Q. An old friend of mine has died, and I’ve been asked to give a eulogy at the funeral service. I’m very nervous about it because I’ve never done this before. I’m afraid I’ll sound boring or trite. Can you give me some tips so I don’t make a fool of myself?
A. Today it’s rare to attend a funeral without at least one eulogy, and sometimes many people speak. We seem to need formal, thoughtful words to make sense of the death and give us closure in this era of impersonal technology, rushed lives and families far away. Try to relax and realize that no one expects you to be a great orator. A eulogy is a tribute to the deceased, one that should say what you feel in your heart. Make it true to you and true to your friend. Fortunately, you knew the deceased well and have plenty of material. You just may not know it yet.
First, understand that brevity is a virtue. It’s fine to speak for no more than five to seven minutes. Also avoid listing the steps in your relationship chronologically, as in, “I first met Jim when we were in second grade. Then we went to camp together, and then…” This format is usually very boring. So is a chronological resume of the deceased’s career history.
A eulogy can be easier to write if the person is a hero or heroine or a publicly known pillar of the community. However, that usually isn’t the case. You can still find the right words, if you sit down with paper and pen in your favorite chair. Get comfortable, then jot down the person’s unique qualities, stream of consciousness. Maybe he had a great singing voice (or a terrible one—then you can use humor). Perhaps he had tragedy in his life—or loved to tell jokes. When my own father died, I spoke of his simplicity and the ordinary life he led. Yet he had dreams and he taught me to dream, too. I eulogized, “Every year he bought an Irish Sweepstakes ticket and told me, ‘This time I’m going to win.’” I tried to capture the essence of the man, and you should, too.
If you aren’t the only one who will give a eulogy, talk about your personal memories of your friend. Because they’re yours alone, they will ensure you don’t wind up saying the same thing as someone else.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
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