Writing a Eulogy

Who wants to write a eulogy? Probably no one. Eulogies are written when someone dies. Writing one yourself, means someone close to you has recently died. If you are reading this and grieving loss while mustering up the words for a eulogy, I hope you find help here. This is no easy task in such a time. Expressing what your loved ones life meant to you in the midst of such anguish feels impossible, yet necessary too.

I wanted to take on this task when my father died. Really, really wanted to. I write and it seemed a tailor made task for me. And, if you are reading this as you work through writing a eulogy yourself, you understand. Along with grief comes an intense desire to honor the person who died, especially if it was a good, close relationship.

When we knew my dad was dying I tried to start writing. I’d just spent quite a few months with writers honing my raw writing self, but I found myself pioneering new territory. The words wouldn’t come.

A eulogy. For my father. It was a huge, daunting task with a very definite due date.

So, I did what you do these days when you don’t know what to do. I googled “how to write a eulogy.” The people of the world were not super helpful. I noted to myself, there’s not much out there on writing a eulogy. Make it a blog post when you get through it yourself.

 Here it is, a year later. My thoughts on eulogies. This one’s a long one, folks. Grab tea, or coffee, or water… or something. I have stuff to stay about this topic!

What a eulogy is not…

A resume. Though it is appropriate for workplace friends to talk about work, a eulogy is the time when you talk about your relationship with your friend in the workplace. While talking about their accomplishments, make sure you think about what made this person unique. What did they personally add to their field?

A toast. Toasts are for weddings, graduations, and birthdays when everyone is holding a drink in hand. Honestly, a eulogy is like a toast in some ways, but toasts look forward in time and they are directed to one person. A eulogy is for the person giving it and for those mourning. It’s purpose is to honor the person’s life like a toast, but the audience and occasion is different. The purpose is to remember. To miss them together.

A comedy routine. Grief is uncomfortable. It is difficult to deal with and it’s easy to grasp for laughter to avoid feeling the deep pain of loss. I sure did and even while I was laughing about somewhat inappropriate things around the time of my dad’s death, I knew I was “off.” Grief does that and it probably helps observers to know grief does this so they don’t think the grieving are really off their rockers. Well, maybe they are for a time. Anyway, while humor can be an important part of eulogy writing, I feel it cannot be the only part. There must be substance. The humor must go along with the theme in some way.

Dishonest. Sadly, not everyone who dies is missed. I am so thankful that I had so much good to draw from when I wrote my dad’s eulogy. Not everyone has that experience. Those eulogies are the hardest to write and I have not written one. If you cannot give an honest yet tactful eulogy, I advise you pass on trying to give one at all.

What a eulogy is…

Personal. As I wrote my dad’s eulogy, I clung to this word. To write his eulogy successfully, I wanted it to be personal. It was about my dad in our family. And, it was my perspective on his life and our life as a family. No one else that gave a eulogy that day had this perspective. Others gave eulogies about other public aspects of my dad’s life. Only someone from our family could give a eulogy on dad at home. I began thinking about my dad as a father, husband, and grandfather.

Graciously Honest. After I gave my dad’s eulogy, some asked my mom and I if certain parts of my dad’s eulogy were really true. Yes, it was all true. What they were asking about were probably the parts about my dad’s life before he trusted Christ around age 37. My dad was no saint and he wanted people to know how his life changed because of Christ. He told countless people while he was alive. And, he was all for more knowing after he died too.

Around the time my dad died, two families we know lost teenage sons. One to a risky behavior gone awry. Another to suicide. This year a student I work with had 3 friends die from drug overdoses. These are hard things to be honest about in eulogies. One friend from my teenage years died of apparent suicide. I always appreciated what our pastor shared about suicide during his service. Since this was not my experience, I do not know what to say except that an honest, compassionate dealing with reality honors the life of the person who died. It could also stand in the path of death for others.

Purposeful. I knew the biggest impact his life could make before the grave and after, was his faith in Christ passed on to others. My dad was not born Christian. No one is born perfect, all need rescuing from our imperfection. Christ rescued him and he always, always wanted everyone to know. I knew he wanted others to know the God who saves. How can they know God saves if all that is portrayed is a saint? What perfect person needs saving? My dad was no saint and I wanted friends and coworkers to know. My father’s faith in Christ formed the core of most of what I shared in my dad’s eulogy.

If the person you are eulogizing lived their life for a noble cause, you honor them by bringing others into their motivation and purpose. That legacy lives beyond the grave because it flashes in the lives of us left to live for a purpose greater than ourselves as well.

Engaging. I said earlier that eulogies should not be comedy routines. Hopefully, this will not seem contradictory. If there is something you can laugh with your close friends and family about and that would have sparked laughter in your loved one as well, by all means, use it.

Death is sorrowful, yet their lives were not lived only in sorrow. Remember the bright times, the good times in your eulogy. Mourning is remembering and grieving together. We grieve well when we grieve it all, the good and the bad together. So don’t be afraid to laugh and make others laugh with you. Just be very careful with humor. Which brings me to my next point.

Edited. What I mean is that you write every word of your eulogy down, read it out loud, and ask for criticism. Because I mentioned our family in my eulogy, I asked my brother and my mother to read it beforehand. I was prepared to take out anything they were not comfortable with sharing. I read my printed out eulogy during the memorial service and did not stray much from the printed word. I didn’t trust myself in such an emotional time, and I didn’t want to say anything I hadn’t vetted with family.

Timely. If the family asks for a short eulogy, give them what they want. While the service is about their friends, family takes precedence. Don’t dishonor the family’s wishes because you really think you need to share more than what was asked of you. Write down the long version and give it to the family. Give the timely one at the memorial service.

To do this, you must read it through out loud and time yourself. And, you must make every word and anecdote count. This is where editing is of the utmost important. Writing a short, full eulogy is difficult. Hone in on your purpose, save the long version, and start editing ruthlessly for the public version.

The eulogy I wrote for my dad now sits on a shelf in my desk along with a few other things from his memorial service. My 6 year old drew a dinosaur on the back of it during the rest of the service. Dad would’ve gotten a kick out of that picture.

All my efforts to prepare before my dad passed away failed. It was written in the silence between his death and the memorial service. That was the time ordained and it helped me grieve.

Hopefully, you will not have the occasion to give a eulogy, but odds are, you will at some point in your life. The odds increase the closer the relationships you build in your life. As difficult as it is, it means you enjoyed a gift from God in the person you lost.

In the fog and stress of grief, I hope these words help you write your words honoring the gift of God in your life.

Please comment below with anything helpful that I have left out.