“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living” – Cicero
Giving a eulogy is an awesome responsibility. A loved one has died. Friends and family are in a state of grief, and this is the last moment before burial or cremation and final goodbyes.
At times like these, words are everything, and a great eulogy (from ancient greek for ‘good words’ or ‘speak well’) can have a massive impact on the emotions of the congregation.
There have been some great eulogies in history: Fidel Castro’s eulogy for Che Guevara; Marc Anthony on the assassination of Julius Caesar; Kevin Costner’s words on the death of Whitney Houston; and of course Earl Spencer’s famous address about his sister, Princess Diana.
Here are 5 useful tips to help you give a moving eulogy, appropriate to the lost loved one and befitting of the occasion.
Talk about life, not death
Ironic as it may sound, there is no better time to talk about life, than when someone has died. Despite the pain, the best eulogies are the ones that draw out life lessons from the way the deceased lived: what they achieved, who they were loved by, what their values were etc, and what these examples teach us about life itself.
If you can find one great unifying theme that comes from the life of the deceased, bring this out. It will help you and others find a sense of great appreciation for the life of the one who has passed.
Audiences love a good story. They entertain and educate us at the same time. Do your research and find a couple of great incidents that you can narrate. People will recognise the deceased in these stories and this will help them feel they are honouring their memory.
Be funny (in moderation)
Laughter makes you feel better, even if just for a moment. And at a time of grief, the light relief that laughter can bring is often very welcome. Find some amusing anecdotes about the deceased that you can share with your congregation. In doing so, you not only provide some much needed relief, but you also give everyone permission to feel just a little bit better, which is a crucial part of the necessary healing process.
Don’t hide your feelings
Emotion is a critical part of any speech, but even more so with a eulogy. It is an emotional time and you have been chosen to speak because of your closeness to the lost loved one. Don’t hide that. You may or may not be an open crier, but be willing to let your emotions show, rather than trying to hide or bury them. This is not for your sake, but for the sake of your congregation. At that moment, you represent and speak for all them. Being willing to leave your emotions, open allows them to do the same.
Finish with some poetry
Your final words should be poetic. Not necessarily literally a poem or rhyming verse, but something meaningful, something profound, something where you thought deeply about the words themselves, both what they meant and how they sounded when spoken.
Your final words in essence represent the epitaph of the deceased, so those words should be beautiful, not random or trivial. This is the last thing to be said about their life, so make it count.
As the great orator, Cicero, reminded us: The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living. So, speak good words, and let the dead rest in peace.