If you want to say some words at a funeral or memorial (give a eulogy) here are the rules
That’s right – there aren’t any rules.
Anyone can speak and you can say anything you like. Speak about the person who’s died, show a powerpoint and play music and have no words, read poems or a passage from a book. Whatever fits. We particularly like the Quaker style where everyone’s welcome to join in and say something – or not – as the moment takes them.
So, no rules, but here’s some tips.
Focus on the who, what, where, when, why and how of a life: the date and place of birth and where they lived; family and close relationships; work or career, hobbies and interests; achievements; how they lived their life and their values; key milestones in life:
1) jot down notes and memories
2) speak to friends and family for their reflections
3) draft notes
4) share notes with others – add ideas, get the detail right
5) revise – take out the flabby bits
6) practise reading it aloud and time it
When it comes to delivery, even professional public speakers can find it hard because of the emotion of the situation. Just be natural. Speak slowly, breathe naturally. Wobbles are OK. The important thing is that you’re honouring someone. The ‘audience’ will be on your side. Have a back-up plan to hand over to someone else just in case.
Get the support of a professional via websites designed to help create and showcase obituaries. See our directory.
Eulogy, epitaph, obituary…
These are a few key terms associated with speaking, reading or writing words when someone dies.
- ‘eulogy’ literally means ‘good words’ and relates to the words spoken at a funeral or special occasion. Mostly a eulogy will focus on the life, highlights and achievements of the person who has died.
- ‘elegy’ is a poem written as a tribute that might be read or shared at a funeral.
- ‘obituary’ is the tribute usually found in a newspaper, a mini biography recounting life highlights.
- ‘intimation’ is a notice of when the funeral will take place if it is public. This practice is more common in small communities, where the notice might appear in the local store or post office window.
- ‘death notice’ is a notice printed in a newspaper to notify a death.
- ‘epitaph‘ words on your tombstone
None is a legal requirement.
Presenter Craig Ferguson, host of the Late Late Show on US TV, shared eulogies on TV for his parents (see video below). The quality is a bit ropey but these are great examples of how a good eulogy mixes favourite family stories, life highlights, idiosyncracies, humour. Achievements, honours and status are pretty dull compared to stories…life’s little moments, meaningful exchanges, small kindnesses, funny wee ways and warts-and-all humanity. That’s how to paint rich pictures. Humour can work too. The more natural the better. Don’t pretend someone was an angel if they were a bit of a devil. And if you’re delivering a eulogy, it’s OK to cry.
Obituaries and death notices are usually quite short. They can be formal or informal. It’s up to you. You can see samples here. Note that funeral directors can organise this for you as part of the service (and in fact some newspapers may only take obituaries from a funeral director.)
Finally, it goes without saying, if you have glorious words of tribute to pay at someone’s funeral, mentioning them while they’re still alive is much more valuable.