Most of the funeral etiquette guidelines you’ll come across include tips on how to pick the right sympathy flowers or dress for a memorial service or even what you can do to help the grieving family. And while it is important to have a handle on all these things before you attend a funeral, good manners also include knowing how to be more involved in the funeral—especially if you were close enough to the deceased to provide a eulogy.
The Formal Eulogy
Formal eulogies are typically offered by invitation only. For example, unless the family specifically asked you to speak at the funeral, you probably aren’t going to step up to the microphone and speak on the deceased’s behalf. While an “open mike” type of scenario means that anyone can say a few words or share favorite stories, the actual eulogy is reserved to a select few.
If you have been asked to deliver a eulogy, know that this is a big honor and a big responsibility. And while you are encouraged to say the words that exist in your heart, you should also follow a few important guidelines.
- Don’t agree unless you want to: If you aren’t comfortable speaking in front of large crowds, or if your grief will make it hard for you to get through the eulogy, don’t be afraid to turn it down. You can write out a speech for someone else to read aloud, share a private moment on your own ahead of time, or even sit in the back and close your eyes the entire funeral. No one should dictate your grief for you.
- Make this about the deceased, not you: Yes, your memories and thoughts will always be part of a eulogy, as there is no way to separate your life from that of the deceased. But instead of talking about how the death impacts you personally, try to focus on the deceased and how they touched not just you, but everyone present. What unforgettable contributions did he or she make to the world? How did his or her inherent personality bring joy to others? What’s a great story everyone will remember and share?
- Tears happen: No one expects you to get through a eulogy without breaking down. Even the most professional speech givers have a hard time delivering a eulogy without needing time to stop and breathe, drink some water, or even giving into a good cry. Let yourself feel these emotions and take your time if you feel overwhelmed. People will understand.
- Act as though the deceased is there with you: Don’t say anything about the deceased that you wouldn’t say if he or she were alive and present with you in the room. This is not the time to reveal secrets, declare secret passions, or otherwise make a political or personal statement.
In addition to a eulogy, you may be asked to speak during a graveside service. Treat this type of scenario with the same respect and care you would any other memorial speaking engagement, and remember that you are there for the family and to share grief with the other people who cared about the deceased.