The Eulogy

When she was asked to deliver the eulogy at her uncle’s funeral, Anne Marie Schinkel knew she was facing a daunting task.

“While it’s a tremendous honour, there’s a lot of pressure,” said Schinkel, who lives in Brampton, Ontario.  “I realized I would be responsible for leaving a lasting impression of someone who was very dear to me.”

A eulogy gives those gathered for a funeral service an impression of the life that is being celebrated.  Some eulogies are heart-rending and tearful, while others are uplifting or contain humourous stories. 

“A first rate eulogy doesn’t confine itself to a list of milestones and accomplishments,” said Brent Buchanan, President of the Funeral Service Association of Canada.  “All unforgettable eulogies share certain qualities.  They are heartfelt, honest and convey the feelings of the speaker as he or she talks about the loved one.”

Here are 10 tips for preparing an effective eulogy:

1.      Write down all the memories you have of your loved one.  These will form the basis of your eulogy.

2.      Ask family and friends to share their stories about your loved one.  This is a wonderful way to include others as you paint a picture of the person you are honouring.

3.      Your eulogy should pay respect to the person who has died.  Always remain positive—both about your loved one and about those who are attending the funeral.  Focus on their better qualities and remember that this is not the time to relive bad memories. 

4.      Think of the eulogy as a way to tell a story about the deceased.  A simple way to do this is to use the words, “I remember…”  Everyone loves to hear a good story and these words will cue your audience to your memories about your loved one.   

5.      Mention people who were special to your loved one.  Your audience will appreciate hearing of the strong relationship that the deceased had with children, a spouse, or with close friends—and it will mean the world to those who are mentioned. 

6.      Be honest.  Share your feelings and experiences about your loved one.  Never try to exaggerate or embellish qualities in order to make the deceased seem like “a better person.”  Stay true to the facts and your feelings for your loved one.

7.      It may help to build your eulogy around a theme; a word that best describes the individual, or a hobby or pastime they enjoyed.  Examples of themes include, “My father’s hands,” or “Seasons of life.”

8.      Don’t be embarrassed if you are overcome with emotion during the eulogy.  This will be one of the most difficult speeches you will have to deliver during your life.  Take a moment to regain your composure, and then continue.  Remember that you are dealing with a sympathetic audience.  Everyone gathered for the funeral will understand that you may be emotional.  No one will judge you.

9.      Keep your eulogy brief.  Try for a length of between three and five minutes.  This will allow you plenty of time to paint a vibrant picture of your loved one. 

10.  Be inspired by examples of famous eulogies, including:  Winston Churchill’s eulogy for King George VI; the Eulogy of the Young Victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing by Martin Luther King Jr.; Earl Charles Spencer’s tribute to his sister, Princess Diana; and John Cleese’s eulogy for fellow Python, Graham Chapman.

“Giving the eulogy at a funeral service is a tremendous gift, both for the family of the deceased, and for the person delivering the eulogy,” said Buchanan.  “It’s a concrete way to make a contribution towards the final farewell for a loved one.”

Being honest and talking from the heart will ensure that the eulogy is a loving tribute much appreciated and long remembered. 

“If you are ever given the opportunity to deliver a eulogy, never turn it down,” said Schinkel.  “It’s your last chance to let everybody know how your loved one fit into your life. Delivering a eulogy is an experience like no other; it’s an honour and a privilege.” 

This example and the information herein are printed courtesy of the Funeral Service Association of Canada.