How to Write a Eulogy
Most people, when asked to deliver a eulogy feel blessed and burdened. Our two greatest fears – public speaking and death – merge when we speak at a funeral service, memorial or celebration of life. Below are some basic principles to help you draft a talk that honours the deceased while comforting the living.
Compile information as if you’re writing a profile. Be sure to answer the W5 (who, what, when, where and why) about the person’s life. For example, where did they grow up? What did they like to do? Whom did they love? Gathering information this way will ensure you build a concise and relevant speech structure that touches on all major aspects of the person’s life. Ideally your audience leaves the gathering knowing more about the deceased than when they first arrived. If you cry and smile as you write, know that you’re on the “write” track. You want your audience to mourn as well as celebrate your loved one’s life.
Balance humour with respect. The most powerful (and enjoyable) eulogies include family stories that are heart-warming and offer insight into the deceased person’s good nature. Funny stories help shed warm light during cold dark times. Do not detract from your storytelling by aiming for hilarity or wild stories. Laughter is the best medicine but not for all people all the time. Those in mourning might not appreciate jokes and the sound of laughter when they are overcome by suffering and grief. Knowing your audience means respecting your audience. Aim for humour that is mild, respectful and used sparingly.
Give a start, middle and end. Knowing your beginning and your end will build your confidence as you practice your eulogy. Your beginning is your introduction so introduce yourself. Explain who you are and how you fit into the deceased person’s life. Acknowledge the deceased person’s family, honour their loss and express your own sadness. As you move into the middle of your eulogy describe who the person was, but avoid reciting a long list of qualities and characteristics. Share stories, achievements and highlights from a life well lived. Remember that some attendees will be learning new information about the deceased so avoid sharing inside jokes, elusive nicknames and private memories. Conclude the eulogy with how you, and all people in attendance, have been enriched by knowing and loving the person being celebrated and mourned. Share how you plan on remembering the person from now on.
Embrace the challenge. Writing and presenting a eulogy might be one of the most difficult things you’ll do in your life; that eulogy might also be one of the most meaningful. You cannot fail up there. Your listeners are just as heartbroken (perhaps more so) than you. You’re sad and emotional, and so are they. If you cry, break down or pause, that’s okay. Take your time. You’re speaking on behalf of the audience. The family has asked you to honour their loved one’s life and comfort those left behind. Everyone listening to you realizes that your task is mighty, meaningful and absolutely perfect. You’ve all gathered to honour a life and offer comfort to each other. Your eulogy puts those loving feelings and peaceful intentions into words.
This article" Heart Advice for Hard Times: Delivering a Eulogy that Honours a Life and Comforts the Living" was originally published in The Etobicoke Guardian, May, 2014. It was written by Ridley Funeral Home owner and manager Brad Jones.
How Stories Heal Tears
Words fail us when we’re grieving.
No matter where we are on our journey, grieving the death of a loved one or offering comfort to someone in mourning, our ability to communicate feels inadequate in the face of deep pain and tremendous loss. While platitudes such as “I’m grateful he’s no longer suffering” or “She’s in a better place” are common, the words ring hollow as they’re shared and as they’re received. No one is comforted when empty words fill the air, whether at the chapel or around the water cooler.
Yet we are naturally drawn to stories, especially storytelling that revolves around the people we are desperate to remember, honour and celebrate.
“Let me tell you a story….” is the oldest invitation in human experience. When we share a story we invite listeners to learn something and be changed. Using details, imagery and emotion, we show how our story is part of their story too. We connect through the sharing of personal stories because we tap into the universal story of what it means to be human, to love, to forgive, to say goodbye.
For mourners, stories are especially sacred. “I remember when Bob and I used to…” or “Long before you were born, your mom and I would…” are stories that bridge the past to the present.
Our culture tells us that when someone we love dies, we “lose” them. But when someone dies there is no potential for a physical finding, some great discovery, that will recreate our lives to what they once were: a life with the person we love in it. This mourning gap, a place devoid of light, is where storytelling shines.
Stories help mourners find their loved ones again. By telling stories about the dead we invite the living to reflect on Life and Death, and how the deceased has added depth to who we are and who we might become.
Gathering the community together guides us toward a healing journey because we are not alone. Our private pain is mended through the public recognition of that pain.
When we gather to mourn, whether at a traditional funeral, memorial service or celebration of life, we are all part of the same story. Anyone who has ever reached out to the bereaved by sharing a story has witnessed how a sad, stricken face transforms into a reflective (sometimes joyful) person.
If you want to comfort, tell a story. If you want comfort, ask for a story or tell one of your own.
When words fail us, tell a story instead.
Grief Myths that Hurt Healing
Below are five common myths about grief that prevent people from healing and receiving the compassionate support they need. By overcoming these myths, identified by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the director of the Center of Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, you will better understand how to help yourself or someone in grief.
Myth #1: Grief and mourning are the same experience.
Most people tend to use the words grief and mourning interchangeably. However, there is an important distinction between them. We have learned that people move toward healing not by just grieving, but through mourning. Simply stated, grief describes the internal thoughts and feelings we experience when someone we love dies. Mourning, on the other hand, is taking the internal experience of grief and expressing it outside ourselves.
In reality, many people in our culture grieve, but they do not mourn. Instead of being encouraged to express their grief outwardly, they are often greeted with messages such as "carry on," "keep your chin up," and "keep busy." So, they end up grieving within themselves in isolation instead of mourning outside themselves in the presence of loving companions.
Myth #2: There is a predictable and orderly progression to the experience of grief.
Stage-like thinking about both dying and grief has been an appealing idea to many people. Somehow the "stages of grief" have helped people make sense out of an experience that isn't as orderly and predictable as we would like it to be. If only it were so simple!
Each person's grief is uniquely his or her own. It is neither predictable nor orderly. Nor can its different dimensions be so easily categorized. We only get ourselves in trouble when we try to prescribe what the grief and mourning experiences of others should be, or when we try to fit our own grief into neat little boxes.
Myth #3: It is best to move away from grief and mourning instead of toward it.
Many grievers do not give themselves permission or receive permission from others to mourn.We live in a society that often encourages people to prematurely move away from their grief instead of toward it. Many people view grief as something to be overcome rather than experienced. The result is that many of us either grieve in isolation or attempt to run away from our grief.
Refusing to allow tears, suffering in silence and "being strong" are thought to be admirable behaviours. Many people in grief have internalized society's message that mourning should be done quietly, quickly and efficiently.
Such messages encourage the repression of the griever's thoughts and feelings. The problem is that attempting to mask or move away from grief results in internal anxiety and confusion.
Myth #4: Tears expressing grief are only a sign of weakness.
Unfortunately, many people associate tears of grief with personal inadequacy and weakness. Crying on the part of the mourner often generates feelings of helplessness in friends, family and caregivers. Out of a wish to protect mourners from pain, friends and family may try to stop the tears.
Yet crying is nature's way of releasing internal tension in the body and allows the mourner to communicate a need to be comforted. Crying makes people feel better,emotionally and physically. Tears are not a sign of weakness. In fact, crying is an indication of the griever's willingness to do the "work of mourning."
Myth #5: The goal is to "get over" your grief.
We have all heard people ask, "Are you over it yet?" To think that we as human beings "get over" grief is ridiculous! Mourners do, however, learn to reconcile their grief. We learn to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who has died. With reconciliation a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death, and the capacity to become re-involved with the activities of the living.
As the experience of reconciliation unfolds, we recognize that life will be different without the presence of the person who died. At first we realize this with our heads, and later we come to realize it with our hearts.
If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Alan Wolfelt and the Center for Loss and Life Transition resources, books and workshops, please visit www.centerforloss.com