Tips on writing a eulogy:
- Make if brief. Anywhere from three to ten minutes is the normal length, though it’s a good idea to consult beforehand with the family or officiating clergyman. If a number of speakers are lined up, you might be told to keep it shorter. (Remember: a single typewritten, double-spaced page takes roughly a minute to read aloud.)
- Keep it personal. A eulogy is not the same as an obituary – that is, it’s not meant to be a biography of the departed or a summary of his or her achievements. It’s a personal, sincerely felt tribute that captures something true about the subject, something that made him or her so special to you.
- Be specific. Don’t just generalize about what a wonderful, witty, loving person the departed was; recall a particular anecdote that captures his or her personality. It a eulogy delivered for his malapropism-prone grandfather, for example, writer Garry Schaeffer recalled the time that – while dining together at a Spanish restaurant – the old man ordered the “Gestapo soup.”
- Don’t be overly glum. As Schaeffer’s example indicates, it’s perfectly appropriate to inject some humor into a eulogy. Indeed, in a fine Esquire magazine piece, “How to Give a Eulogy,” writer Tom Chiarella flatly declares, “You must make them laugh. Laughs are a pivot point in a funeral. They are your responsibility. The best laughs come by forcing people not to idealize the dead.” At the same time, it’s important to remember that you are not there to perform a stand-up routine or deliver a roast.
- Be honest – up to a point. Telling the truth about a person is important, but you want to emphasize the positive. A funeral service is no place for brutal honesty. It’s one thing to elicit warm churckles from the audience by describing the departed’s lovable quirks. But feelings are raw at these times, and you’ll want to avoid anything that smacks of criticism. Likewise, a eulogy is not an occasion for you to offer a tearful confession or a belated apology for some wrong you committed against the deceased. Remember: this is not about you.
- Let your feelings show. It’s okay to choke up or shed a few tears while recalling the deceased. But you don’t want to get carried away in a tide of emotion. That’s why it’s important to rehearse your eulogy before you deliver it.
– Harold Schechter, The Whole Death Catalog: A Lively Guide to the Bitter End