The secrets of perfectly pitched eulogies
“Smile though your heart is aching.” This is the line Brooke Shields used at the end of her emotional and public funeral eulogy for her friend Michael Jackson.
Today, the idea of smiling and celebrating a life is a popular alternative to the traditional funeral. However, regardless of the nature of the service, eulogies remain at the heart of any funeral or memorial.
So what is a funeral eulogy and what makes a good one?
In a nutshell a funeral eulogy is a personal tribute that helps everyone reflect on the qualities, beliefs and foibles of the person they knew and loved.
The tone and style of a eulogy will very much depend on the person we’re remembering. Eulogies can be emotional, tearful, inspiring, downright hilarious - or all of these things.
Here are some of our favourite eulogies from the last few years. Some are celebrity tributes; others are far more personal affairs. Might be a good idea to have a box of tissues to hand…
Funeral eulogy for a famous friend
Brooke Shields delivered a very emotional tribute to her friend Michael Jackson. This very public, but heartfelt funeral eulogy looked back over their childhood and the funny moments they shared away from the limelight. Take a look here.
A satirical eulogy for mother
Eulogies don’t always have to touch on typical happy memories. In this funeral eulogy a daughter talks about her mother’s dislike of technology with touching and humorous effect. Through this laughter she perfectly demonstrates the real love she clearly had for her mother.
A funeral eulogy about the private man
The funeral eulogy for Steve Jobs was delivered by his sister, Monica Simpson. Paying tribute to such a high profile character can’t have been easy, but she chose to highlight some of her brother’s lesser known qualities as a family man and his defining moments, including his last words: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow”.
Eulogies can be honest
If we’re being totally honest about our loved ones, the picture we’d paint in their funeral eulogy wouldn’t be totally rosy. After all, imperfections make people who they are.
In this funeral eulogy, a woman talks about her husband in terms of his ‘sounds’, including the ones that came from his behind. After raising much laughter, she finishes with the touching line “to my beautiful children, I hope one day you find yourselves life partners who are as imperfect as your father was to me”.
Eulogies can even be hilariously shocking
If you’re talking about a character as shocking as Graham Chapman is seems only right that his funeral eulogy would follow suit. In his two minute tribute, John Cleese swore and told his audience: “The reason I feel I should say this is he would never forgive me if I didn’t. If I threw away this glorious opportunity to shock you all on his behalf.” If you’re not easily shocked, take a look.
Writing a funeral eulogy - where to start
Writing a eulogy can feel like a big responsibility. Making sure your words pay true and proper tribute to a special person is the ultimate goal, but it can be tricky to know where to start. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be daunting.
Here are five tips to help you:
- It doesn’t have to be perfect
Far from it. A funeral eulogy should come from the heart, so it doesn’t have to be a perfectly written speech (PDF 0.076MB). And if it doesn’t go to plan, remember no one will judge you. Standing up and speaking at a funeral is a noble act in itself.
- It doesn’t have to be long
John Cleese did his tribute in two minutes. A couple of poignant stories and an emotional finale is often all it takes.
- Think collage, not chronology
Rather than a life story, it helps to think of a funeral eulogy as a series of anecdotes that highlight the qualities, values and beliefs of the person.
- Be honest
True, eulogies shouldn’t focus too much on negative qualities, but the odd ‘imperfection’ or little thing that drove you mad can be heartwarming. It’s likely that others will smile and remember them with you.
- Final words
Wrapping up a funeral eulogy is no mean feat. As a suggestion, ending on a forward-looking note often works well. For example, you could simply ask your audience to go on telling the stories you’ve told and more of their own, so you can all keep precious memories of the person alive.
If you have thoughts on how you’d like to be remembered, you can add these to your Will. If you don’t already have a Will, download our Will Writing Guide (PDF 0.071MB) for information on how to get started.
Or if you need help planning a funeral download our Funeral Planning Guide.
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