A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Eulogy

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Writing a eulogy at a time when you're probably already grieving might feel like more than you can handle. But if you can take a deep breath and put your apprehensions aside, you'll find that it can be a profound and satisfying experience -- allowing you to help others celebrate your loved one's life and work through your own grief at the same time. Here's how:

Step One: Gather the raw material.

  • Talk to other close relatives, friends, and acquaintances.
  • Look through photo albums, letters, and other memorabilia.
  • Take a walk through your loved one's house and yard, looking at the books on the shelves and notes and mementos on the fridge or bulletin board.
  • Try to identify your loved one's unique qualities, including:
    • Hobbies, interests, life's passions -- from a favorite author to a secret guilty pleasure. (Obviously, the latter should be something innocuous, like an inability to resist jelly doughnuts.)
    • Special sayings, favorite poems, or songs
    • Characteristic habits or gestures
    • A telling anecdote

Step Two: Write a rough draft.

  • Start with a loose and flexible outline that includes a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion -- with each section serving a distinct purpose. But remember that this draft is just a draft -- you'll refine it later. The most important thing is to start writing and getting the ideas flowing.
  • The introduction should welcome people and introduce yourself, your loved one, and the theme of your eulogy ("My mother found something good in every person she ever met " or "My dad, although a big success in the business world, defined success by the number of friends you have").
  • The body is the main part of your eulogy, where you provide a portrait of your loved one. You shouldn't ramble too much, of course, but you can make this section longer than the other two, less concise. That is, the introduction and conclusion need to be brief and powerful, but in the body you can stretch out a little and use remembrances and anecdotes to remind everyone of what was special about your loved one.
  • The conclusion is your last word, and you want to make it count. You're tying all your themes together, telling a final anecdote or passing along a characteristic quote, and ending with a final farewell.

Keep these do's and don'ts in mind.

  • Show, don't tell.

Instead of telling us that your mother was generous, for example, show us this by relating a story. Include small, telling details that bring your loved one to life; for example, the time your mother offered to change her wedding date to accommodate her best friends' plans or how she stepped up and made all the cookies for the church bake sale.

  • Use humor.

Just be sure it's tasteful and affectionate.

  • Be honest.

Don't hesitate to mention bad times as well as good. If handled judiciously, it can be powerful to tell about a disagreement you had with your loved one, or an error the loved one made, as long as you place the event in the context of a loving tribute.

  • Keep it to a reasonable length.

For your first draft, write everything down to help stimulate memories and ideas. But it's good to have a rough idea of what length the final draft should be -- usually five to eight minutes long (or about three to seven double-spaced typed pages). The length of your eulogy will depend on how many speakers are featured at the ceremony and other practical considerations.

Step Three: Polish it.

  • Let your draft sit for a day or two, if you can, before you begin the revision process, so you can read it with fresh eyes.
  • Edit and revise: Go through your draft as many times as you can to sharpen your themes, trim repetitive material, and cut cliches.
  • To get feedback, show your draft to a trusted friend or family member, if you're comfortable doing so.
  • Practice your presentation. Reading your draft aloud will help you identify repetitions and awkward phrasing.

Connie Matthiessen

Constance (Connie) Matthiessen, senior editor, has worked as a healthcare and environmental journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting and has written for WebMD, Consumer Health Interactive, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, BabyCenter. See full bio

almost 6 years, said...

Too cool ! And a great thought ~ get it done, file it and refurbish if needed "when the time actually comes". lol ! And if I "go" before the others, won't they have a hoot, reading their eulogies in my file ! ! They will know my "loving" thoughts about each of them, , Now, to find the time to actually get this project done ! Love it !

over 6 years, said...

You never think about the departure of a friend, a family member or your parents. But when the time comes, how do you address your feelings to those present, sharing with you that moment? This article is clear, simple, sincere and a guide for those, like myself , who had no idea on how to deliver an eulogy. I had some notion and it was very close to what the article suggested. But it is a confirmation, a helpful and an easy road to follow. Thanks a lot!

over 6 years, said...

For me this article took away the overwhelming-ness of writing a eulogy of where to start, how to "group" beginning, middle and ending in an easy format with suggestions on content. Thank you. I was pleased to read your suggestions on "humor" as I think this is important when done in a tasteful manner, as you indicated.

over 6 years, said...

When writing my mother's eulogy, the best advice I was given was to finish in a positive way: to describe how her passing had left the world a better place.

almost 7 years, said...

very concise, easy to follow, practical help

about 7 years, said...

good article

about 7 years, said...

Instead of writing a eulogy I have made a photo presentation of the lives of everyone in my family, living and dead. My siblings were able to contribute to their life story by helping me with their favorite music, photos, and comments. Most shed a few tears when they see what I have created using Adobe Photoshop Elements and Windows Live Photo Gallery. I have also done several 90th birthday videos which were later used at the person's end of life ceremony. I am 75 so my work is able to be used as the end video, on ones that can be encorporated into later videos (or slide shows) for my children and grandchildren. No member of my family has been left out.

about 7 years, said...

The correct sequence of things to say and when. I liked the ideas in opening, middle and closure. Length is important as is the small little humorus happenings.

about 8 years, said...

This is great advice on how to handle one of the most difficult part of funeral planning. Thanks for sharing!

over 10 years, said...

Ask, too, for input from those family and friends as to what to include if you'll be the only one speaking.