A eulogy is a short speech delivered in a memorial service in memory of someone who has recently died.
How to Write a Eulogy: Principles
Principle 1: A eulogy is a short speech.
In general, short speeches are better than long ones: more engaging, more focused, less apt to lose the audience’s attention. There’s so much going on in a memorial service (see below) and people are already coping with a mix of feelings. You owe it to them to keep your eulogy brief and to the point.
Principle 2: A eulogy is part of a larger event: a memorial service.
In addition to the eulogy, there may be scriptural or other inspirational readings, poems, prayers, music and songs, flowers, and in some cases elaborate ritual elements.
A eulogy serves a specific and limited purpose within the service. (More about that later.) A eulogy doesn’t do all the work.
Principle 3: A eulogy is a remembrance of someone who has died.
Originally, a eulogy was meant to praise the dead: to extol their virtues and accomplishments. (The word eulogy comes from the Greek, meaning “good words.”)
Many eulogists still limit themselves to saying only good things about the deceased. But doing so runs the risk of presenting an incomplete and, at times, distorted portrayal of the person.
A eulogy shares memories of the deceased, allowing others to tap into their own memories and, hopefully, to come to terms with them. Those memories may not all be positive or happy, at least not for everyone. What matters is telling the truth as kindly as possible.