How to write a eulogy

A eulogy is the key component in a funeral service.  It’s the part of the ceremony that tells the life story of the person who has died.  If well written, a eulogy will draw in the people who were closest to that person, who were important in their life.  If you need to create a tribute to someone you love, here are a few hints and tips on how to write a eulogy to help you make it great.

What is a Eulogy?

A eulogy is a tribute to or celebration of someone’s life.  It is the story of what they have achieved, what they enjoyed in their life, those they loved, and what they are remembered for.  The word eulogy itself derives from two Greek words ‘eu’ meaning good, and ‘logos’ meaning speech*.  Thus, the word ‘eulogy’ literally means a speech in praise of someone.  Other names for a eulogy are Tribute, or perhaps simply Memories of…

What does a eulogy include?

A eulogy is the story of someone’s life.  Especially when someone has lived a long life, it can be daunting to think about what to put in a eulogy.  Here are some ideas:

  • Biographical details such as dates and places of birth, where the person lived, where they went to school, names of family members, where they worked and what jobs they did
  • What the person enjoyed doing – hobbies, interests, how they spent time with their family or friends, what they enjoyed doing together.  Where did they go on holidays?  What were they good at? What did they love (or hate!)?
  • How their story blended with those who were important to them.  For example, how did they meet their partner?  What were they like as a Mum or Dad, Grandma or Grandad, brother or sister, friend or neighbour?  What do their colleagues think about them?
  • How are they remembered?  What do those they loved want to pay tribute to?  What are their best memories of that person?
  • What is the person’s legacy?  Did they help others?  Teach others?  How have other people’s lives been made better by knowing this person?

Don’t worry, it’s not necessary to include all of these things!  These are just some suggestions to give you an idea of where to start.  A really good eulogy gives a good sense of the person.  It is so much more than just a list of dry biographical details.

How to Write a Eulogy

To write the eulogy, you need to gather together all the information you have about the person.  This might be your own memories or thoughts, notes the person themselves has left, remembrances or stories told to you by other friends or family members, or maybe even information from documents such as birth or marriage certificates, school reports, cards or letters.  You then need to bring all of this information together to build a picture of the person who has died. 

writing a eulogy

Try to talk to (or at least get contributions from) a range of people who knew the person differently – a relationship with a parent can be very different from a relationship with a grandparent, for example.  Similarly friends or work colleagues may see a person differently to how the family sees them.

Next, it’s helpful to identify themes in the person’s life by grouping stories together.  Although it may not seem logical at first, it’s actually much easier to write a eulogy thematically rather than chronologically.  That’s because if you start the story with when someone was born, you’ll have to end with them dying.  Instead, avoid a negative ending: make your last sentence something that will make people smile.

Things to consider

Don’t worry if you don’t have time to tell all the stories in detail.  You can summarise them, or even just refer to them if lots of the mourners will be familiar with a particular tale.  Something like: “Driving was never John’s strong point.  His children remember endless journeys going round in circles on the way to holidays, or missing the junction on the motorway.  And then there was the time when he ran over his friend in the golf buggy…”.  In this example, you can also see how a thematic approach frees you from the constraints of chronology.

Finally, once you’ve written the eulogy, make sure you read it aloud, several times.  We write in a different way to how we speak and you might find that you have made things too formal.  You need to be comfortable reading this.  It needs to sound natural in speech, so don’t be afraid to change things and make them more relaxed if it sounds a bit stiff.  You are telling a story

Top Tips for writing a eulogy

So, in summary, my top tips for writing a eulogy are:

  • Gather information from lots of different people, people who had different relationships with the person who has died
  • Use funny stories, anecdotes, sayings and family folklore alongside biographical details.  It’s OK to make people laugh
  • Avoid a dry list of facts and figures (e.g. dates and places).  Mix the biography up with personality
  • Don’t start with ‘He (or she) was born…’
  • Tell the story thematically, don’t be tied to chronology
  • Finish on something that will make everyone smile, or on a piece of genuine praise
  • Read the eulogy aloud to make sure it tells well as a story

How I Can Help

If you’d put together a eulogy for someone you love, but you don’t feel confident in writing it yourself, I can do that for you.  I’ll need to interview you (and maybe other family and friends), either in person, or over Skype or the telephone.  I’ll then write a eulogy for your approval, we’ll work together to make it sound right for you, then you can deliver it on the day with confidence.  Please contact me for further details.

*Definition of ‘eulogy’ given in the Merriam-Webster dictionary

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