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February 2024
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Saying Goodbye Isn’t Easy

How to craft a meaningful eulogy.

By Bill Brown, DTM

Group of tea light candles lit

There is an old saying that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Much as I would like to be writing a eulogy to taxes, I, like many of you, have been called on to deliver a eulogy due to the death of a loved one.

The occasion rarely provides a lot of time to plan it out, and the emotional dynamics of the event contribute to making the eulogy a difficult task. If you are faced with delivering a eulogy and don’t know what to say, let me make a few suggestions.

First, find a few characteristics about the person’s life that those attending would relate to. Three or four is all that you need.

Second, fill them out with a few examples that will have the attendees either laughing or smiling in remembrance. People want to think about their time with the person you’re honoring.

And third, start with something light and fun and finish with something more serious, while still light-hearted or positive.

Perhaps one of my experiences can help you when you are called upon to memorialize a friend or relative.

My father-in-law had passed away. My wife was an only child, so she had the task of planning all the activities surrounding the burial and memorial service. The fact that this would all occur 400 miles away was an added complication.

She told me that she wanted me to deliver the eulogy and that she had written what she wanted me to say. We were in our hotel room the evening before the service when she discovered that she had left the text at home. Fortunately, she had some personal memories that her father had written over the years and asked me to write a new eulogy. And I only had a few hours to do it.

As I read those memories, a template presented itself, and I considered the previously mentioned structure, beginning with finding a few characteristics or themes.

In each of the writings, he talked about the various cars that he had owned. He lived to age 90 but could still remember the first car that he owned as a teenager, how much he paid for it, how many miles it had on it when he bought it, and from whom he bought it. Who remembers those details? Someone who loved cars.

He also wrote about his various jobs. He sold cars. As a milkman, he sold dairy services to the community. He later went into real estate and sold houses. Selling was his thing.

He and his wife were active at church, served as greeters every Sunday morning, and made everyone feel welcome. This was natural for him, since he was a people person. Even in his later years, when he moved into an assisted living facility, he soon made friends and had many of the residents wanting to sit at his table at meals.

These themes suggested a structure to unify the speech. I wrote a four-point eulogy around the things he loved: cars, sales, people, and his faith.

People want to think about their time with the person you’re honoring.

The first two were lighthearted. The stories about his first cars made some people attending the service smile. This was a glimpse into his past that they did not know.

On the other hand, some of the people had purchased cars from him. Many more bought milk or homes from him. Some of them, both. This gave them an opportunity to reminisce about their times with him.

The last two points gave me an opportunity to move the talk into a more reflective and serious tone.

Many of the mourners knew him from their church. They had been greeted by him and had worked with him in various activities at the church. He was a consummate organizer.

Finally, his dedication to his faith defined his life and this theme helped summarize the eulogy for all those present. This enabled me to bring the eulogy to a respectful conclusion, leaving those attending with a sense that they had truly honored him and his life.

While there are many tasks that surround a memorial service, a eulogy is, perhaps, the most important. It provides an opportunity for attendees to think back on the individual’s life and their interactions with them. Hopefully my experience will help when you find yourself faced with writing a eulogy. It’s never easy, but hopefully it will be a little easier.


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