its better that the rest is heard clearly than the difficult parts muddy up the rest.

     

    4: Make it Personal

    If a Eulogy at its best creates a powerful shared experience, at its worst a Eulogy is boring or meaningless.  The easy way out of a Eulogy is to simply list the events of the life now lost, but such an “inventory” brings no greater understanding or catharsis.  Don’t be afraid to inject your personal feelings or the experiences of other people affected by the deceased into the story.  You can insert your own relationship with the deceased as a proxy for others to think about their own relationships, or use examples from the audience.  A eulogy can’t be about you, but your experience can and should be part of it.

     

    5: Be Respectful

    If a funeral is a last hurrah, there lurks the temptation to take a last “pot-shot” at the deceased, to bring up the nasty bits, or tell the sordid tales, or even to comically “roast” his or her comical downside.  But don’t confuse this with being “meaningful.”  Your job as a eulogist is to create a real understanding and catharsis, not to get the last word.  Humor can (and should) be used to release tension, but not at the expense of the deceased’s dignity. 

     

    A funeral brings a community together for one last celebration of a person’s life, and a good eulogy brings that community together in new ways.  The 5 guidelines should help you give a eulogy that supports the audience in processing the loss.  If you’re successful, even after that loss, the community strengthens.  Good luck!

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