Be confident and keep positive. Remember that you can write and deliver a great eulogy. Do not be concerned about giving the perfect eulogy; the important thing is to do the best you can given the short time frame and fragility of your well being. Put aside such nagging questions as, “What do I say?” “Will people like it?” “How long will it be?” “Where do I even begin?”
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Find inspiration in things that rekindle old memories, stories, or feelings about your loved one. You can flip through old photo albums, watch old home videos, or look at scrapbooks. Ask friends and family members for their stories and fond memories.
Decide your tone. It can be sad, serious, thoughtful, or humorous. You are best positioned to judge which is suitable for the occasion.
Create an outline for the eulogy. An outline will help you organize your thoughts, and to focus on and organize the primary ideas and themes, thereby making the writing process easier. After listing the main ideas, each can be broken down into smaller pieces, so the little details aren’t forgotten. The more details you include at this stage, the easier it will be to write the draft.
- You may outline by using whatever method you feel most comfortable with. There are traditional vertical outlines, using letters and roman numerals. Or, you could outline by free association; this stimulates creative thinking because you are free to jump from one idea to the next, no matter how unrelated the thoughts may seem. Write the person’s name at the top of the paper. As thoughts come to mind, any thoughts, write down a word or phrase that quickly summarizes that thought. For example, “charitable contributions.”
Expand on the thoughts you have already written down. Just keep writing down everything that comes to mind. After you have jotted down many ideas, go back over your outline and number the main points in the order they should be addressed.
Write a draft, and remember that your first draft will not be perfect. You are experiencing difficult emotions. If you are having troubles writing, don’t panic or give up. Take a moment to gather yourself. Review your outline. It is also important to remember that editing is a large part of the writing process, and you will improve your draft as you work with it. Start off slowly, without knowing exactly what you are going to say. Stick to your outline and let your ideas flow onto the paper. Try writing a letter to your loved one to get more ideas out (in fact, a letter format can be your entire eulogy). Write as quickly as possible. You will have time to go back and check for grammatical errors, or to change words around.
Beginning the eulogy. Finding the perfect words to capture the attention of those in attendance can be the most difficult parts of the writing process. If you can’t think of the right way to start the eulogy, skip over it and keep writing. You can always go back to it. Do you want to say something humorous? Touching? Thought-provoking? Any of these beginnings are acceptable. You want, however, to draw in the audience; whatever it is, it should be powerful.
Here are some different ways to open your eulogy:
- Quotes can be a humorous, inspirational, spiritual, or a religious way to kick start your eulogy. The quote can be from someone famous, your loved one, a friend, the Bible, or any other book. Remember that such quotes can be used anywhere throughout the eulogy.
- “Johann W. von Goethe once said, ‘A useless life is an early death.’’ Luckily for Jennifer, this never applied to her extraordinary existence.”
- “I remember when Bill used to say, ‘God sure has a since of humor, because if he didn’t, I wouldn’t have married your mother.’ I used to chuckle every time he poked fun at his wonderful marriage. Bill and Molly were definitely soul mates.”
- Questions. Begin the eulogy with a question, and give the answer.
- “My father once asked me, ‘Michael, what do you think you will wish for on your deathbed?’ I looked at him blankly. He replied, ‘I can tell you what I won’t say. God, I wish I had worked more, or made more money. I will say, I wish I had more time to spend with my family.’ That is what made Dad so great. His complete, unconditional love for his family.”
- A poem. A poem is a great way to begin a eulogy. It can be one you created, or a favorite poem of your loved one.
- “That we may mark with wonder and chaste dread. At hour of noon, when, with our limbs outspread lazily in the whispering grass, we lie to gaze out fully upon the windy sky-Far, far away, and kindly, friend with friend to talk the old, old talk that has no end, roaming-without a name-without a chart the unknown garden of another’s heart.” –C.S. Lewis
- Continuing the eulogy: The body of the eulogy should follow the opening of your rough draft or outline as closely as possible. When you are done writing about one subject, move on to the next topic in your outline. The more detailed your outline, the faster your writing will occur. When you run out of thoughts within a topic, just move to the next topic and complete the others.
Remember to include your listeners within the narrative. Make them feel involved. Tell stories that make them laugh, or cry. You want them to remember the person they knew or loved.
- Completing the eulogy: You want the ending to be a few sentences that ties what you have said together. You want your listeners to have a feeling that everything has been closed and tied neatly together. You can restate an important point or theme found throughout your eulogy, or you can summarize how your loved one touched your life. Doing so with a quote or a poem is an excellent way to do this.
Edit your eulogy. The chances of your first draft being perfect are slim. Correct any mistakes you might have, or change around your ideas and topics. Some further hints:
- Write conversationally. Write as if it were a letter to an old friend. You don’t want it to sound mundane and boring. Don’t worry about sentence fragments or run-ons.
- Change the name of the deceased around. Refrain from only using he, she, Mom, Dad, Kevin, or Sarah. Instead, use them interchangeably. Go from saying he was this, to Kevin was that, and so on. This really strengthens how a eulogy sounds, and holds the listeners’ attention.
- Be concise. Say everything that you want to say, but remember that keeping the attention of the audience is important. A great length is 3 to 5 minutes; depending on the speedy of your delivery, this is anywhere from 1 to 3 pages, single-spaced.
Practice your eulogy. The more you practice, the more confident you will become, and the more effective your eulogy will be. Practice anytime you can. Do it in front of the mirror and in front of people; the latter will also help any anxieties you might have over public speaking. Your confidence will allow you to speak naturally and more relaxed. You will begin to memorize your speech, which will again, give you the confidence to give great eye contact to your audience.
Give the eulogy. This may be the most difficult aspect of the whole process. Remember, however, that everyone in attendance will be behind you 1,000 percent. Nobody will be disappointed if your eulogy does not have the profundity of the Sermon on the Mount, nor will they will not be judging your stage presence, nor critiquing your rhetorical skills. All those present will be very emotional. This includes you; it’s OK to pause during your eulogy. Try to keep calm, and take your time.
When typing up your eulogy, use a large font size that is easy to see and read. Put three or four spaces between lines or topics. This will help you keep your place and, consequently, your composure.
If you don’t feel comfortable with writing, another useful way to complete a rough draft of your eulogy is to talk into a tape recorder or a video camera. For some, this method brings out thoughts more quickly and with less reserve.
Bring up tissues and a glass of water when you deliver your speech. They will help you immensely. Stay away from things that might make you jittery, like caffeine or any other stimulant.
Nobody in this world is perfect; chances are that the deceased had negative qualities of their own. Honesty is good; it is fine to touch upon these things. However, be courteous and respectful about doing it, and contextualize them against the good things.
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