How to Prepare a Eulogy

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Giving the eulogy at a funeral is an honor as well as an intimidating responsibility. Particularly if you are not accustomed to public speaking, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Well, take a breathe and relax. With a little forethought, you can prepare and deliver a stirring eulogy.

It is important, however, that you invest the time necessary to prepare in advance. Do not wait to "wing it" during the funeral. That is a recipe for disaster. You may freeze up, ramble on, and miss out on the opportunity to pay proper tribute to your loved one. If you plan ahead and organize what you intend to say, however, it will minimize those dangers. When the time comes, you may choose to deviate a bit from your prepared statements, but you will at least have a framework to guide you.

To help with your preparation, make sure you carry a notepad with you at all times. (You can also use a tablet computer or smartphone.) Then, whenever you hear a family member or friend make a relevant observation about the deceased, you can quickly jot it down. In this way, you can keep track of quotations, humorous stories, or factual information. Later, when you sit down to organize your thoughts onto paper, you can use your notes as a reservoir of ideas.

If you are have difficulty recalling information or getting input from others, do not be afraid to ask outright. Spark conversations by asking questions such as:

What is your favorite memory of your time with him/her?
If you could sum up his/her life in one word, what word would that be?
What kinds of hobbies did he/she have?
What nicknames was he/she known by?

When you have gathered enough information, next comes the hard work of putting it all together. While there are several formats available to you, here is one blueprint for preparing the eulogy.

To begin, describe your own relationship with the deceased. Explain how you are personally affected by the loss. Remember that many of the people listening to you will understand fully and may share many of the same emotions.

Next, work in some personal details pertaining to the deceased plus three or four anecdotes. These can be about events in the life of the deceased that included you or stories shared with you by others. Heartwarming accounts of generosity and compassion can be powerful. Humorous stories can also be powerful, and can provide much-needed comic relief from the tension. However, be sure to keep the humor respectful and appropriate. If the loved one was a person of faith, you can make note of that, too.

Talk about life lessons you learned from him/her as well as the qualities that made your loved one special. Whenever possible, tie those lessons or qualities into your anecdotes. Beware, however, of the danger of turning the eulogy into a story about yourself. Keep the focus on the person you are honoring.

Near the end of the eulogy, consider addressing the deceased directly. For example, you can turn toward the casket and say, "Mom, I love you and I'm going to miss you. You taught me well, I couldn't have asked for a better mother, and you will always be close to my heart."

You may choose to end on that note, or you may opt to share a final poem or read a verse from a favorite hymn in closing.

It is advisable for you to prepare a complete manuscript of what you plan to say. Though the process may be difficult, it will force you to focus and organize your thoughts in a coherent fashion. Using this manuscript, you can practice delivering the eulogy a few times to see how it flows and to edit for length. In most cases, a eulogy of 5-10 minutes (2-4 typed pages) is appropriate. If you expect that you will stray from the manuscript during delivery, aim shorter. If you tend to speak faster when nervous, prepare a longer eulogy.

Whether you take the complete manuscript to the podium or condense the eulogy onto cue cards is your decision. In general, if the notion of speaking before a group makes you break into a cold sweat, use the manuscript. If you are more comfortable speaking before an audience, then you may prefer the freedom of using cue-cards.

With the necessary time invested in preparation, you can approach your responsibility with confidence. You may even enjoy the experience. Step up to the podium, take a deep breath to calm your nerves and get your bearings, and tell everyone about this wonderful person you are honoring.