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Top Ten Eulogy Questions

Being asked to provide the eulogy at a funeral is both a big honour and a big responsibility. Here are some of the questions you might want to ask yourself if the honour and responsibility come your way.

1. Will you be able to do it?

Preparing a eulogy requires careful thought and attention to detail. These things may become difficult or impossible when we’re caught up in the whirlwind of emotions that accompany the passing of a loved one. Can you be sure that you’ll be able to deliver a eulogy before the many people who will be present at the funeral? It’s a public performance and you’ll want to give your best in honour of the departed. If you don’t feel that you will be able to do that, honesty is the best option.

2. Will you have help if you need it?

Every funeral, like every life, is unique, but if you’ve been through a funeral before you’ll know some of the things to expect. There can be a lot of work and taking on an additional responsibility may mean that you find yourself with too many things to do and too little time to do that. Will you be able to get help if that happens? It’s important not to take on too much, because you may find yourself not able to do a good job on anything, least of all the eulogy. By sharing the burdens, you can give the eulogy the attention it deserves and ensure that you deliver your best for the person you’re honouring.

3. What theme or themes will you use?

The life of the departed person may have lasted eighty or even a hundred years. How can you sum up all of that in the few minutes of a euology? You can’t, so it’s good to choose one or more aspects of their life as a theme for the eulogy. What was most important to the departed person during their life? Was it their military service or the company they founded? Were they passionate about a hobby or a sport? Did they live for their family or work tirelessly for charity? You don’t have to make the choice on your own: everyone will have an opinion and the departed person may even have left notes or other forms of guidance. 

4. Can you find the time and space to plan and practise?

A eulogy is a public performance, but its success may depend on the work you do in private. Once you’ve chosen the theme, you’re ready to start planning the for your eulogy. Jot down some ideas, think them over and discuss them with other relatives and friends of the departed. Then you can write a first draft of the eulogy. You’ll almost inevitably want to make changes, but a first draft allows you to begin practising the eulogy. You might want to read it alone in front of a mirror at first, then practise it before a small audience of those who knew the departed. This will be a good test of something that may prove very important: your own emotions. A eulogy isn’t like an ordinary speech: it will be talking about someone who mattered very much to you and whose earthly life is now over. You may feel overwhelmed or even too upset to continue. By practising carefully beforehand, you can be ready for those emotions. You might even decide that, while you’re able to write the eulogy, it might be better for someone else to deliver it.

5. Do you want to use humour?

Like the funeral as a whole, the eulogy doesn’t have to be completely sombre and serious. If the departed person liked a joke, then the eulogy should reflect that. They would want to be remembered with a smile, as someone who brought happiness and laughter into the world, and the eulogy can honour them for their lighter side. But it’s important to judge your audience and strike a balance. Some of those attending the funeral might not be ready for humour or find it inappropriate while they are still in mourning.

6. Have you got your facts right?

You’ll only have one chance to deliver the eulogy, so you’ll only have one chance to get it right. After a long life, there may be a lot of details to check and a lot of questions to ask. You might be telling stories or discussing achievements from many years in the past, and you might have no personal knowledge of what happened. This is another time to ask questions and make sure that you’re getting the facts right. If there are disagreements, you’ll know what not to say; if you hear something new, you may be able to make the eulogy even better.

7. Do you want to use photographs, film or music?

In these hi-tech days, our daily lives are being recorded in ever more detail as photographs and video. It’s also ever easier to incorporate audio-visual aids into speeches and other forms of public presentation. Is this something you want to use in your eulogy? There might be photographs of the departed person landing a prize fish or celebrating the birth of a grandchild. They might even have prepared a small speech of their own for use during the eulogy. But the more things you include, the more chances there are for things to go wrong. You may decide that keeping things simple is best and that may be the best way of honouring the departed person. Not everyone likes technology and people who were born before the internet age may prefer the old ways of doing things.

8. Do you want to provide copies of the eulogy?

Another aspect of advancing technology is the ease with which we can design and print our own material. If you type the eulogy on a computer, the text will be ready for you to print as many copies as you please. You could even design it as a booklet with accompanying photographs and hand copies out to the audience before or after the eulogy, so that they can follow it as you speak or take away a permanent memorial of the departed person. On the other hand, you may prefer to write the eulogy by hand. That way you can easily add notes and reminders, and a handwritten eulogy may be what the departed peson would have preferred. But even in that case it’s to make a recording of the eulogy, either when you’re practising it or when you actually deliver it at the funeral service. You might want to provide copies of the recording to the audience or make it available on a memorial website for the departed.

9. Do you want to share the task of delivering the eulogy?

At some funerals there will be a single person delivering the eulogy. At other funerals, there may be several. The choices will depend on how much time there is and how much work people are able to do. Perhaps a series of speakers will stand before the audience, or perhaps they’ll simply rise in their seats to deliver a few words during the course of a main eulogy delivered by someone else. There are no strict rules, but the more complicated you make things, the more chance there is that something may go wrong. If it’s your first eulogy, or even your first funeral, keeping it simple may be the wisest choice.

10. Finally, will you have back-up if you’re unable to continue?

No matter how much you practice and how good your eulogy is, when the time comes to deliver it you may find that your emotions become overwhelming. A eulogy is not an ordinary speech: you’re talking about someone you loved and respected before an audience who feel exactly the same way. They won’t expect you to be calm and collected – a polished eulogy may be a contradiction in terms. But what if you find yourself unable to continue? It might be only for a few seconds or stop you speaking altogether That’s why it’s wise to have help on hand. Someone can bring you a glass of water or be ready to take over the eulogy. Just knowing that they’re there can be a big help and as with so many other things in life, forewarned is forearmed.

National Federation of Funeral Directors