Breathe. All you have to do is tell everyone what they already know: how amazing your loved one was. It’s pretty simple actually. But we get inside our own heads and manage to muck it up with insecurities and fear.
First and foremost: it’s not about you. So what are you worried about? You get to talk about somebody you love in a positive light. Given our current political climate, how fantastic is that?
So let’s channel your inner Tony Robbins and make it easy on yourself with some simple steps.
1. Eulogy or Tribute?
First order of business: find out if you’ve been asked to give a Eulogy or a Tribute. A Eulogy is the full treatment: the person’s life story from beginning to end. But a Tribute is typically shorter and only entails a favorite memory, story, or anecdote. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress by knowing which you’ve been tasked to deliver.
Sit down with a paper and pen or in front of your computer and use the H.A.M. Method to compile all important relevant information.
- Highlights: What were your loved one’s major accomplishments and significant life events?
- Attributes: What was he/she like?
- Memories: Which special moments and stories provide insight and evoke emotion?
3. First Draft.
Write it all out. Doesn’t matter how long, discombobulated, or how many spelling mistakes: just gush out a ruff first draft. Now breathe. Go for a walk. Get yourself an ice cream cone. Let your mind rest before you return to the words.
Most Eulogies follow a basic path:
- Thank the guests for coming, introduce yourself and your relationship to the deceased.
- Start with a story about your loved one. People come alive through specific anecdotes.
- A brief life outline. Keep it a short paragraph long.
- Funny or touching stories: treasured memories, stories that showcase their joy for life.
- End by saying a final good bye directly to your loved one.
Ask for feedback. Have a friend or family member read it over for you. Even the best writers have editors who suggest changes to make the work even better. Don’t be scared to share, it’s part of the process.
Once the final draft is locked down (aim for 1,000-1,300 words: between 6-10 minutes speaking time), create a physical copy of your speech. This can be a print out or on notecards, whichever you prefer. Now practice: speak it out loud in front of a mirror. Try to give the speech while you’re driving. Deliver it to someone you trust in your living room. You need to perform it out loud over and over so that on the day you are an expert at your own words and comfortable giving the speech in your sleep.
7. Delivering the Eulogy
Now forget your speech, forget those notes. You’ve done the proper preparation and know the structure. It’s time to speak from the heart. Be personal and conversational. This isn’t a formal speech, it’s an appreciation. If you get stuck, you always have those notes as a backup. But you don’t need them. You know your loved one. Remember and share. Some basic tips:
- Speak slowly and deliberately. Make sure your voice is clear and loud enough for everyone to hear you.
- Don’t be afraid to use a little humor to lighten the mood, especially if your loved one would have appreciated it.
- If emotion gets the better of you, take the time you need to regain your composure. The guests will understand.
- Close your eulogy by directly addressing the departed, something like “Mary, thank you for teaching me how to be a good mother.”
Summing up a life isn’t easy, but it’s an important act that serves two purposes: to call up memories — which is a way to honor the person and process one’s loss — and to create an atmosphere of deep community with other grievers. Do your best to be honest in your Eulogy, instead of presenting an idealized portrait that others won’t recognize. And Breathe. Long slow deep breaths. It helps.
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