The holiday season is often marked by the loss of loved ones, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for the inevitable. I am a well-published writer, so it seems that when a close friend or family member dies, I’m asked to write the eulogy.
In fact, over the past few years, I’ve written more eulogies and given more tributes than I have in my six previous decades. Writing a eulogy is healing for both the writer and the listener.
Writing for Memorials and Celebrations of Life
These days, people choose to call these events “Celebrations of Life,” instead of “Memorials,” which makes complete sense to me, except with that wording it seems as if the person should be present.
Thus, when writing a eulogy, I cannot help but think how our loved ones would have enjoyed hearing how they impacted us.
Attending memorials reminds me of the importance of expressing gratitude more often to those who are meaningful to us. These gatherings also help us heal, as the attendees share emotional, spiritual, and practical sentiments and advice.
As president elect Joe Biden says in his beautiful book Promise Me, Dad: “Funerals are for the living, I have always believed, and the job of the eulogist is to acknowledge the enormity of the loss they have just suffered and to help them appreciate that the legacy and accomplishments of their loved one have not died with them” (p. 43).
Time Is of Essence in Writing
In many instances, we don’t have a lot of time to write a eulogy, and sometimes it’s challenging writing under duress without having had enough distance from the loss.
It’s also difficult to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, and while time heals, the shock of the loss can be overwhelming, whether it was sudden or anticipated.
What Is a Eulogy
Typically, a eulogy is a piece of writing that praises or honors someone who has passed away. It is a written document that can be read at a memorial or celebration, but can also be published in a magazine or newspaper.
In my book, Writing for Bliss, there are two sections on both memoir writing and on writing about others. In a sense, a eulogy is a snapshot and reflection on someone’s life.
Writing a Eulogy
Like any other creative endeavor, writing takes practice, and it might take a few drafts or revisions for you to get it right. I like writing eulogies first by hand in my journal and then transcribing into the computer.
Time permitting, it’s a good idea to write the eulogy and put it away for a few days and then reread it. It’s also a good idea to have someone else read the eulogy. It doesn’t have to be someone who knows the person. Ultimately, you want it to be something you’re proud of sharing.
It goes without saying that in order to write a creative eulogy, first you need to feel a deep sense of love and loss for the person who has passed. Three of the most creative eulogies I’ve written were for my father-in-law and two mentors/friends.
Eulogy Examples from My Own Pile
Fear was not a word in Alex’s vocabulary – either in the face of all his losses, including his siblings, the Nazis, cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s, and finally, his death. When I faced my own health challenges, Alex continually told me, “Diana, have no fear.” As a man who loved giving advice, what he would say to all of us now would be, “Celebrate my life. Have no fear. Follow your dreams. Make waves. Make money. Be honest and follow your intuition.”
It’s not easy crafting a eulogy about a wonderful man who never thought he amounted to much, nor would he think he’d be worthy of this celebration. He always felt as if he stood in the shadow of his father, John Steinbeck. Thom was a renaissance man and raconteur with an interest in the arts and sciences. He was an artist, veteran, journalist, helicopter pilot, sailor, model-ship maker, Barbie repairman, bonsai expert, tequila aficionado, limerick lover, Yorkshire-pudding expert, lamb-burger adorer, and Zen pet whisperer. If you met Thom, you could not help but remember his enthusiastic and charismatic ways; his interest in everyone’s passions; his deep disdain for injustice; and that deep, sonorous voice. I will always miss his friendship, adoration, storytelling, sense of humor, and words of wisdom. In so many ways, he is still with us, as a man of greatness should always be. Amen.
When I received the text that Phil had passed away, I was on the plane from my home in California to Fort Lauderdale to await the birth of my third grandchild. For the entire flight, my eyes filled with tears, and all I could think of were Phil’s words: “When it hurts, write harder,” which for years had been posted on a sticky note above my computer. I believed in those words, but on this flight, my pen became paralyzed. I couldn’t write. I was in too much shock. How could Phil be gone? When I visited him last year, I knew it would be the last time I’d see him. And now, perhaps he’s resting peacefully, and once again rereading one of his favorite books, Anna Karenina.
Tips for Writing a Creative Eulogy
Here are some suggestions to help you write a creative eulogy:
- Start by making a list of special moments and memories.
- Consider the tone for your eulogy/tribute.
- Begin by saying who you are and how you knew the person.
- Share your most poignant experiences or memories.
- Consider the other speakers and try to offer a different perspective.
- End with some of this person’s words of wisdom.
- To edit, read the eulogy out loud in front of a mirror.
The best eulogies are written after death and before the memorial, because they tend to be more organized. When grieving, it’s sometimes difficult to remain focused. So, having the words in front of you will make it easier to speak. Spontaneity is not always possible at these moments.
My website has some articles and poems written about my loved ones, and perhaps you can use them as examples to honor your loved ones with beautiful words.
Have you written any eulogies? For whom were they? How did you go about it? When do you think is the best time to write the eulogy? Have you adopted a particular method that works for you? Please share with our community!
Originally Published in Sixty and Me, November 14, 2020