Please help me plan a Eulogy

This morning, I learned that a woman that has been my boss, my mentor, and my friend for the last several years passed away. It was not entirely unexpected, as she’d been seriously ill (cancer) for several months, but we were hoping she had a little more time.

I’ve been asked to deliver the Eulogy. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’m looking for any pointers anyone can offer. The funeral will be in a Southern Baptist church. I’m not a Baptist, and am not familiar with their customs. Obviously, I’m a layman–well, heathen, actually–but if there is a God, I’m hoping maybe he won’t strike me down with a lightning bolt for entering his house just this once. There will be a preacher there to do the religous things, and I have an idea of the thing I want to say, but I need any information or advice on matters of protocol, rituals, curtesies, format, anything about what should and especially what should not be included in a eulogy. It is very important to me that this be done right. I owe my friend the best I can possibly do, and I’ll appreciate any help you can offer. The funeral is scheduled for Tuesday morning, and I’ll be checking this thread often.

Mods, I’m not sure where this post belongs. It’s definitely not mundane or pointless to me, but nothing else seemed appropriate. As long as I can find it, please move it however you deem appropriate.


First of all, let me extend my condolences to you. It’s so hard to lose someone, and when it’s someone who’s filled so many roles in your life, it must be that much harder. Secondly, let me congratulate your friend for a life well-lived, and lives well-touched. She came to this world to change it, and she did, just by being herself. May her time in the Summerlands be one of joy and reflection, and may her lessons be well-learned. (So mote it be.)

As for the eulogy, let it write itself. There is very little that is absolutely off-limits (you might want to leave out any stories about hookers and blow!). Spend a while meditating or journaling, and think about what lingers. What about this women still touches you? What stories do you remember that capture her essence at one moment in time? Don’t worry about being funny or poignant or anything. Just be true. If you cry, you cry. If you laugh, you laugh. Just be in the moment and let her spirit guide you.

For the church service itself, do have something written down. You may stick with it, or you may be inspired to riff. But you may also get up there and blank, and having a written thing to refer to will help you if that happens.

Are there a number of people talking, or are you the only one besides the priest? If you’re the only one, it can be around 10 minutes (2 pages, double spaced), but any longer and the sheep start to wander. If there are others talking, keep it about 5 minutes or less. That’s about a page, double-spaced. Just be honest, and tell people why you love her. That’s it, really.

And, in my experience, Jehova/Jesus is not a jealous god to people who aren’t His followers (remember, He was pretty specific in the Bible that there are other people and there are His chosen people - only His chosen have to follow His rules.) He won’t strike you with lightning. On the contrary, I’ve found Him to be warm and welcoming and even comforting at times like this. His followers may be a different matter. Just trust me that this is not the time nor the place to engage in religious debate. It’s not the time to jump up and scream that the deceased didn’t believe any of this stuff and she wanted to be buried under a tree. Just…let it go. Funerals and memorials are for the living, not the dead.

And feel free to practice on us, if you want. I’ll be happy to read anything you want to try out.

This is very much in tune with my own thoughts on the matter. She was a Christian. Described herself as a “backrow baptist”, but she did believe, even though she did not often attend services. I won’t be going into anything at all controversial. I plan to talk about her career, and about her as a person I respected and admired. I’ll be the only speaker other than the preacher. I’m comfortable with public speaking…I was a theatre major as an undergrad, and I routinely speak in public in my work. Don’t really care if I cry or not–suspect I probably will, but if it it happens, it happens. I’ll still hit my mark and deliver the lines.

I may well try to rough something out and post it later. It’ll be good to have a safety net, but I’ll probably just riff from the heart.

Even a couple of 3x5 cards with some notes on them can help if you hit a wall - which is easy to do when speaking at a funeral/memorial service. When my aunt asked me to speak at my uncle’s memorial service, I made some notes on cards to carry with me. I didn’t need them - I just wadded them up in my hand - but knowing they were there helped me have the nerve to stand up and speak.

I am sorry for your loss.

And worst comes to worst, you can hand off your written words and let someone else read them. I’m pretty sure that I attended a funeral service where someone did exactly that. If not, I attended a service where the Soloist took three tries to get started singing the solo, because he was so broken up.

I, on the other hand, was dry-eyed and cheerful. It helped that I hardly knew the woman in question. I knew of her, but I’m not sure we’d ever really met. I was there purely because she wanted a particular song sung in three part treble harmony, and the choir director called me up to beg me to sing–it’s not that I’m such a great singer, but my schedule permitted me to be there, and they did need all the vocalists they could get. And since I wasn’t as upset as certain others were, it made it easier to sing.

I’m sorry for your loss. The eulogy doesn’t have to be religious in nature. As you said, the preacher man is there to do that stuff. The eulogy is for anyone who wants to remember the deceased.

My uncle died and he wanted a specific speaker that he was impressed with to do the eulogy. This guy went on and on about my uncle…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Including mentioning my uncle’s infidelities (both his long-time live-in and his ex-wife were there :eek: ).

My nephew was killed in an accident. Our other nephew talked about Mark’s zest for life and brought in a few anecdotes to the eulogy. Then he said that since Mark loved life so much, we should celebrate his life; not mourn his death. Then he got everyone on their feet cheering. It was awesome.

I guess my point is that you know your friend and the life she led. You probably have heard bits and pieces about the family, as well. There is nothing wrong with going to her husband or parents or whoever and talk to them about how they’d like to do it (somber or upbeat). My uncle’s eulogist interviewed a dozen people to get the feel of how we all wanted to remember him.

Good luck. It can be rather paralyzing just before you get up there, as you’ll wonder if you’re going to cry (nothing wrong with that) or if you’ll forget anything. As long as it’s done with love and you do your best to make it comforting to those closest to her, you’ll be fine.

Sorry for your loss, Oakminster. I just recently delivered a eulogy for a friend - it was the hardest speaking gig I’ve ever had.

I think a good eulogy is both a biography and a remembrance of the special things about the person - things that were special for the person, and things that made the person special to others.

The biography part is the easy one, and you should talk to family members and close friends for that part. They may be able to write stuff down for you, for you to incorporate in your piece - you want to get the facts right!

The much harder part is talking about the person. Speak to other family, friends and co-workers to get ideas. Do you have anything in writing or recorded from your friend that you can incorporate? (My friend was a journalist who had done an audio piece on his own family a few years ago, so I was lucky there - could listen to his own words about his family, and comments from his family members about him.)

And, with all due respect, don’t be too sure that the fact that you’re accustomed to public speaking will get you through it. I’m a public speaker as well (barrister specialising in appellate work), and that background didn’t mean jack. When I’m speaking professionally, I’m speaking for someone else, with a professional obligation to be objective. When you’re doing that eulogy, you’re going to be speaking personally, about someone who meant a lot to you. Don’t be the least bit surprised if you choke up, and prepare for that.

Once you’ve got the piece written, deliver it in private to your spouse, or a friend, or another co-worker, or a combination of them. They’ll give you pointers on content and delivery, and you’ll also know what will be the hard parts to get through.

The day of, there were three things that helped for me. I took a pen up to the podium - not to write with, but to fidget with, out of sight and behind the podium. It’s surprising how doing that somehow helps to keep calm. I also took my glasses off, because avoiding eye-contact made it easier. And finally, since I knew what the hard parts would be, I consciously avoided thinking about them as much as possible, but just read them as they came.

And even then, it was hard, and wasn’t made easier by the fact that our friend (who died at 29) had told his parents that his funeral was to start off with a Trooper song, played nice and loud on the sound system: We’re Here for a Good Time (not a Long Time).

Good luck.

I’m going to lobby hard to play Free Bird at either the wake or the funeral itself. She was a huge Skynyrd fan, and it seems to fit. The family will have the final say, of course, but they are aware of her tastes, and will probably agree.

Rethinking the pushing of Free Bird. It was one of her favorites, but maybe not appropriate for a funeral in a church.

In outline form, what I’ve got so far is:

  1. Acknowledge the family–mother, father, 2 brothers, sister, and son. Wonderign about whether to mention the ex-husband or not. She didn’t like him, but he is the boy’s father, and it seems rude to leave him out…but awkward to mention him. Also honored guests, members of the bar, friends and neighbors.

  2. Chronology of accomplishments and awards–high school, undergrad, law school. Mild lighter moment–she got her undergrad from Major State University #1, got her JD from evil cross-state rival because School #1 has no law program–but she always remained true to School #1 in her heart. We are in SEC football country, and there are no fence sitters in the rivalry. Litany of other awards, including her appointment to an advisory board by a former Governor.

  3. Her legacy–this was a woman that spent her entire career, and over half her short life providing representation to those unable to otherwise afford it. Commitment to civil rights, including involvement in a major civl rights case. Active in local politics. Impact on others–touched thousands of lives in her career, helped battered women, kids, saved houses from foreclosure, adoptions, guardianships, highly respected by her peers, role model, personal inspiration.

  4. Personal life–she loved hockey, Skynyrd, Star Trek, Major School #1 Football. A lawyer was all she ever wanted to be. Really believed a lawyer could help to change the world, and did much to accomplish that. Special recognition of the son–apple of Momma’s eye, comments about him I found that illustrate his importance to her above all house. acknowledgement of faith–squicky subject for me, but she did believe, and knowing that may give comfort to some of those present.

  5. Close with appropriateness of mourning her, but reminder to celebrate her life, remember her legacy, and keep her smile and gentle laugh in our hearts.

I’ll be fleshing that out more later, but that’s the gist of what I’ve got so far. Comments/suggestions are solicited…

Nice. I think if it were I, I would go ahead and mention the ex in passing, just for the son’s sake. One assumes his father was an important person in his mother’s life at some point. YMMV, of course.

I think mentioning the father is probably the right thing to do. A funeral is not the place to reopen old wounds. It’s a place to bring closure, and whatever comfort I can offer. I can mention him in passing, and the social graces will have been observed.

Now I’m wondering if there’s something really obvious that I should have covered in there…

A couple of years ago I had to write (but thankfully not deliver) the eulogy of my girlfriend’s mother. Whom I had met exactly once, for 10 minutes the day before she died, which as in your case was not unexpected.

It was my first ever, but it went better than I could possibly have hoped. I was able to go through her notes and emails, and got the chronology of her life straight from her daughter.

You seem to have covered it well in post #9. I’d say the most critical thing is to find out beforehand who is going to be at the funeral, and not to omit mention of anyone of significance in her life who’s going to be there. Ideally omit no-one of significance at all, of course, but most vital is that everyone important in attendance gets mentioned; the old saying that funerals are for the living is true, it seems to me. Lighter moments are completely appropriate, and your emphasis of underlining her legacy and how much she was loved is perfect.

Bumping like Mick Foley, this one time. (Mods please forgive me). The funeral is tommorrow morning, I’ll be attending the wake tonight, but will check this thread again later in the evening. If anyone has any suggestions, please contribute.