How to write a heartfelt eulogy
Write down things that are important to you and others about the person and stories that stick with you.
Pay attention to the things that people come back to about your loved one, or that make them smile.
Ask yourself a broad question about them as a way in, like "How have they influenced me the most?"
The best funeral speeches present a complex picture of a real person, not empty words about how wonderful they were.
Writing a eulogy is not an easy task, coming as it usually does while you are still grieving your loved one’s passing—but it can be a healing one. Among all the logistical and legal details of these first few days, composing the eulogy is a chance to let your emotions out. It can be an outlet to express yourself, as well as a way to invite others to join in your grieving process.
When you start trying to capture all your important memories of your loved one, it might feel immediately overwhelming. There may be too many things you want to say, or maybe you have no idea where to start. Questions about length, time, and what to include can feel like an added burden on top of your loss.
We hope to answer some of those questions, to help you focus on giving your loved one the eulogy they deserve.
How to start
No matter what you’re writing, a blank page is always intimidating; it’s even more daunting when it comes to expressing your love of, admiration for, and memories of a loved one.
Start by listing some qualities and memories of your loved one. You’ve probably already been reflecting on these with family and friends, but it’s important to start putting pen to paper.
No detail is too small. Write it all down. One seemingly minor detail might lead to a big idea or help you come up with an arc or theme for the speech.
As you continue to talk to people about him or her, keep your list growing. Note down how others reflect on your loved one’s life. Do people smile or even giggle at certain memories? Are they focusing on specific ways the person made a difference to them? Pay attention to what you are learning during this time and how much they were loved by the people in their life.
This part of the process will likely bring up many emotions for you—many good ones, but possibly some challenging ones as well. Try not to throw up walls and resist new or unfamiliar perspectives on your loved one; if you let them in, they will provide a richer understanding of the person.
Choosing what to include
How do you start off a eulogy? As you go over your list of memories, look for stories that paint a complex picture. People are not perfect, and we all know that, so a eulogy that’s full of loving platitudes and the expected ways we talk about those who have passed will often feel empty and fall flat.
To give a fitting tribute and help those who are grieving along with you, it is much better to weave in humorous stories and concrete ways the person left an imprint on the lives of friends and family. Include moments that illustrate their personality, like experiences with their favorite people, places, music, food, movies, hobbies. As you start to assemble these, you’ll probably notice a theme start to develop.
If you’re still struggling to find a way in, ask yourself a broad question about your loved one: “Who was she, deep down?” or “How has he influenced me the most?” Once you answer it, look for details that illustrate this theme, These could be literal examples of how you saw this as a central element of their life. Or it could be metaphorical, such as using their love of gardening to represent how they took care of the world.
It can also be helpful to look for a passage, quote, or song lyric to add to the beginning of your eulogy as a way to frame the rest of the speech.
No matter how you approach it, memories of and stories about your loved one should be at the center. They should be woven together to paint a picture of the person, allowing the funeral guests an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences with them.
No one expects you to be an oratory expert or award-winning writer.
It’s important to keep in mind why you’re delivering this eulogy: to remember who the person was in life. Your speech should always be kind and respectful. You can and should portray your loved one as a real human being, with the same strengths and flaws we all have, but this is not the moment to reflect on unresolved issues or reckon with complicated relationships. You want to show the person as complex, but not dwell on complex family dynamics.
Also, remind yourself that it’s not your duty to make sense of the loss or to try to make the funeral attendees “feel better.” It might be tempting, but it may end up making them feel worse instead. People in grief often do not want to hear about silver linings—and that is not the purpose of this speech. Focus on the emotions you want to get across. Your honesty around your own grief is enough to invite others to work through theirs.
What does a good eulogy look like?
It is personal, specific, and it elicits emotion—anything from laughter to tears. There is no set way to structure your eulogy, and no one-size-fits-all answer as to length. However, there are some best practices you can keep in mind as you write, edit, and re-read your work.
Keep the language conversational and clear; avoid complicating an already difficult moment by attempting to sound poetic or “deep.” It can also be helpful to identify moments to pause in the speech, whether for laughter or tears. These can be your touchstones, a place to regroup when delivering the eulogy.
Make sure you have included the most important moments and people in the person’s life. Some key points could be: close family, nicknames, how they met their spouse or partner, career milestones, and passion-driven triumphs. If you’ve included any passages or quotes, they should tie thematically into the point your stories are making.
While you write and edit, it can be useful to remember that people’s attention spans, even at funerals, can be short. A good rule of thumb is to keep the speech between 8 and 12 minutes.
Preparing to deliver the eulogy
There’s no shame in feeling nervous or apprehensive about speaking in front of friends, family, and community, especially about something as sensitive as grief and personal loss. To ease some of the anxiety, consider the following:
Share the eulogy with someone you trust. Ask them to let you know if they can follow the arc of the stories you’ve included, or if you lost their attention at any point. Just by sharing, you might discover passages that you may want to shorten or clarify.
Read it aloud. Read it aloud again. Practice makes perfect, so the more you read your speech out loud, the more comfortable you’ll be giving it to a room full of people.
While you’re practicing, make sure to speak slowly and clearly. Time yourself and try to hit a similar count every time, so that you know you are speaking evenly.
Practice looking up at the audience during the speech. You can even mark places on your paper where looking at them would make sense, as a reminder to yourself.
Print your eulogy out in a font you can easily read from a podium, and make sure to have tissues and water handy.
A eulogy is, first and foremost, a heartfelt moment to reflect on your loved one. Take some of the pressure off by remembering that no one expects you to be an oratory expert or award-winning writer. Allow yourself to falter or cry, and do not feel the need to apologize if those things happen. If you deliver a message of remembrance and love that comes from the heart, your eulogy will help ease your own grief, as well as that of those who have come to share in it.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
Choosing a funeral officiant
When it comes to memorializing your loved one, the person who officiates the ceremony is front and center. How do you choose the right person for this important role?5 min read
Choosing the elements of the funeral service
There is no set way to hold a funeral. Some considerations you may have are whether it will be religious or secular, who will officiate, whether multiple people will speak or just one, and what the overall tone of the service should be.4 min read
Writing an obituary that honors your loved one
Writing an obituary for a loved one can be a difficult task, but there are tips you can follow to ensure you are respectfully memorializing them and celebrating their life.8 min read