My brother died a few weeks ago in a car accident. He was too young with a lot of life yet to live. He had just bought a new deer hunting rifle just two days before, he was looking forward to new changes at his work, and he was planning on buying a house outside of town.
We held the funeral on the Saturday after the accident. There were a lot of people who turned out – we estimate about 350 – and the largest group I have ever seen who followed us to the burial. It was a moving experience, very mournful with so many people, and one of the most difficult experiences of my life.
I offered to give the eulogy for my brother. I felt I should since I wanted a family member to give it and not the clergy. I also consider oratory a skill set, so it was a tribute to my brother as well. In all honesty, I did not offer right away; I mulled over the thought for a couple of days, because it is truly a difficult speech to give.
In oratory, the orator is the center of attention. It takes a great deal of confidence to give a good speech. You could argue that a lot of natural ability steams from a strong ego. With a eulogy, the orator is not the center of attention, but rather a narrator or commentator about the life of someone else. When I spoke at the funeral, I stood off to the side of my brother’s casket for this very reason; I did not want to be in the center of the room – that was my brother’s place – and I certainly did not want to stand overlooking him from the stage behind the casket.
I researched how to give a eulogy as I research almost everything. I compiled some suggestions, because there are no set rules. Here is a short list of tips for giving a eulogy:
1. Keep it short
People are there to mourn the loss of a family member or a friend, not to listen to a long speech. Some suggest 3-5 minutes or 5-7 minutes.
2. Keep it in perspective
When an older person dies who has lived a good long life, a funeral is more of a memorial to that life; the eulogy can be a little lighter. When a young person dies, it is a tragedy; any humor must be restrained. There can be some light laughter, but it must fit the mood of the situation and not cause people to be uncomfortable. FYI, it is encouraged to laugh; laughter is part of the mourning process.
3. Keep it true
Give a eulogy that fits the person. If the person was a joker, share some of the best jokes. If the person was very accomplished, highlight those accomplishments. Don’t try to paint a perfect saint of someone who was well known not to be. It is tempting to put the absolute best image on someone’s life, but make certain that it is still an image about the person.
4. Share personal stories
It is good to give some stories about the person. Funerals are mostly about the memories. The person who gives the eulogy should be someone who knew the deceased, so the eulogy can be a personal tribute.
5. Keep it about the person
Remember that the eulogy is about someone else, not you. Nor is the eulogy a political speech; it is not the platform for a social argument, but if the person held strong, well known political beliefs, you can highlight those beliefs if it is in perspective to the life the person lived – i.e. the eulogy for a President or Senator.
If I ever have to give a eulogy again, I will without hesitation; I believe it is a great honor and a tribute to the person who died. However, I pray that it is a long time before I give another eulogy.
It’s an understatement to say life is not fair. Sometimes life is darn right tough. But to know how to appreciate the joy in life, we have to experience the sorrows. Shakespeare once wrote, “Tears water our growth.” The Psalmist wrote, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
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