Live long enough and it’s likely to happen: you will be asked to give a eulogy for someone you love. The immediate reaction is generally one of feeling honored, quickly followed by being gripped with terror. The enormity of the responsibility falls heavily on your shoulders. How can you possibly do justice to a person’s life in a few short minutes? Yet that’s the task assigned to you.
When I attend a funeral, I go with a mindset of learning. Yes, I want to show my respect for the deceased, but I also want to learn from their life. I look for nuggets of truth and wisdom that can be applied to my own life. The words of Pastor Louie Giglio quickly come to mind: “we preach our own funerals.” Isn’t that the truth? The way the individual lived their life has built the eulogy. Your job is merely to use words to reflect what they actually lived.
Here are 10 simple suggestions when you have the honor of eulogizing someone:
1. Find out how much time you’ve been allocated.
2. Determine if yours will be the only eulogy. If others will also be speaking, get their contact information.
3. Think about the person you will be memorializing. Make a list of the character qualities you most appreciated about the individual. Reflect on the difference they made in your life and how they inspired and impacted you.
4. Contact the other speakers. Determine their planned areas of focus and share what you would like to highlight. Try to pick different qualities to emphasize in your respective talks.
5. Pray and ask God to guide and direct you as you write the eulogy.
6. Focus on 3-4 of the individual’s most impactful character qualities. (If you need some prompting, this will help.) If possible, remember a brief story that illustrates each attribute. What really made the person unique and special? How was your life personally inspired and impacted? How did you see others influenced?
Be honest as you describe the person’s best character qualities. We’ve all been to funerals where we’ve wondered “who are they talking about?”
7. If the deceased could give one last message to their friends and associates, what would it be? What lessons can you glean from the way they lived their life?
8. Rehearse and time your message. Record it on your phone and listen. Be respectful of your allocated time and adjust as appropriate. Rehearse again.
9. Instead of relying on a script of the entire talk for delivering your actual eulogy, summarize the major points on an index card. If you’ve practiced in advance, having a few words in an outline will trigger your memory as you speak.
10. On the day of the actual service, breathe deeply. Tuck a tissue or handkerchief in your pocket. Remember why you’re there. It’s not about you. Don’t allow the fear of public speaking distract you from your mission: to appropriately and honorably describe the one who has died. It’s your gift to those who are also grieving and your final gift to the deceased.
And a valuable postscript:
In the days following the service, imagine that you were the one being eulogized. How would you want to be remembered? What character qualities would you want highlighted? What difference would you want to have made with your life? It’s the perfect time for self-assessment and course correction. Remember: it’s never too late for a fresh start!
“Teach us to number our days, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.”