Eulogies and Obituaries:  How to Write a Eulogy


Here are some ideas for writing and delivering a eulogy.

An obituary can serve as an inspiration or background reference for a funeral eulogy. I have even attended funerals where the entire obituary from the newspaper was read out as the main part of the eulogy. So, the better the obituary, the better the eulogy.

First, some definitions. (Adapted from dictionary.com.)

Obituary - a notice (for example in a newspaper) of a person's death, often with an account of their life and work.

Eulogy - a laudatory speech or written tribute, especially praising someone who has died. 

Elegy - a funeral poem or song.

Epitaph - a commemorative inscription on a tombstone.  Also: a brief poem or statement in praise of a deceased person. 

Obsequy (plural obsequies) - funeral rite or ceremony. Usually used in the plural.

In summary, then, while an obituary is a written form, the eulogy is usually spoken, especially at a funeral. Preparing a eulogy should follow a similar path as preparing an obituary, as detailed elsewhere on this website. The eulogy, of course, has the usual added component of being read aloud. The performance aspect can be definitely difficult, especially for those not used to public speaking and considering the emotional timing.

For a look at eulogies in a larger context, see Helping Families Deal with Death "Most Satisfying Work" for Funeral Celebrant.

An excellent free resource on how to write and present a eulogy has been created by Co-operative Funeralcare in the U.K. This guide, entitled Well Chosen Words, is available for free download in pdf format. This booklet has several sections on preparing a eulogy: gathering your thoughts about the deceased and the anticipated audience; organizing and writing your ideas into a eulogy; and suggestions for eulogy public speaking.

“Eulogies are for everyone. They are a reminder that each of us leads a life of special interest and value, and that each of us is unique, with our own special gifts,” says Andrew Morton, Britain’s Poet Laureate, in the Foreword to Well Chosen Words. “The eulogist’s task is to bring the deceased into the mind’s eye of the congregation – and to let us remember their voice and their manner, to let us share their interests, to let us appreciate their qualities, to let us enjoy their company a moment longer.”

"Eulogies are the most moving kind of speech," writes speechwriter Peggy Noonan, in her book about working for President Ronald Reagan, What I Saw at the Revolution. "It is a challenge to look at a life and organize our thoughts about it and try to explain to ourselves what it meant, and the most moving part is the element of implicit celebration. Most people aren't appreciated enough . . . No one throws ticker tape on the man who chose to be faithful to his wife . .  . All this anonymous heroism. A eulogy gives us a chance to celebrate it."

Tips for Writing a Eulogy  
  • Plan for a presentation of a few minutes.  As a guideline, for a five-minute spoken eulogy, write 500 words.
  • Consider the organizing structure.  Several different approaches to organizing your material when writing a eulogy are suggested in the booklet Well Chosen Words. These are: chronological (from youth to old age); reverse chronological (start with the most recent stage of life); summarizing in three points; or using one inclusive theme.
  • Write for speaking.  Avoid a formal written approach; write as you would speak.
  • Think about using notes only.  Accomplished speakers often use only notes in point form to create a more conversational style. Reading a text verbatim can sound stilted and unnatural. However, reading verbatim can be used effectively for the less experienced public speaker, to overcome nervousness, or to prevent being overwhelmed with emotion. If using a poem or other quotation, read exactly from a text.
  • Practice.  Rehearse what you are going to say. Keep in mind that your audience will be sympathetic. Speak deliberately. Speak slowly. Have a glass of water handy. Breathe deeply.
  • Have a standby.  If you are feeling too nervous or emotional, give your eulogy to someone else to present. That person can be asked beforehand to read it, or at least be ready to step in if needed. (This person could be the funeral celebrant.)

See Also


Amazon.com's Eulogy Bookshelf  Search results of Amazon.com for eulogy.

Amazon.com's Funeral Readings / Poems Bookshelf  Search results of Amazon.com for funeral readings and poems.

Well Chosen Words  An excellent comprehensive free guide on how to write a eulogy, by Co-operative Funeralcare in the U.K.

On Speaking Well: How to Give a Speech With Style, Substance, and Clarity by political speechwriter Peggy Noonan.

Helping Families Deal with Death "Most Satisfying Work" for Funeral Celebrant

Memoir Writing: Ten Tips




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