Some people might confuse the terms “obituary” and “eulogy.” They’re very different elements of a funeral. The obituary shares just the basic facts in something that takes a minute to read. You want to tell others the best life story about the one who has passed, then you want a eulogy where people hear your voice for several minutes, and you bring out the best parts of life for that person, and you share the best memories for others to know and remember.
What is a Eulogy?
Typically, the eulogy of a person’s life is generally the key part of any funeral service where you explore the heart, soul, and mind of the person—what their life meant to you, to family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Many times, you can begin a eulogy with an inspirational quote. For example, Richard Russo said, “Lives are like rivers: Eventually they go where they must. Not where we want them to.” And with that as the beginning, tell the story of how a life developed.
Or, how about “Life has to end. Love doesn’t.” This saying from Mitch Albom, as he writes in his book, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” is the perfect opening statement to describe a love story between a couple for, say, a marriage that has endured for more than 50 years.
A eulogy can be shared usually in 10-20 minutes. Sometimes multiple people contribute different parts of the eulogy. Those attending will appreciate hearing from you and others what it is that they might not have known about your loved one. In many cases, it takes more than one person to build a collective story about the person you love.
When and where were they born? How many siblings? Did they grow up in the same town for all of their young life to adulthood? What moved them to select a particular branch of service or place to study for a career after high school? Who among family or close friends inspired their love of learning to become a master mechanic? Public speaker? Trusted banker? Beloved teacher?
When did they fall in love? Are there fun stories about their courtship? Did they become grandparents? What special life lessons did they leave with you? Did they inspire you? Do your words make it possible to visualize your loved one and say, “Now THAT is exactly who he or she was!” Those are the basic elements of a eulogy.
You’ve been to funerals where some people get up and read the obituary that was printed in the newspaper. These individuals have a firm determination that attendees there know the facts about their loved one. But those we have lost have so many contours in their life paths; there are so many from childhood forward who can recall how someone came to be the person they grew up to be.
It could be a childhood sports coach, a beloved teacher who took a special interest in encouraging that person, a best friend who grew up next door, a sibling to whom the loved one was closest, a parent who remains if they’ve lost a son or daughter, or a grandchild who can share what a grandparent meant to them.
You might have colleagues from work who started in the same company and together they saw each other every day for 35 years. Each one of these people has a different, and important, perspective about your loved one. A eulogy is often shared by one person to tell the basic story of another’s life. They are the ones who can almost speak from the heart without looking at notes.
A eulogy is a ribbon through the life of your friend or relative. The ribbon collects stories along the travels of times good and bad, happy and sad. It means the world to those who gather together to grieve a loss to hear of times that remind you to laugh and funny episodes, and remember even more of them after the funeral.
You benefit to hear about all the people who the deceased was able to help in his or her lifetime. You also benefit when someone recites a favorite phrase that your friend or relative “always used to say.” When times are tough, not only can you remember the phrase, it’s almost like you can hear that person saying their characteristic phrase.
If you find yourself asking Alexa, Pandora, or Spotify to play a particular song, and you think of that person specifically, then that song is part of the soundtrack of that person has a particular place in the soundtrack of your life.
When you prepare to share a eulogy in front of a group gathered to pay tribute to a loved one, keep in mind that 10-15 minutes is a good amount of time to speak. If you write it out ahead of time, you will always be able to refer to it if you falter or forget what you were going to say next. If you have 5-6 typed pages of double-spaced text then that’s the equivalent of about a typical eulogy length.
You also have the option of having several speakers share memories from different times in the person’s life, e.g., a childhood friend, a former teacher, a neighbor or co-worker, a best friend as an adult, and then family members with different perspectives. Thus, the group eulogy was born.
However you choose to remember your loved one, telling their story is the nicest gift you can offer them. We also offer our Certified Life Celebrant to eulogize your loved one as an option. Our celebrant will interview all of the people you’d like to have share their stories with her about your loved one, and she will craft a single beautiful eulogy that she delivers that takes the pressure off of many people to deliver a heartfelt message while they are also going through the loss themselves.
Think about the best eulogy that you have heard in any funeral you have attended. What made you laugh, cry, smile or reflect? Powerful eulogies remind you of the very best times of a person’s life, or how they overcame hard times early in life, and made successes in life come true. When the time comes, you can always ask your funeral director for advice if you have questions about eulogies. Good luck!