How to Write a Eulogy
Writing and delivering a eulogy is one of the few opportunities we have in life
to stand up and tell people what someone has meant to us. Sometimes we say these
things to each other privately, but most of us would agree that if we do it all,
we don't do it often enough. Here are some tips which I put together to help you
Importance of a Eulogy
A eulogy is a public tribute. It's a chance to explore why this person's life made
a difference in the world. You will accomplish that simply by summing up why he
or she made a difference to you.
When we attend a memorial service, we share with others the experience of paying
our respects, honoring someone's life, and saying goodbye. The thoughts and feelings
you convey in your eulogy will bring this individual's memory to life. And in those
stories you recount, those anecdotes which characterize this individual, you will
help that person's memory live on in the hearts of everyone present.
Tips for Writing a Eulogy
- Keep it simple. You don't need to include every detail about someone's life, so
try to stay focused on a few main points. List the first qualities about this person
that come to mind-kindness, humor, loved animals. Think about what this person enjoyed
most during his or her life-music, fishing, tennis. Jot down key words.
- Don't worry about the language, just write down what you're thinking, exactly the
way you would say it. You might even want to use a tape recorder to get the thoughts
flowing more easily.
- Try to imagine yourself sitting across from your best friend and telling him or
her why this person was important to you.
- Think about how this person's life made a difference to you. Since mine was about
my father, I came from the perspective of what he meant to me as a daughter, but
ultimately it got me thinking beyond our relationship and about other contributions
- Think about the most memorable things this person did or said, conversations you
had, lessons you learned, things you did together, why your life was different/better
for having known this person.
- Ask friends and family for stories and write them down.
- Write long hand and let your mind wander.
- You want to get your thoughts and feelings onto the page in whatever shape they
take: words, phrases, parts of a story. Don't worry about what it sounds like, or
if it seems silly or unimportant, sometimes an important thought is just around
the corner and you may need to loosen up your thoughts to really hit on some event
or little phrase that will capture the essence of this person.
- Take all this information and craft a beginning (when you first met, the early days),
middle (things you did together, funny experiences) and ending which summarizes
everything you've talked about (what you'll remember most about this person, what
- You might want to think about ending with a favorite quotation or saying.
Tips for Delivering the Eulogy
- Practice reading what you've written a few times just to get comfortable with how
it sounds. You may decide to add or subtract a few lines after hearing it out loud.
- Make sure the final document is easy to read. Pick a type face that you're comfortable
with and print it out in large, double-spaced type.
- Take a drink of water before you start and bring some tissues up there with you.
- You don't have to look at anyone. You don't have to look up at all if staying focused
on the page helps you to concentrate.
- Keep in mind your emotional state and just speak from the heart. Don't worry if
you break down.
- Everyone out there is proud of you for just attempting to do this.
- Take a deep breath and take you're time. You're going to do just fine.
Why You'll Be Glad You Did It
The act of writing everything down really helped me to say goodbye to my father.
It was difficult to recount happy times and think about how much I'm going to miss
him, but in the end it was a kind of catharsis to remember how much joy we shared
together. Every time I remembered something funny he said, or something that was
quintessential "my dad", I wrote it down. As difficult as it was to stand up and
speak on the day his funeral, I'm glad I did it. I felt like he was there listening,
like he was laughing in all the right places and crying along with the rest of us.
It brought him back to me, whole and healthy, on that very important day.
Writing also helped me to organize my thoughts. It was a tool which has helped me
deal with my grief. So even if you cry and break down in the middle of your delivery,
whether you finish or not, the important thing is the effort. Remember, everyone
attending the funeral is there to support you.
If, when the day comes, you don't feel up to delivering the eulogy, don't worry
about it - you've still helped to heal yourself by the act of writing down your
feelings. The very process of thinking through this person's life and it's impact
on you has already illuminated important issues which will help you get through
the grieving process. Even if you're not up to speaking on the day of the service,
you may want to have someone else read what you've written, or you may only want
to cherish the words you've put down which sum up how much this person's life meant
to you. Either way, you'll be glad you put your feelings into words.
A Few Samples
"Eulogy for my Dad"
February 9, 1999
We spend a lot of time in life looking for our purpose, our reason for being here.
We hope at the end of our lives we'll come to know that purpose and have the chance
to make some contribution about which we can say with pride . . . this really mattered
to me and I did it well. My father was one of the lucky ones. As a psychiatrist,
he found his purpose in being to talk with people and help them work through their
problems, a process which enabled them to change their lives for the better . .
. and that gift came to define his life.
One patient wrote to us during my father's illness . . . "He had a tremendous love
for helping others and his dedication to our work together has had long lasting
effects and continues to help me to this day to meet new challenges . . . I think
of him with admiration for his talent and I am very grateful for the life he helped
me to find . . . " That letter would have made him very proud.
He believed in the power of emotion . . . he knew that if we explore our feelings
we can be inspired to grow and to heal. This gave him a great appreciation for all
kinds of creative expressions of emotion. He collected artwork, he went to the theater,
he listened to all kinds of music, he loved comedy - in his CD collection he had
everything from Mozart to Mel Brooks. He always wanted to see and feel the beauty
or the sorrow or the love. He always wanted to be challenged, to be moved.
And it became his life's work to challenge and guide others in their efforts to
achieve a more peaceful mind . . . With compassion and empathy, that included friends
and family . . . If you were upset or frustrated about some problem . . . and you
needed to talk - he was there. My brother and sister might agree that after my father
had listened to people in his office all day, sometimes it was difficult to get
him to him to stop talking, but we knew that was his way of trying to help.
We used to joke about that a lot, that when given the opportunity - he loved to
talk . . . about his life, your life, about politics, about what was going on in
the world. He was always interested in what was going on around him and driven to
take action - so he would offer advice, write to editors of newspapers . . . become
involved, try to make a difference where he could. And certainly to enjoy himself
whenever he could . . . So he took up gardening, he started a wine cellar, played
tennis, taught his kids how to play ping pong and bought a canoe so he could spend
weekends paddling around Lake Tiarati with my mother.
Even though he had a sense of adventure for trying new things, there was one word
I heard a lot growing up . . . "prudent", and what we were planning to do either
was or was not "prudent". The trick we learned was that you never wanted to be on
the wrong side of what dad thought was prudent . . . Ultimately, my father was a
cautious man with an adventurous side so his credo to his children was summed up
in his words to me when I graduated from college . . . be happy, prosper but whatever
you do, don't let your health insurance lapse. Do that and all will be well, but
most importantly do what you love . . .
My mother has told us it's a good thing my father loved what he did and had the
opportunity to do it . . . because apparently as a college student he didn't make
it through many of his less than inspiring summer jobs . . . For example, one summer
he worked in a post office and the supervisor discovered that to heighten the challenge
of sorting mail, my father had taken to doing it blindfolded . . . so that job didn't
last too long. He always had his own way of doing things. And fortunately, for him
and for us . . . he realized early on that it was best for him to simply work for
himself. With that goal in mind, he worked his way through medical school.
Becoming a doctor gave him the independence and the resources to indulge in one
thing he really loved to do - to travel and to share those trips with his family.
While my sister and brother and I were children, we traveled through Europe, the
Middle East, and the Caribbean . . . and that instilled in all of us a sense of
curiosity about the world and a desire to explore it. I have pictures of my father
and mother in Egypt riding up to the pyramids on camels, sitting in the stadium
of a bullfighting ring in Portugal and standing on the deck of the Leonardo de Vinci
as she left New York harbor bound for Italy.
Many of those trips were cruises . . . he really liked travelling by boat and being
out in the middle of the ocean. As a young physician, he took a job as a ship's
doctor so he could travel and get paid at the same time. It was the perfect opportunity
. . . the only thing missing . . . was my mother. Forty years ago when they started
dating he wrote to her from the deck of the Santa Paula on his way to Cuba . . .
where they would later take their first trip as a married couple. He was 28 years
"We're a few days out of New York, the sea is calm - turquoise blue with shimmering,
sunlit white caps trailing along in the ship's wake. The breeze is cool and strong,
the sun is hot and the sky is a clear bright blue and faint purple - I wish you
were here. It's good sometimes to have reason to put your feelings on paper. Makes
you more aware of their depth, as you search for the words to express them. I've
always enjoyed feeling the breeze in my face - being able to look and look and all
you can see is where the sun meets the sky. And so you think of the heights to the
sky and the depth of the ocean and you compare its magnitude with you and your life
and those around you - especially at night - you almost get the feelings of the
poets . . . "
He made a successful career out of putting things in their proper perspective and
as I look back over his life and his accomplishments I know I'm grateful to have
had him as a father. And we're all proud to be able to say about him and his life's
work . . . that he found something that really mattered to him and he did it well.
When we were kids, my dad bought us all poetry books; I'd like to close with a few
lines from an Emerson poem called Goodbye.
O, when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
And when I am stretched beneath the pines,
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools, and the learned clan;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?
Back to "A Few Samples"
Funeral oration by 9th Earl Spencer
September 6, 1997
Web posted at: 9:42 a.m. EDT (1342 GMT)
I stand before you today the representative of a family in grief, in a country in
mourning before a world in shock.
We are all united not only in our desire to pay our respects to Diana but rather
in our need to do so.
For such was her extraordinary appeal that the tens of millions of people taking
part in this service all over the world via television and radio who never actually
met her, feel that they, too, lost someone close to them in the early hours of Sunday
morning. It is a more remarkable tribute to Diana than I can ever hope to offer
Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over
the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity, a standard-bearer for the rights
of the truly downtrodden, a truly British girl who transcended nationality, someone
with a natural nobility who was classless, who proved in the last year that she
needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.
Today is our chance to say "thank you" for the way you brightened our lives, even
though God granted you but half a life. We will all feel cheated that you were taken
from us so young and yet we must learn to be grateful that you came along at all.
Only now you are gone do we truly appreciate what we are now without and we want
you to know that life without you is very, very difficult.
We have all despaired at our loss over the past week and only the strength of the
message you gave us through your years of giving has afforded us the strength to
There is a temptation to rush to canonize your memory. There is no need to do so.
You stand tall enough as a human being of unique qualities not to need to be seen
as a saint. Indeed to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core
of your being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humor with the laugh that bent
you double, your joy for life transmitted wherever you took your smile, and the
sparkle in those unforgettable eyes, your boundless energy which you could barely
But your greatest gift was your intuition, and it was a gift you used wisely. This
is what underpinned all your wonderful attributes. And if we look to analyze what
it was about you that had such a wide appeal, we find it in your instinctive feel
for what was really important in all our lives.
Without your God-given sensitivity, we would be immersed in greater ignorance at
the anguish of AIDS and HIV sufferers, the plight of the homeless, the isolation
of lepers, the random destruction of land mines. Diana explained to me once that
it was her innermost feelings of suffering that made it possible for her to connect
with her constituency of the rejected.
And here we come to another truth about her. For all the status, the glamour, the
applause, Diana remained throughout a very insecure person at heart, almost childlike
in her desire to do good for others so she could release herself from deep feelings
of unworthiness of which her eating disorders were merely a symptom.
The world sensed this part of her character and cherished her for her vulnerability,
whilst admiring her for her honesty. The last time I saw Diana was on July the first,
her birthday, in London, when typically she was not taking time to celebrate her
special day with friends but was guest of honor at a charity fund-raising evening.
She sparkled of course, but I would rather cherish the days I spent with her in
March when she came to visit me and my children in our home in South Africa. I am
proud of the fact that apart from when she was on public display meeting President
Mandela, we managed to contrive to stop the ever-present paparazzi from getting
a single picture of her.
That meant a lot to her.
These are days I will always treasure. It was as if we'd been transported back to
our childhood, when we spent such an enormous amount of time together, the two youngest
in the family.
Fundamentally she hadn't changed at all from the big sister who mothered me as a
baby, fought with me at school and endured those long train journeys between our
parents' homes with me at weekends. It is a tribute to her level-headedness and
strength that despite the most bizarre life imaginable after her childhood, she
remained intact, true to herself.
There is no doubt that she was looking for a new direction in her life at this time.
She talked endlessly of getting away from England, mainly because of the treatment
she received at the hands of the newspapers.
I don't think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered
at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring
her down. It is baffling. My own, and only, explanation is that genuine goodness
is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum.
It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest
is this; that a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the
end, the most hunted person of the modern age.
She would want us today to pledge ourselves to protecting her beloved boys William
and Harry from a similar fate. And I do this here, Diana, on your behalf. We will
not allow them to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful
Beyond that, on behalf of your mother and sisters, I pledge that we, your blood
family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which you
were steering these two exceptional young men, so that their souls are not simply
immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly as you planned.
We fully respect the heritage into which they have both been born, and will always
respect and encourage them in their royal role. But we, like you, recognize the
need for them to experience as many different aspects of life as possible, to arm
them spiritually and emotionally for the years ahead. I know you would have expected
nothing less from us.
William and Harry, we all care desperately for you today. We are all chewed up with
sadness at the loss of a woman who wasn't even our mother. How great your suffering
is we cannot even imagine.
I would like to end by thanking God for the small mercies he has shown us at this
dreadful time; for taking Diana at her most beautiful and radiant and when she had
so much joy in her private life.
Above all, we give thanks for the life of a woman I am so proud to be able to call
my sister: the unique the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana, whose
beauty, both internal and external, will never be extinguished from our minds.
Back to "A Few Samples"
An Essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson's essay on Thoreau is a mix of biography, eulogy, and personal criticism.
It shows that Emerson believed Thoreau capable of far greater accomplishments than
he achieved in his life. When Thoreau died in 1862, Emerson was a national figure,
the Great American Philosopher. Thoreau was a minor, local personality. These excerpts
from Emerson's funeral oration (expanded and printed later in The Atlantic Monthly)
give his views, positive and negative, of this one-time disciple who has now eclipsed
him in stature.
He graduated at Harvard College in 1837, but without any literary distinction. An
iconoclast in literature, he seldom thanked colleges for their service to him, holding
them in small esteem, whilst yet his debt to them was important. [After a brief
stint manufacturing pencils and inventing a better pencil, he decided] that he should
never make another pencil. "Why should I? I would not do again what I have done
once." He resumed his endless walks and miscellaneous studies, making every day
some new acquaintance with Nature, though as yet never speaking of zoology or botany,
since, though very studious of natural facts, he was incurious of techinical and
He was a born protestant. He declined to give up his large ambition of knowledge
and action for any narrow craft or profession, aiming at a much more comprehensive
calling, the art of living well.
He chose to be rich by making his wants few, and supplying them himself.
There was somewhat military in his nature, not to be subdued, always manly and able,
but rarely tender, as if he did not feel himself except in opposition. He wanted
a fallacy to expose, a blunder to pillory, I may say required a little sense of
victory, a roll of the drum, to call his powers into full exercise.
He was a speaker and actor of the truth, born such, and was ever running into dramatic
situations from this cause. ... In 1845 he built himself a small framed house on
the shores of Walden Pond, and lived there two years alone, a life of labor and
study. This action was quite native and fit for him.
In 1847, not approving some uses to which the public expenditure was applied, he
refused to pay his town tax, and was put in jail. A friend paid the tax for him,
and he was released. The like annoyance was threatened the next year. But as his
friends paid the tax, notwithstanding his protest, I believe he ceased to resist.
No truer American existed than Thoreau. His preference of his country and condition
was genuine, and his aversion from English and European manners and tastes almost
reached contempt. He listened impatiently to news or bonmotsgleaned from London
circles; and though he tried to be civil, these anecdotes fatigued him. The men
were all imitating each other, and on a small mould. Why can they not live as far
apart as possible and each be a man by himself?
His robust common sense, armed with stout hands, keen perceptions and strong will,
cannot yet account for the superiority which shone in his simple and hidden life.
I must add the cardinal fact, that there was an excellent wisdom in him, proper
to a rare class of men, which showed him the material world as a means and symbol.
This discovery, which sometimes yields to poets a certain casual and interrupted
light, serving for the ornament of their writing, was in him an unsleeping insight;
and whatever faults or obstructions of temperament might cloud it, he was not disobedient
to the heavenly vision.
He understood the matter in hand at a glance, and saw the limitations and poverty
of those he talked with, so that nothing seemed concealed from such terrible eyes.
I have repeatedly known young men of sensibility converted in a moment to the belief
that this man was the man they were in search of, the man of men, who could tell
them all they should do.
Mr. Thoreau dedicated his genius with such entire love to the fields, hills and
waters of his native town, that he made them known and interesting to all reading
Americans, and to people over the sea.
It was a pleasure and a priviledge to walk with him. He knew the country like a
fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own. He knew every
track in the snow or on the ground, and what creature had taken this path before
His interest in the flower or the bird lay very deep in his mind, was connected
with Nature, -- and the meaning of Nature was never attempted to be defined by him.
... His power of observation seemed to indicate additional senses. He saw as with
a microscope, heard as with ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photographic register
of all he saw and heard. And yet none knew better than he that it is not the fact
that imports, but the impression or effect of the fact on your mind. Every fact
lay in glory in his mind, a type of the order and beauty of the whole.
His poetry might be good or bad; he no doubt wanted a lyric facility and technical
skill, but he had the source of poetry in his spiritual perception. ... His own
verses are often rude and defective. The gold does not yet run pure, is drossy and
crude. The thyme and marjoram are not yet honey. But if he want lyric fineness and
technical merits, if he have not the poetic temperatment, he never lacks the causal
thought, showing that his genius was better than his talent.
Had his genius been only contemplative, he had been fitted to his life, but with
his energy and practical ability he seemed born for great enterprise and for command;
and I so much regret the loss of his rare powers of action, that I cannot help counting
it a fault in him that he had no ambition. Wanting this, instead of engineering
for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry-party. Pounding beans is good
to the end of empires one of these days; but if, at the end of years, it is still
The scale on which his studies proceeded was so large as to require longevity, and
we were the less prepared for his sudden disappearance. The country knows not yet,
or in the least part, how great a son it has lost. It seems an injury that he should
leave in the midst his broken task which none else can finish, a kind of indignity
to so noble a soul that he should depart out of Nature before yet he has been really
shown to his peers for what he is. But he, at least, is content. His soul was made
for the noblest society; he had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this
world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is
beauty, he will find a home.