There comes a time in many people’s lives when we are asked to deliver a eulogy. In most cases, this occurs because we were close to the deceased. We are dealing with our own emotions as well as those of the deceased’s family and friends. Many are asking ‘why?’ and now we are expected to give the answer. What in the world do we say?
I recently was put in this exact position. My cousin died unexpectedly at age thirty-nine. I was shocked when I heard the news, as are most people when they hear similar news.
Given the responsibility of preparing a eulogy, I determined my objectives. A eulogy can be developed which will make everyone cry. There is a distinct possibility that this may happen and provide the release needed by those who remain. However, I believe a eulogy is meant to comfort and encourage the living. You have the opportunity to give the audience something to take with them as they leave the memorial service.
As I prepared the eulogy, I set five objectives:
Let the Audience Know the Person
Every person is unique, and every death is unique. For the audience members who didn’t know the deceased very well, it is important to tell something about the person.
What is it that made this person special? If he was caring and giving, don’t just tell us, show us. Relay an anecdote about something the person did that proved his or her compassion. Likewise, if the person showed strength in a particular situation, tell us the story and let us conclude the obvious. A good eulogy should make the audience aware of the person’s character and this is best achieved through anecdotes.
The anecdotes must be chosen with care. It is appropriate to tell a story that makes the audience laugh. It is inappropriate to tell a story which focuses on particular weaknesses of the deceased. Nobody leads a perfect life and the audience is usually well aware of the deceased person’s faults. They don’t need you to remind them. Instead, tell a story that reveals positive character aspects.
Address the Needs of the Audience
Though a funeral or memorial service is centered on the deceased, it is really held for the living. Your audience needs help, and you can provide it. You must first recognize the pain suffered by the audience and the loss that they have experienced. Express sympathy to those closest to the deceased and to those who have traveled a distance to pay their respects.
Most of us don’t like dealing with death. It brings out our insecurities, our feelings of guilt, and our perception of mortality. When delivering a eulogy you have the opportunity to philosophize about life and death. While any single death is disturbing, it is an end we shall all experience. You can help the audience deal with this circumstance.
Uplift the Audience
The people in attendance are vulnerable. They want you to say something meaningful and are listening intently. Take advantage of this opportunity to help improve your audience’s outlook on life.
Determine the Lessons Offered by the Deceased
When someone dies, we often ask the question ‘Why?’ Usually, there is no answer. We tend to look at a person’s life in comparison to the lives of others. We identify what was lacking in a person’s life and wish our friend or family member would have had more time to realize his or her dreams. We may wish we had treated the person differently, or we find comfort in the relationship that existed. All of these issues are really related to us, not to the deceased. Any feelings of guilt or judgment are created within ourselves, and only we can choose to release these feelings and move on.
In any life, lessons are learned and examples set. Search for these and share them with the audience. How can you use the deceased’s life as an inspiration? What challenges did the deceased face and how did he or she choose to address them?
Use Appropriate Mannerisms
The atmosphere when delivering a eulogy is not appropriate for many of the common elements of speaking. Vocal variety can be used well, particularly in the volume and tone of voice. While the eulogy requires a somber tone, it is appropriate to use humor, particularly amusing anecdotes that summarize the person’s character in a positive way. Always deliver a eulogy from the heart and it will be successful.
Do you need a poem for a eulogy? The Funeral Poem has been read at funerals around the world.
1. Make a list of five people who have passed on. They may be people you know, or public figures.
2. What aspects of each of their lives can be seen as inspirational? If the answer is none, keep looking.
3. What lessons have you learned from each of these people?
4. If you mourn for a parent or loved one, write a eulogy even if they have been gone for years.
Originally published in Toastmaster Magazine as ‘The Eulogy: Speak from the Heart’.
©Copyright 2009, 2015 Glenn Stewart Coles