Writing a Compelling Eulogy

West Sussex Funeral Directors, Freeman Brothers, has been serving the local community in and around Horsham, Crawley, Hurstpierpoint and Billingshurst since 1855. Our experienced staff have a wealth of skills, both in the industry and from related fields; sometimes, it’s their former occupations that help support the work that we do for the families we serve. […]

Estimated Reading Time:

Freeman Brothers - to live in hearts

West Sussex Funeral Directors, Freeman Brothers, has been serving the local community in and around Horsham, Crawley, Hurstpierpoint and Billingshurst since 1855. Our experienced staff have a wealth of skills, both in the industry and from related fields; sometimes, it’s their former occupations that help support the work that we do for the families we serve. In this week’s blog post, and in honour of National Writing Day, former English teacher, Jennifer, guides us through writing a compelling eulogy…

It never seems like long enough, condensing a lifetime down into a service of less than an hour. There are so many experiences and relationships we want to share and explore, and so many feelings to express, that we want to go on honouring our loved ones forever. Unfortunately, practical concerns mean this simply isn’t possible so instead our natural instinct in big moments like this is to try and make the best use of the time we have by cramming in every memory, every feeling and every gratitude – and it can often feel like we’re doing the person being honoured a disservice if anything is omitted. In reality though, the result of this ‘cramming’ is usually stress or upset for the speaker, and confusion or unease for those in attendance.

This is where commissioning an experienced Celebrant can certainly help: these professionals are experts at finding the right words to convey waves of emotion in a single drop, and the very best are able to artfully weave aspects of a person’s life and character throughout the service. There is an art to writing anything and eulogies are no different, but many of us (thankfully) get precious few opportunities to practise this particular art form, so it’s little wonder you may find yourself feeling all at sea when facing the prospect.

But what if you have chosen or been asked to speak at someone’s funeral? You may be keen to deliver your own heartfelt tribute to a loved one in your own words, but where do you start? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you know when you’re finished?

Though it may seem a clinical approach when writing such an emotive and heartfelt composition, planning a eulogy (as with any other type of speech) should take into account three basic factors: purpose, audience and tone.

All too often, unpractised speakers go into this process by automatically assuming the role of biographer and making a conscious effort to record and deliver the facts, figures and turning points in the deceased person’s life: these are easy hooks to hang our thoughts and feelings on as they fill time and are less likely to trigger upset in the speaker than emotion-filled memories. In practice though, most people in attendance will either know these things already, learn them from the officiant or order of service, or – frankly – not really care. As eulogist, your job is really to add the colour: to evoke the sensation of being around the person being celebrated and to help prompt those in attendance to recall their own memories.

Similarly, a mistake many eulogists make is to pay tribute solely to their own relationship with the deceased person. This can seem like a natural response, especially if you were a very close friend or family member, but it can also leave others in attendance feeling excluded. Remember, unless the service is particularly lengthy or complex, your eulogy is likely to be one of very few (if not the only one) delivered so, as far as your grief allows, keep in mind that your purpose is to honour all the different meaningful relationships that your loved one enjoyed.

With this in mind, the last thing you need to consider before putting pen to paper (or cursor to screen!) is tone. It might be helpful to think about what reaction you want to prompt from your audience. Do you want them to laugh or cry? Feel soothed, encouraged or nostalgic? Knowing this intention before you start will help you to gear the tone and content of the eulogy towards this outcome – be ruthless and choose only the stories and memories that support your thesis.

When you’re finally ready to sit down and start writing, begin with the ending first. When we’re in storytelling-mode – especially if we’re telling stories with no fixed narrative, as many anecdotes are – it’s really difficult to find the end point. Knowing what overall message you want to give your audience will help you to tailor the earlier content and ensure all necessary bases are covered without repeating yourself.

In a similar vein, write it out in full. Don’t be tempted to wing it – even the most accomplished speakers can be overcome, either by their own emotions or the emotions of those around them, and you don’t want to be left flapping if the occasion gets the better of you. Moreover, there are plenty of other practical reasons why you may be unable to read your eulogy on the day – losing you voice, for instance, or missing a train – so having a full transcript helps to ensure your words are still shared, even if not in your voice.

So what of the content? As we said at the start, your role is not to present a blow-by-blow account of a person’s life. Instead, find the common themes – three or four personality traits, hobbies or characteristics the person was well known for – and make these your focus rather than the anecdotes themselves. That way, you won’t need to relate a whole narrative to offer a simple recollection, for example: ‘Sandra loved to cook and her experimental puddings, in particular, were legendary – many of us here will have fond memories of sitting round her dinner table and enjoying her latest discovery’ communicates a notable characteristic without the need for specific examples, while sharing a communal memory and helping to evoke happy memories for others.

Finally, a note on timing: remember that, with the greatest will in the world, even the most focussed adult struggles to maintain concentration after listening to the same voice for more than five minutes. A typical service in a crematorium chapel lasts around 45 minutes from start to finish, which sometimes causes families to believe they need to fill up the time, but bear in mind that this time is also likely to include people entering (slowly) and settling themselves, music tracks, poems, photographs and the committal, to name but just a few. Aim for short and sweet, however much that may feel like going against the grain, in the knowledge that you can always add more or end the service early and no one will be any the wiser! And, if you’re holding a wake or reception after the service, you’ll have left plenty of happy memories for people to share with each other in a less-formal setting.

Freeman Brothers are committed to assisting families with all aspects of funeral arranging. If you need guidance with choosing a celebrant, service content or writing a eulogy, get in touch with staff at any of our offices – we’re happy to help!

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Written by Jennifer Bolt

Funeral Support Assistant

June 19, 2024

You may also like…

National Funeral Exhibition 2024

National Funeral Exhibition 2024

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to engage with colleagues across the industry...

read more
Memory Giving Update

Memory Giving Update

First established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855, Freeman Brothers is a strong part of the local community. The company now has three further offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and remains keen to move...

read more
Do We Need A Celebration Day?

Do We Need A Celebration Day?

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. Now with a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – the business continues to prioritise meeting the needs of local people....

read more

Archives

Call us at any time on 01403 254590 or email mail@freemanbrothers.co.uk