How to write a memorable eulogy

Being asked to write and read a eulogy to commemorate the life of someone close to you is a very special experience. It’s as much about collecting stories from loved ones and sharing them with attendees as it is paying homage in your own words.

Here are some ways to prepare a memorable eulogy with confidence.

Step 1: Reflecting and story collecting

A eulogy should be a shared experience reflecting on the life of your loved one or family member. Talk to the people who knew your loved one best to build a well-rounded picture of their life. Gather basic facts as well as stories and anecdotes that represent who they were and how they lived. If you’re writing for a family member, take time to reflect on your favourite stories about them or your memories with them.

People often learn things they never knew about someone’s life from a eulogy. It’s an opportunity to hear about them objectively, in the setting of the times they lived in and what made them unique. You can document this however you like, from written notes to audio recordings or a ‘mood board’ with photos, post-its and maps.

A timeline can help you plan the entire speech. Eulogies don’t have to be chronological, but mapping out your loved one’s whole life could help you decide what to include. Key words can also crystallise your thinking. Make a list of emotive words that best describe them – as many words as you can – and then highlight those that seem most fitting. This list can be a helpful prompt if you get stuck writing, and if you are still unsure it’s always worth speaking to friends and relatives to get their opinion.

How long should a eulogy be? A rule of thumb is to keep it under 10 minutes. A eulogy of between 500 and 1,000 written words will take 3.5 to 7.5 minutes to speak.

Step 2: Writing the eulogy

When writing the eulogy, it’s important to know how much time you have to speak. Three in four respondents surveyed for the Circle of Life Survey feel that a funeral should run for no more than an hour. Because of this, it’s important that the eulogy is a snapshot of your loved one’s most memorable and unique moments, rather than a general ‘list’ of their whole life.

Some people prefer to touch on chronological facts, with a personal note at the end. Others base their eulogy on personal anecdotes and stories that capture the loved one’s personality. The choice is up to you. Jokes can be included, but think carefully about how appropriate they are, and always be respectful of those who will be in attendance.

Did you know that 45.6% of respondents to the Circle of Life Survey would like their friends and family to be positive about their death?1

Your eulogy can include things about your loved one such as:

  • Where and when they were born
  • Marriages, children, grandchildren
  • Education, career or military service
  • Any significant events that shaped their life
  • Community or club involvement
  • Standout achievements
  • Sense of humour, political and philosophical views
  • Strong likes or dislikes
  • Interests such as sport, music or art
  • Favourite sayings that illustrate their character
  • How they will be remembered
  • Any special readings or poems that they loved

Eulogies were traditionally formal, but today they are often more light-hearted and conversational. Seasoned eulogy writers recommend using everyday language over formal prose so your audience stays engaged throughout the entire speech.

Step 3: Delivering the eulogy

Once you’re happy with what you’ve written, it’s time to focus on the delivery. Public speaking isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t deliver a memorable eulogy. It’s important to remember that eulogies are very personal and no-one will expect your delivery to be perfect.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare:

  • Write down the eulogy word for word and read from the paper in front of you.
  • Speak from the heart and keep a few top-line notes to stay on track.

If you’re unsure about what to say or if you think a particular topic may be inappropriate, speak to a close family member or friend to get their thoughts. While you are there, practise the eulogy in front of them. It’s all about doing justice to the loved one who has brought everyone together.

Take a breath and relax. This is a difficult time so remember that it’s OK to cry during the eulogy and to express your emotions. This video has useful tips for delivering your eulogy, and may assist with any final preparation.

Do you need help writing a eulogy? Download the free Australian Seniors How to Write a Eulogy template