Some basic help and starters when you have to write a tribute to someone you love
By: Jessica Campbell
2 months ago
A eulogy is a speech of remembrance typically given at a funeral or memorial service to pay tribute to someone who has died.
Writing a successful eulogy can be challenging but also enriching, providing a moment to reflect meaningfully on the life and legacy of a beloved family member, friend, or colleague. Drawing on stories and memories, accomplishments, lessons learned, or favorite quotes, the eulogy is an expression of why this person was important and how they’ll be remembered now that they’re gone.
Writing and delivering a eulogy, like writing an obituary, can be challenging. You’ve just lost someone, a dear friend or family member — now you must quickly gather your thoughts, write a speech, and deliver it to a roomful of people. For those not accustomed to writing and giving speeches, there is the additional difficulty of performing a task that is unfamiliar. Or perhaps you are used to giving speeches but didn’t know the deceased well and aren’t sure what to say.
This step-by-step guide has everything you need to know about how to write a eulogy, including how long the eulogy should be, how to research and gather information before you write, what to include in the eulogy, and how to edit and revise your speech. Use this eulogy writing guide to help you craft and deliver a special eulogy that pays tribute to the life and legacy of someone important to you.
A eulogy is usually between 5 and 10 minutes long. As you write your eulogy, aim for about 750-1500 written words (or 1-2 typed pages, single-spaced) — this should be about 5-10 minutes when spoken. Plan to spend at least an hour or two writing and editing the eulogy, plus time to practice speaking. Also set aside additional time for reaching out to family or friends to collect anecdotes or other details to include in the eulogy, as well as gathering your own thoughts.
A eulogy can include anecdotes, accomplishments, favorite quotes — any details that help paint a picture of the personality of the deceased. The eulogy you write might include:
• A brief recounting of their life story
• Insights into their relationships with family and close friends (“He was the best dad a kid could have” “She and her granddaughter were thick as thieves”)
• Career milestones and accomplishments (“She was the first in her family to graduate from college” “He was proud of his work with homeless vets”)
• Achievements related to personal goals, interests, or hobbies (“She was determined not just to run a marathon but to win” “He spent countless hours on his boat, sailing with his trusty first mate — his grandson”)
• Your favorite memories (“I remember the road trip to Kentucky with my grandparents — my grandmother was the navigator which meant she spent most of the drive yelling, ‘You’re going the wrong way!’”)
• Favorite quotes, poems, songs, proverbs and/or religious writings
• Their own words — a catchphrase or mantra, perhaps, or a poem or song they wrote
Keep your audience in mind: most eulogies will be delivered to people of all ages and backgrounds. Any stories, jokes, songs, quotes should be appropriate for a diverse, family audience.
Remember that a eulogy is a tribute, an expression of love, not a "fair and balanced" accounting of a life. A eulogy should highlight a person’s positive qualities — not focus on the negative or try to set the record straight.
Of course, we all have flaws. No one is perfect and it’s OK for eulogies to reflect that. If a defining characteristic of your grandmother was that she was always complaining, feel free to include that in her eulogy (especially if you can temper with something more positive, like “behind the gruff exterior was a woman who loved her family with all her heart.”)
Start by reminiscing about the person you are eulogizing. Think about what made them unique or defined them as a person. These can be big personality traits or small quirky details:
• Did he have a clever catchphrase? Mix a mean martini?
• Was she passionate about opera? Did she have a special love for lizards?
• Was he the life of the party? Or did he prefer to be by himself in the woods?
• Did she persevere to overcome obstacles in her life?
Also think about your relationship with this person:
• When did you first meet him?
• What will you miss most about her?
• What is your favorite memory of him?
• How did she change your life for the better?
As you reminisce, jot down anything that comes to mind.
Next, reach out to other family members, friends, and/or colleagues and ask them to share their memories. They can help to fill in gaps in your memory, confirm key details, or offer a fresh perspective on the life of the deceased. Together, these shared memories will shape your tribute.
Look through your notes and start to group the stories and remembrances you’ve collected. You may begin to see a common thread. Maybe everyone you spoke with recalled her biting sense of humor or mentioned his enthusiastic cheering at basketball games.
Maybe many stories shared are about how she always got the last word, or how he quietly helped behind the scenes. Whatever the common thread, it can be the theme that ties your eulogy together:
If a theme doesn’t stand out, try asking a question. Pose a general question about the person (like “Who was Ozell Hinkle?” or “What did I learn from my grandmother?”) and use the details you’ve gathered to answer it. This can help give structure to your speech.
Remember, while it’s good to get input from others, you don’t need to include every detail and story shared with you. Highlight what you feel is most important to honor the deceased.
Also, there’s no need to make a profound statement about life and death. Your listeners want to hear a loving tribute to someone who was important to them. So, focus on the life and legacy of the deceased and what they meant to you.
Now that you’ve gathered and organized, it’s time to weave these pieces together to create a narrative about this person.
The eulogy is a speech, so write as you would speak. Don’t try to be too formal, and don’t worry about grammar or spelling.
In this first draft, don’t hold back; let it all come out. Just get your thoughts down on paper.
Once you’ve written all you want to say, set the eulogy aside for a little while. It’s a good idea to take a break before you begin editing so you can look at what you’ve written with fresh eyes.
Read your eulogy. Again, don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Does the eulogy make sense? Will listeners understand what you’re trying to say? Does it capture the spirit of your loved one?
Have you said enough? Add any other important details that are missing. Consider including a meaningful quote or poem. Make sure what you want people to know about this person comes through clearly. For example, if you really want people to appreciate what a loving father he was, include examples of the ways he showed his children how much he cared.
Have you said too much? Remove anything negative, confrontational, or otherwise inappropriate for a eulogy. If the eulogy long, look for places where you repeat yourself, make the same point more than once, or include a lot of detailed information. Try combining repetitive sections to reduce the length of the speech.
Take out extra details, especially if they don’t support your main point. Remember you don’t need to tell this person’s entire life story: focus on how and why they were important to you.
Giving a speech is different from reading out loud what you’ve written, so it’s helpful to practice ahead of time. The better rehearsed you are, the easier it will be to deliver the speech when the time comes. You don’t have to memorize your eulogy, but you should know it well enough that you can deliver it without having to read word-for-word.
On the day of the funeral, come prepared with your speech, glasses (if needed), tissues, and a bottle of water.
Be kind to yourself. This may be the most difficult speech you’ll ever give. This may be your first time addressing a large group of people. You may be nervous. You will be emotional.
Let yourself cry if you need to. It’s normal to feel and show emotions, especially at a time like this. You will never have a more sympathetic audience.
Take a deep breath and take your time. Pause if you need to. Speak slowly, clearly, and loud enough to be heard by all. This is your time to say in your own words why this person mattered.
If you feel strongly that you are unable to deliver the eulogy, ask someone else ahead of time to give the speech for you. Giving a speech is challenging enough in the best of times, and some may be too overwhelmed after a loved one’s death to present the eulogy. We all react to the death of a loved one in our own way, says eulogy expert Florence Isaacs, so do what feels most comfortable.
Remember, you don't have to be an expert orator to deliver a eulogy. People want to hear words of remembrance that connect them to other mourners and provide comfort, says Isaacs. You are there to say a few simple words about someone who was important to you and those around you.