How to Write a Eulogy: 3 Tips for Creating a Heartfelt Tribute
When Steve Jobs’ sister Mona Simpson delivered his eulogy she began with herself, explaining her life before she first met her brother at the age of 25. Mona was raised by a single mother and unaware she had any siblings. It was Steve who found her, beginning the role he would play in her life for the next 27 years. Her story told of a brother full of love and compassion, intelligence and humor, as well as some quirks. For instance, “For an innovator, Steve was remarkably loyal. If he loved a shirt, he’d order 10 or 100 of them. In the Palo Alto house, there are probably enough black cotton turtlenecks for everyone in this church.”
Being asked to write a eulogy for a loved one who’s passed away may feel overwhelming. Emotions triggered by the death of someone close can make it hard to think clearly. Yet, those very same emotions can allow us access to the depths of our feelings, making it easier to speak from the heart.
Before You Begin, Forget About ‘Writing’
People who aren’t writers can be anxious when asked to create a eulogy. You don’t need to be a professional writer to move people; a eulogy is simply telling the story of the relationship you had with the person who has died. You are not “writing” a eulogy in as much as sharing your personal story and relationship you had with that person with others.
Remember, everyone attending a funeral has some connection to your loved one, and will be open and receptive to any words you choose to deliver. And, second, remind yourself that there is no right or wrong when it comes to writing and presenting your eulogy. Short or long, emotional or stoic, humorous or heartfelt—if the words, the stories and the memories speak to you, you have succeeded in honoring your loved one.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared. If you aren’t comfortable with writing, and even if you are, add in all of your emotions about the death of your loved one and you can lose the essence of what you really want to convey and in the way you want to express it. Here are some tips to get you started
3 Tips for Preparing a Eulogy
First, Let Your Mind Wander: Chances are your loved one’s death evoked memories, stories and lessons from the past. You may have some favorites that you’ve recounted before, but many special moments may not be so top-of-mind. Give yourself license to reflect, letting your mind wander through your shared history. Jot down notes as things spring to mind and, for now, don’t worry about connecting the dots. Just take time to delve into your journey together and see where it takes you.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- How did you know the deceased and become close?
- Is there a funny story that you always think about when you hear their name?
- What did you love and admire most about the deceased?
- What did you have in common?
- What made them the happiest?
- What will you miss most about him or her?
Second, Find a Common Thread: This is often easier than it sounds, particularly after you’ve completed the previous step. People have strong character traits that are expressed throughout their lives. Weave the common thread throughout your eulogy. Chances are everyone in the room will immediately connect with what you’re saying, and think of their own similar experiences.
Third, Write Your Eulogy. Aim for a length of 5 to 10 minutes.
Start by giving a brief introduction of who you are and what your relationship was to the deceased. Share personal stories and anecdotes about your loved one, along with anything that will help celebrate and honor their life, such as:
- Reading their favorite poem or song lyrics.
- Sharing, for example, the fact that as a Red Sox fan, they swore to loathe the Yankees until their last breath.
- Steve Jobs’ sister shared that in the first few years she knew him and his wife, dinner “was served on the grass, and sometimes consisted of just one vegetable. Lots of that one vegetable. But one. Broccoli. In season. Simply prepared. With just the right, recently snipped, herb.”
If you’re speaking on behalf of others, ask coworkers, friends, and family to share with you their recollections and stories to add to your own.
Don’t be afraid to use humor. The actor Colin Farrell, who had struck up a strong friendship with actress Elizabeth Taylor during the last 18 months of her life, said this in his eulogy to her: their friendship was “a classic case of boy meets girl, and boy pesters girl with too many phone calls at inappropriate hours of the night. I was just lucky enough to become her friend. I adore her… still.”
Once you’ve completed the three steps above, you’ll likely find you have created just the right tribute. Remember, a eulogy is simply telling the story of your relationship with the deceased. “None of us knows for certain how long we’ll be here,” Steve Jobs’ sister Mona wrote in her tribute. “We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.”
A eulogy is telling the story of the person who has died and your role in it. Whatever you say will speak volumes and will live on long after the service. Speak from the heart about your unique relationship and you can’t go wrong.
Carrie Phelps, Sunset Contributor