By Linda Stuart
You’ve been asked to give a eulogy. It’s an honour, it’s a privilege and, yes, it’s really hard. But few things in life that are worthwhile come easy, so grab a box of tissues, pour yourself a glass of something (no judgment) and carve out a few hours—because time is what you’ll need to craft a eulogy as unique and special as the life you are remembering.
Personally, I like to start with a “brain dump.” On a blank piece of paper, I write the deceased’s name in the centre and circle it. Now, anything that comes to mind—stories, quotes, songs, traits—I write down in point form on the page. When I can’t think of anything else, I take a short break and, when I return, I highlight the points that really jump out at me—the ones that are relevant and reflect the essence of a life: a person’s teachings, their wit and wisdom, and the legacy they’ve left behind. It often looks something like this:
The brain dump gives you an idea of what you’d like to talk about. Next, you can start building your eulogy keeping the following ten pointers in mind.
Capture and keep the attention of your audience by starting with a strong statement. It could be a rhetorical question, an inspirational quote, cherished song lyrics, or a favourite expression. Maybe something like this:
"She once joked that red wine and dark chocolate were the keys to her heart."
You can also take this opportunity to establish a gentle theme to be woven throughout the eulogy. Go easy on this though … too much can be, well, too much. How not to start? Avoid clichés like, “We are gathered here…” Everyone knows why they’re gathered. It’s a funeral.
Author and researcher Brené Brown says, “Stories are data with soul.” Simply reciting a list of facts about a person’s life is definitely not memorable. Instead, create a narrative. Take the audience on a journey through the art of storytelling. But choose carefully. Telling stories for the sake of telling stories is not the goal. Instead, select illustrative stories that reflect the essence and heart of the deceased.
Here’s an example of telling:
“She was a kind and generous boss.”
Now, look how much more powerful it is to show:
“That Christmas, Barbara gifted her employees with not only a lavish bonus but also each received a handwritten personal note of gratitude detailing his or her unique talent and unwavering commitment.”
Last year, I led a funeral for a high school friend who died at 53 of breast cancer. Dina was very involved in planning her own funeral, and engaged me as her celebrant two years prior to her death. One day, she called me in a panic worried that at her funeral, she would be declared a saint. Dina was funny, generous, sassy, kind, and quirky—but a saint, she was not. Now I’m not suggesting that the ceremony is the appropriate time to air dirty laundry, but we’re all striving to live authentic lives, and our funerals should be no different.
Sprinkle with Humour.
Note I said sprinkle, not soak—this is not the time to test your stand-up comedy routine (although, if Uncle Jack was a comedian, this rule might get thrown out the window). Laughing and crying are closely related, and injecting a note of levity can be a welcome addition to an otherwise heavy moment. But a word of caution: if there are any questionable stories you are tempted to tell, it’s always a good idea to check with family members first.
You can't tell someone's entire life story in the time you have been allotted, so don't even try. What you want to do instead is peel away the layers and capture their essence. Too many details can muddy a story. The result? You lose your audience.
Not everyone will agree with me on this, but I don’t believe this is the appropriate time to “wing it.” Emotions and nerves can overwhelm even the most experienced speakers so, when it comes to funerals, do yourself and the audience a favour, and be prepared.
Try to write the way you speak—it will be more natural that way. Use a large font that you are comfortable reading and leave space in the margins to allow for last minute add-ons. Make sure that your words flow and avoid phrases that might cause you to trip over your tongue. Most smartphones come with a voice recording app installed so you can listen back and time yourself. Practice with someone you respect and trust and who is comfortable providing you with honest feedback.
When we’re nervous, we have a tendency to speak very quickly. Make a conscious effort to slow down and remember that while youmight be familiar with the material, the audience is hearing it for the very first time. They might need a moment to absorb what you’ve said before you move on to the next thought. And don’t be afraid of silence or an extended pause. Sometimes, just resting a beat and letting people sit with the quiet is the most effective way to emphasize a point.
Eye contact is important in engaging an audience. When I'm speaking to a group—whether it be a funeral or other type of presentation—I always gravitate towards two or three positive-energy individuals in the crowd. Located in different areas of the space, they might be smiling or nodding or just giving me good vibes. If you find it too difficult to look directly at any one person, focus your gaze just above the audience’s heads.
Author Washington Irving said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love.”
If you've been asked to speak at someone’s funeral, chances are they were somebody you cared about. Be prepared: this will be an emotionally charged experience for you. But please don’t let a few tears sway you from this incredibly meaningful and potentially healing opportunity. The more familiar you are with your speech the easier it will be to deliver without completely breaking down. But it might happen, and that’s okay. If it does, don’t try to talk through your sobs. Instead take a moment, take a breath, and don’t be afraid to close your eyes while you regroup. Maybe take a sip of water. And, if you just can’t continue, enlist the help of a friend or the officiant/celebrant to carry on for you. Make a plan in advance for someone to act as your back-up.
"It’s true she loved dark chocolate and red wine, but it was the people in this room who really held the keys to her heart, and I am grateful to have been considered one of them."
Tie it up with a bow and let your strong start help with your strong finish. Bring your story and your theme full circle. And remember, you have taken your audience on an emotional journey. Try to end with an uplifting message of hope and gratitude.
I don’t think there is anything more you could have done. Everything was so professionally done, in our experience. I don’t know any place that goes the extra mile to help families accommodate their needs. Nothing could have been improved. We could not have been more satisfied.
It felt as if you had met and knew John! All of us agreed that John would have approved. Many friends commented on how lovely the service was and how it suited John.
I really can’t think of anything you could have done to better improve our experience. The only other funeral that I helped arrange was for my father, and at that time I didn’t get the same sense of professionalism or sympathy. Nathan was willing to accept our suggestions, and also to “take the lead” in showing us the next step and what was expected, even to putting details of the funeral into my computer!
You did a wonderful job from start to finish. I can’t think of anything you need to improve on. Great job! Helping us to wade through the government forms was great! Saved us a lot of anxiety. We will definitely recommend your funeral home. Wonderful service with kind and caring staff.
I don’t see how you can improve exceptional services. Whatever was necessary on your part to provide was done without question. You eliminated much paperwork and guided us through a painful process with empathy and professionalism.
I feel the professional quality of services my family received was second to none.
Nathan, I can’t tell you how much your care and support has meant to my whole family. You obviously take great pride in the service you provide. I can’t think of anything you could have done to help us more. You, your mom and Terri-Ann make an excellent team. I had so many compliments on the set up and the service. I sing your praises to everyone who asks. Keep up the fantastic work.
Ruth Stephen and family
It was exceptional how Nathan opened our hearts and minds to give info; then transferred into so many ‘on target’ ways. Also very comforting and understanding to us all. Many comments, impressed, liked all that was done, respectful family-like atmosphere at all times. Especially kind to young members of family as well. Above and totally beyond expectation – Thanks.
What one thing could we have done better to improve your experience?
Nothing, we were very happy with services and support provided to our family. Well done. We really appreciated everything that was done for us and how well it was done.
Overall I am extremely pleased. Your kind, caring and professional services went above what I expected. All our needs were met satisfactorily and more.
Everything was done so professionally that I don’t think anything else could have been done.
You go above and beyond with your services and expertise and compassion.
You have succeeded in taking the sadness out of a funeral and made it into a celebration of life and remembrance, which we truly appreciated... Continue doing what you did for us. It was exceptional in every regard.
Our law office often has had many estates involving families who have obtained funeral services from Nathan. He is regarded by my staff and myself as outstanding for his professional, pleasant, and efficient manner. We would highly recommend Rhody Family Funeral Home to anyone.
Ross McLean, McLean Lawyers
Dear Nathan, I cannot say thank you enough for everything you and the rest of the Rhody Family Funeral Home team done for our family with Mom's passing. From the moment you got to Mom's house your professionalism was second to none. You listened and read between the lines yet missed nothing, every little touch was simply perfect, you left nothing undone, your care and compassion to ensure our family made Mom proud one more time, and for that I am forever grateful. You took a very difficult time for us and made it as simple and stress free for us as humanly possible. Nathan you should be very proud of yourself and the rest of your team. You have definitely set the bar very high for any other funeral home in the province to follow. Again thank you
Sincerely, Deb and Doug
Nathan: Thank you so very much for all that you have done for my Mom and my family. Your friendship during this difficult time was truly heartfelt. You made us feel welcome and like a part of your family. The whole time we spoke both at the nursing home and then at your place was a very peaceful experience. Not once were we made to feel like we did not belong there. Your attention to detail in everything that all of us said shows in the story of my Dad’s life and the video. Where there were concerns, you set them all at ease. I so appreciate all that you did for my Mom in helping her take care of cancellations and notifications for my Dad. It set her mind at ease knowing that you were taking care of all of this for her. It set me at ease knowing that she would not have to deal with the frustrations that sometimes come in taking care of these things. You and your family have gone above and beyond in all that you have done for us and I am truly thankful. The warmth and caring went home with us that day. We knew that the right choice had been made in allowing you to take care of my Dad. Again, thank you.
Your services are respectful, accomodating and very professional. An excellent job done. Thank you.
Our aunt & uncle were buried from a different funeral home and we noticed a huge difference in the funeral home services provided. Our mom and dad looked so natural (thank you!) while our aunt and uncle did not. Thank you Nathan, we can't begin to tell you how much we appreciate you and your staff this year!
Ann Legge, Patricia Tibbo & Jane Lembke
All the worlds a stage and all the men and women merely players." Rhody Family Funeral Home takes this and runs with it in an intricate and tasteful manner. The beautiful funeral home sets the stage to reflect the deceased's individual personality. Nathan's artistic ability is only surpassed by his compassion, sincerity and understanding. He goes above and beyond the required duties. His staff is second to none. Darlene Rhody soft spoken and sympathetic and Morris Emke gentlemanly and obliging. Pastor Terri-Ann is like no other with her comforting words of wisdom and encouragement and so compassionate. Her service was nothing short of beautiful. A very heartfelt thank you to Nathan and his staff for making an unpleasant experience bearable. And hats off to Rhody Family funeral home for sending dad -Ross Hammond off in the fashion he deserved. From my mom and my siblings our sincerest gratitude.
Personnel, facilities, advise & support all exceeded our expectations - it helped to communicate details by email. In particular, both Nathan and Terri-Ann did an excellent job! I was surpised at the after service documentation - all details well organized.
Nathan and staff were kind and helpful throughout the process. They really went above and beyond to make the experience as positive as possible.
Everything was great - many great comments made about the story alone on Pearl's life and we sent copies to people who could not attend - a very nice addition.
Family of Pearl Stephen
Our experience was amazing under the circumstances. Your services were perfect. You went above and beyond our expectations. You are very caring, compassionate and professional in your approach. You create a very therapeutic environment.
"Dear Nathan, your many caring and creative touches from the notice to the burial in the days following Catharine's (McKeeman) passing meant so much to all of us. You honoured her life in so many meaningful ways. Your compassion and celebration of her life will always be remembered by all those Catharine held dear."
Ian Campbell, Catharine's Brother
“Nathan, you did an absolutely amazing job. People give us compliments about everything from the life story to the beautiful, elaborate displays at the visitation. I tell everyone it was you. All the surprises - the cookies, the recipe cards, the signing picture - all amazing!”
Kim and Alan Grant
“Staff were professional and friendly.”
Lawrence and Heather Lamarche
“Nathan, you present yourself very well. Facilities were all that could be expected.”
“I would recommend your funeral home to everyone. Nathan’s ability to put you at ease, with a caring attitude is super and very respectful!”
“We were all very impressed.”
“Dear Nathan - You did a good job. Thank-you for all your help and all the information you obtained for me."
“Your sense of humour was a plus! You and your staff clearly have a calling for the work that you do. We all felt that we were in good hands throughout the entire process…. Nathan, thank you for everything. You made things easy for us, as we felt like we were working on Dad’s arrangements with family. We gave Dad a great send off and thank you and your staff for being a part of it.”
“Letters cancelling Gov’t services was a great help and was very much appreciated.”
William & Loraine Patterson
“You did everything really well. All needs were met and then some.… We received positive comments on the stationary. Great keep sakes. The book and slideshow were beautiful.”
“We had no concerns- worries, nothing, but confidence in the staff – we knew exactly how everything would happen and when - it was so nice not to have to concern ourselves with anything.”
"I don't think there is anything more you or your staff could do."
"No improvement needed. We were pleased with everything."
“I would not have changed anything. Thanks very much – Nathan and staff.”
“New renovations are very inviting and warm. All your new cards and books are very heart warming and keepsakes.”
"Staff were outstanding. Overall, it was great. Everything was perfect."
“Staff is exceptional!... All needs were met.”
“Service was beyond expectations… Already recommended to various people.”
“Could not have been more useful – very satisfied! I would highly recommend Rhody Family. Thank you ever so much for your professionalism and expertise.”
“Honestly, you and your staff made this time in my life the best it could be and were extremely helpful, respectful, professional and accommodating to my needs and my family’s needs, especially providing me with a space to feed [my child] if needed. Thank you for everything”
“Everything was perfect; it’s always nice to have lots of options.”
“Thank you for all your empathy, compassion and professionalism. Our family… is very grateful that we chose Rhody Family Funeral Home to look after our loved one.”
“Your services were excellent. Thank you again.”