I think an eulogy has to be the most difficult speech to write because there not much time to write one and is often written while in shock or grieving.
I recently attended a memorial service for a Toastmaster friend. He was only 63. A respiratory disease took his life. I watched and listened to many people stand at the lectern and give a eulogy. Some were great. Others haphazard. Some incomplete because the person just fell apart crying and could not continue.
There are lots of resources out there that are handy to refer to when faced with crafting and delivering a eulogy. One of the best I found is Tom Antion’s Instant Eulogy eBook. I acquired this when I was asked to conduct the service and burial of a friend’s mother. He purchased this eBook to0, and found it extremely helpful. It not only provides several examples one can use, it provides lots of information about the entire business of dealing with death (and it is BIG business). For example:
- Planning a funeral
- Your rights as a consumer
- Death Certificates
- Grief Support
- Funeral Planning Resources
- Decision Checklist
- Pre-Funeral Checklist
…and much much more. I sure which I had this eBook when my mother had passed in 1997. I would have been spared a lot of grief like not having enough death certificates on hand.
Here are some tips Tom provides on preparing a eulogy. Any of these topics are appropriate for a eulogy. In fact, I heard each of these spoken by different people at the memorial service I just attended:
• List of accomplishments
• Condensed biography
• Collection of anecdotes/experiences you had with the deceased
• How you are feeling
• Promises and pledges
The “how you are feeling” folks usually broke down and cried. The list of accomplishments and condensed biography were written and read. The anecdotes/experiences were shared from the heart, no notes – as were promises and pledges.
Tom reminds us of what people want to hear about the deceased and what they don’t want to hear:
- What kind of person was s/he
- What drove this person
- What did they accomplish in their lives
- What are they leaving behind
- What will be missed.
People do NOT want to hear about their mistakes or irrelevant information.
The most significant eulogy I gave was in 2001. A colleague at work that I was extremely close to went home one afternoon with a tummy ache and died two weeks later – on Thanksgiving. The office was absolutely devastated. This was a woman who was a major contributor and supporter to nearly everyone. She was also very strong-willed and spoke pretty freely about her opinions on how things should be done. Her absence was keenly and painfully felt by all.
She was the one who twisted my arm to start not just one, but TWO Toastmaster clubs at UCLA. She and I collaborated to create, and deliver, courses at UCLA on Research Administration. While I, probably more than anyone in the office, was most impacted by this sudden an unexpected death, I, more than anyone, was the most appropriate person to deliver a eulogy. So I did. And this is how I did it:
I picked three things from her desk and built the talk around them.
- One item spoke to her stubbornness (a magnet with a statement on it)
- One spoke to her craftiness (A stuffed cat she made.)
- One spoke to her accomplishments (a plaque)
For each I had a story to share. A professor sent me something to read, so I read that under the “accomplishments” category.
Then I practiced. I practiced a lot. I was delivering this in honor of someone I loved dearly, and in front of LOTS of colleagues from work. I wanted it to be right. I delivered it four times to different Toastmaster clubs – and practiced several more times by myself. By time the day arrived I was prepared. The minister asked for sharing. I stood and walked up with my bag of things from her desk, took a deep breath, and did it.
To date it stands as one of the most powerful and meaningful talks I’ve ever given. It was about 20 minutes long. I had the attendees laughing and crying. Linda’s mother came up to me after the service and said, “I will never be able to thank you for what you did for my daughter today.”
I was so glad I did due diligence to that important talk with preparation and practice.
Practice is one of the things Tom tells us we must do. We MUST practice. Even if it is a eulogy that will be read. Read it several times. My lifelong friend – TERRIFIED of public speaking (I could never get her to join Toastmasters) – read what she wrote for her dad’s passing several times before she read it live at the service. I was there. I taped it. She delivered it without crying because she cried it out during her private rehearsals. It was smooth, it was thorough, it was beautiful. I was so very proud of her.
Death, funerals, and memorial services are not welcomed events. The distress of wanting to share but having no idea where to begin can be lessened, even alleviated, with some guidance and practice.
Tom’s eBook offers several sample eulogies and instructs on how combine, mix, tweak them for an effective and meaningful eulogy for anyone – mother, father, sibling, friend or co-worker. He also has many quotes – some somber, some funny – that would be appropriate to incorporate into your eulogy.
I know it’s painful, but take the time to prepare and practice your farewell to the deceased. It is, after all your final farewell.