Imagine a wedding where the wedding speeches are made by someone who has never met – or barely knows – the bride and groom.
Wouldn’t that be a shame?
And yet all too often, with a funeral, this is exactly the kind of thing that happens. And people sometimes regret it for years to come. “I wish I’d stood up and said something,” they say.
Of course, in a way it’s perfectly understandable. The time between a person’s passing and the funeral is naturally a sad and emotional one for those left behind. And because many people are at first daunted by the idea of delivering a eulogy, it’s all too easy to leave it to someone else.
And yet the reality is that it doesn’t have to be that way. As well as being a great honor, and an opportunity to do something good for everyone who will be there, giving the eulogy is almost guaranteed to be a positive and moving experience for the person who steps up for the task. And, with the right approach and support, it can actually be pretty straightforward. In all my years of experience, I have never met anyone who regretted giving a eulogy.
So if you’re at all considering it, take heart, be bold, and go ahead.
And here are the six steps you can follow to make the process easier and even more rewarding for you, for all your own special reasons.
Step 1 – Take A Moment for Yourself
At a time like this, it pays to take a little time for yourself, so you can reflect for a while and connect with your memories of this special person. Remind yourself of the very good reasons you are doing this, and also bear in mind the truth, which is that people who hear your speech will be extremely supportive, and will actually be grateful to you for doing it.
Step 2 – Decide What Kind of Eulogy
There are two kinds of eulogy – the short biography, and the personal view. You simply need to choose the right one for you.
The short biography considers someone’s life as a whole. That doesn’t mean it covers everything, rather that you start at the beginning – when and where they were born, etc. – and mention the various parts of their life, up until their last days. This way you touch on the different aspects of their life, plus it can also be a very personal approach, especially when you include happy stories and memories.
The personal view is more like a slice of the person’s life, a series of snapshots. It can be purely your own experiences, stories and impressions of their character, or you can include other people’s memories too. This is very poignant, especially if you write as if you are talking directly to the person who has gone, e.g. “I’ll always remember the time when you…”
Some funerals have both kinds of eulogy – a short biography from a family member, plus a personal view from a colleague or friend, for example.
Step 3 – Collect Your Building Blocks
What if you could imagine floating up in a balloon, and looking down on someone’s life as a sequence of photographs laid out below you?
This step is simply collecting those photos. You can rely on your own memories and knowledge, or ask others for their input. You might ask about their most precious memories, or things they remember that really show the person’s character. And you can also gather facts on the person’s childhood, family, career, pastimes, passions, dreams, best ever holidays, etc.
Bear in mind that humor is a good thing. Yes, funerals are sad, but this person also had happy and funny times in their life, and telling stories of these can be a great way to really bring their memory to life. And you’ll be giving people the healing gift of laughter.
Step 4 – Bring Your Building Blocks Together
Every eulogy has an opening, a middle and a closing.
For the opening you might simply welcome people and acknowledge the sadness of the day. For the closing you can sum up the person’s character, say how much they’ll be missed, thank those who have helped, and perhaps invite people back somewhere.
As for the middle, that’s where your building blocks come in. If you want to keep your speech to about five minutes, you may need to discard some of them – trust your own best judgement on this.
Step 5 – Rehearse and Refine
Once you’ve drafted out your speech, read it aloud a few times, because this way you’ll naturally notice improvements you can make.
You can also borrow a wonderful technique which Olympic athletes use to calm their nerves. What they do is, they make a movie of themselves running the race, with everything going well (see yourself giving the eulogy, with everything going well). And once they’re happy with the movie, they step inside and run it again, looking out through their own eyes, hearing through their own ears, and feeling how good it feels to have everything going well like this.
Muhammad Ali did this many times for every boxing match he ever had, which is one reason his predictions so often came true. And you can use the same approach to make sure you deliver this eulogy really well too.
Step 6 – Delivering the Eulogy
This is a time to make things easy for yourself. If you can, find out beforehand about the room layout, the lectern, the microphone, how many people will be there, etc. The more you know the more confident you will feel. Also, if you had any concern about being too emotional, ask someone to stand by as your back-up person for reading the eulogy, as this will again boost your confidence.
Then, for the day, print the eulogy out double spaced so that it’s easy for you to keep your place, take two copies of it just in case, and carry a small bottle of water so you can keep your mouth moist before and during your speech.
My friend, when you follow these six simple steps, you will be doing a great service in three ways:
1. To the special person who has gone, by honoring their memory
2. To the people who hear you, by giving them the gifts of sharing, of fondly remembering, and of healing
3. To yourself, by giving yourself the chance to do something special, to heal yourself at an even deeper level, and to know you have made a difference
And as you look at it like this, I wonder how easily you can now see what a wonderful thing it is to take the next steps, to give the eulogy, to share the memories and stories, and to bring some love and laughter at a time of sorrow and loss.
Kevin Burch is a Professional Funeral Presider and author of the eulogy guide ‘A Eulogy to Remember.