The best place to probably start is with your own relationship and memories of the person who has died. You can’t speak for everyone at the funeral or memorial, so share your own experiences. How did you meet and what brought you close? Have you got a good memory of the person you can share? What did you admire about them and what will you miss?
Talk to those that also knew the person, from all the different aspects of their life such as family, work, recreation and hobbies. Gather information about how they influenced and made an impact on other people’s lives. You may need to check facts and dates and you can also ask for their memories and reminisces. Whilst you want to dwell on what made the person special and their positive attributes, no-one is a saint and you can be honest, whilst remaining sensitive to the occasion.
Create a system that will allow you to add or discard information as you develop your eulogy. You will need to create a beginning, middle and end and decide whether you begin with the person’s childhood through to their recent life or begin with the present and work backwards to their childhood. Beginning – you could start with a story about the person that you feel particularly sums them up or some childhood anecdote. Middle – this is the main part of the eulogy and usually covers the life history of the person, including achievements and highlights of their life – their work, family and friends. End – you may want to finish with a quotation or special piece of music and explain why you have chosen it, or you may have a recent story about the person who has died which you feel sums up a good quality about them.
A eulogy should not be longer than ten minutes and most last between three and five minutes. They should be given in an informal, conversational way. You don’t have to start writing at the beginning, it is probably easiest to start where you first met or knew the person, and add to it as you develop your story. Most people appreciate some sort of amusing anecdote or like to be reminded of a funny saying that the deceased might have been known for. It helps lighten the mood and laughter gives the audience an outlet for their emotions. It is preferable to deliver the speech without reading it word for word, using notes but if you feel more comfortable reading the speech, then write it as you would speak, in a conversational style.
Read out your eulogy to yourself several times and then try it out on family or friends. They may want to make some changes or suggest additional material. It will also help you cope with the emotions on the day, if you are already familiar with the words.
There is a great sense of support and empathy for the eulogy giver. People understand that it is a very difficult task and appreciate the enormity of delivering it (and are probably grateful that it is not them standing up there giving it!). Essentially you are building a final picture of the person who has died, which the audience can share together and take away as a good final memory. It is usual to stand up when delivering a eulogy. Try to stand still and speak slowly and calmly, to give yourself time to choose your words and the audience the time to take in what you are saying. If you become overwhelmed and emotional, then your audience will be sympathetic. Many will be in tears themselves. Take a pause and a few deep breaths before carrying on. It may be helpful to have someone designated to take over from you if you find yourself unable to carry on, such as a close friend or the funeral conductor. A couple of times lately at funerals I have been to there has been a round of applause at the end of a particularly eloquent eulogy, which I think is a wonderful show of solidarity with the eulogy giver as well as almost giving a three cheers for the memory of the person who has died.
It is a nice gesture to make copies available to anybody who was unable to attend the funeral, or for people who were particularly moved by the eulogy.