Delivering A Eulogy

by Speaking Tips | March 15, 2004

The death of a family member, close friend or colleague, whether expected or not, always comes as an unpleasant shock and stirs unfamiliar emotions of loss. We are never ready for the passing and even less ready to speak at the funeral or memorial service. Yet delivering a eulogy can and should be a rewarding and healing experience. A well-prepared and delivered eulogy is a great and compassionate gift to the bereaved as well as a heartfelt tribute to the deceased.

In many respects, delivering a eulogy is more difficult than other types of speaking. The speaker must deal with their own grief while at the same time coping with the stresses and strains more usually associated with public speaking. Strong emotions such as grief can interfere with our ability to think or remember what we want to say. In addition, because public display of crying is considered a social taboo by many people there is a tendancy to try and contain tears which adds yet another comlication.

Frequently, death comes as a surprise. Even when it is expected, timing is gnerally uncertain and it is often the case that funeral and other arrangements are delayed in the hope of a miraculous recovery. Consequently, we generally find ourselves faced with delivering a eulogy at short notice and when we are still coming to terms with our own bereavement. Often we must do so at a time when our faith has been challenged by our loss or amidst feelings of powerlessness or guilt.

Despite these challenges, delivering a eulogy can be a very positive experience if we choose to make it one. A well-prepared eulogy can help the healing and grieving process and brings a sense of closure to you and other mourners.

Preparing A Eulogy

A eulogy is a celebration of a person's life. It should highlight your best memories of the deceased and stimulate positive memories in other mourners. It should contain praise for the person and/or some aspect of the person's life and acknowledge the lessons you have learned from them. A eulogy should express the your honest feelings of gratitude to have known the person and to have been part of their life.

Begin by deciding that you can and will do it. This is a decision that can and should be made well in advance of the peson's passing. Make an effort to find out if others are also preparing eulogies so that these can be coordinated to avoid duplication and instead cover all aspects of the person's life - their family, work, hobbies, etc. Ask others, especially people unable to be at the service, for their memories/stories which you might use.

Although a eulogy should contain uplifting memories and make reference to significant events, you should not attempt to chronicle the person's entire life; share only a slice that you think is most memorable. Find a theme or common thread running through your experience with the person and then select two or three related stories to base your eulogy upon. Humor can be used in a eulogy and will relax yourself and the audience but care should be taken to ensure it is appropriate. Base it on the person's foibles or characteristics. Above all costs, keep your eulogy positive and to the point (no more than five to eight minutes).

As was mentioned above, in an eulogy, you may lose control and begin to openly weep at any time. However, the two places that are of greatest concern are the opening and closing. One thing you can do is to design the eulogy so that emotionally loaded ideas do not come at these points. If you are overcome, pause, take a few deep breaths, drink some water and proceed when you are ready. The audience will understand that the emotion you show is natural.

Things To Avoid

Again, a eulogy should evoke positive feelings from the bereaved. Consequently, it is important that you should avoid raising the question "why?". Likewise, do not rail against the circumstances surrounding the death or its unfairness. Remember that you are not preparing an obituary or memorial for publication, both of which summarize total life achievements rather than provide a personalized segment.

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