How to write a eulogy.

Eulogy means “good words”. And this is the place in a service for people to talk about the life and meaning of the person who has died.

Sometimes one family member represents everyone, reading the stories that other family members have given them. In one case, the person had four children and several grandchildren. One grandchild from each of the four families spoke. Sometimes families will make notes and ask the person leading the service to read them. Sometimes families will reserve their storytelling for later. And truthfully, some families have no good words to say about the person who died. They are simply here out of respect.

Tips for eulogies

  • When I am talking with people about what they are going to do, I encourage them to make notes. That way they are reminded of what to say when the emotion starts to overwhelm them.
  • I encourage people to take a chance, to be willing to try, and to not be afraid of the emotion.
  • I never put anyone on the spot. Your cousin may say to her daughter, “You have to do this. Grandpa will expect it. Grandma will be hurt if you don’t.” I suggest that you go to that girl. Ask her if she wants to, defend her if she doesn’t. And tell her that her Grandpa knows better, and her Grandma’s love doesn’t depend on it.
  • I tell people that tears are okay, because I almost always choke up a little.

Prompts for writing eulogies

If you want to help families think through what to say, you can offer these suggestions.

What’s a small event or action that you will always remember?

“When you plant a field to soybeans the year after it was planted to corn, some of the corn is still in the field. It germinates and grows, poking above the beans. It’s called volunteer corn. It has to come out. The year after Nancy and I got married, we spent a few days on her family’s farm. Although I knew a little about farms from my grandfather, this was a big farm. There wasn’t anything I could do. Except pull up the volunteer corn. My father-in-law invited me out into the field to help pull the corn. I bet he never remembered it. But 35 years later, every time I drive past a bean field with volunteer corn, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have helped.”

What smell or scene always reminds you of them?

“Every time I smell wintergreen lifesavers, I think of my grandmother reaching into her purse as we sat in the second row from the back in the small Methodist church. She passed the roll across my mother to me. She helped me understand the value of rescuing young children from the boredom of church.”

What would you like to say to them if you wrote them a letter? 

“Dear Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t understand how much you cared until I started this letter. Now that I stop and look back, I realize how much you gave up for us because you loved us.”

What’s your earliest memory of the person?

“When I was child, maybe six or seven, we went to the farm after supper. It was getting dark in northern Wisconsin. I had been wanting fresh sweet corn, but my parents thought it was too late in the evening. My grandfather got up, went to the door and motioned to me. We went out and cut two ears of corn. My grandmother cooked them right away. I knew I was loved.”

What’s the impact you know they had on the lives of other people that others may not know about?

“People know that my grandfather was generous. Most people don’t know how generous. He had the little farmstand for the vegetables from the garden. The money from that went to the local foodbank, just like the leftover vegetables each day. He said, ‘let the people that can pay, pay. But people who can’t afford them need fresh veggies, too.'”

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From Giving a Life Meaning: How to lead funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life. When you are asked to do a funeral and you aren’t sure where to start, start with this book.

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