How to Give a Eulogy for a Friend
Few things are more terrifying—or more heartbreaking—than the prospect of giving a eulogy. Not only is public speaking a huge fear for a large percentage of the population, but public speaking when your life has just been turned upside down might feel like the impossible. How can you summarize another person’s life in a speech of just a few minutes? And how can you do it without breaking down?
There is no easy answer to either of these questions, but one thing that is true of almost all funerals is this: you won’t regret standing up to speak. Whether you break down in the middle and stumble over most of the words, or if you make it all the way through, dry-eyed and reading from a prepared speech, your eulogy will mean a lot to the grieving family.
At most funerals, there are one or two “official” speakers who are asked to stand up and give a eulogy. Although this is a task often reserved for a family member or someone with a history of public speaking (such as a pastor or teacher), it is not uncommon for a close friend to be asked to eulogize the deceased. Because you aren’t a member of the immediate family, you have a viewpoint that many might be unaware of, and your contribution can help those in pain to better understand their loss.
This type of eulogy typically requires that you write out a prepared speech in advance, which can be intimidating. Unless you are a professional public speaker, it is difficult to write out a speech that will meet time requirements, move the crowd to tears, and keep you in control of your feelings the whole time.
Which is why you don’t have to do any of these things. Instead of sitting down to write a formal speech, sit down and start writing memories. How did you meet the deceased? When did you first become friends? How did he/she affect your life in a positive way?
From here, you can freeform memories and thoughts of all kinds: funny childhood stories, times when the deceased made you laugh and/or cry, the things you loved most about him or her…even the things that made you angry but never got in the way of your friendship. Although you won’t have to include all these things in the eulogy, they are a good starting point for organizing your thoughts and feelings.
Another common funeral tradition is for guests to be invited to stand up and speak after the formal eulogy has taken place. If you are nervous about public speaking but still want to share your thoughts and memories, this is a good time to do it, since much of the pressure is taken off.
In some cases, a microphone will be passed around and you can speak from your seat; in others, you might be invited to the front of the room. Either way, don’t be afraid to share what you are feeling. Family members are almost always too overwhelmed and upset to do much speaking during this time, which means that the burden falls to friends. Remember that the grieving family wants to hear from you. By standing up and sharing your feelings, you are letting them know how much the deceased meant to you.
If you are attending a funeral for a friend, try to come up with a few stories or memories that can be said during this time. Even if there isn’t an opportunity to say your piece at the funeral itself, these stories can be shared with individual family members during the reception or even in the days and weeks that follow. They’ll also go a long way in helping you come to terms with your own loss.