So you need to write a eulogy

I’m sorry. If this is the case, you’re grieving and that sucks. And now you have a writing assignment—one that culminates in a reading in front of either a bunch of strangers or a bunch of people you know or a mix of both. Hard stuff that most of us are not made for.

But let’s remember, this was (ideally) someone you loved a lot. So you’ve got history, some stories to tell, some ways that you knew this person that sheds light on their essence. You can do this.

People often ask me about the difference between an obit and a eulogy. The line can be blurry sometimes, especially as we see more informal tributes on social media (and elsewhere) that stand in for obits. But a formal obituary typically offers conventions such as the lead with who, what, when, where, how; a chronology of a life; a survival list; and memorial plans. Whereas a eulogy is more personal, less comprehensive, offering anecdotes from the speaker about their relationship with a dead loved one.

I LOVE the advice that professional speech writer Chandler Dean offers in this McSweeney’s column, HOW TO CRAFT A EULOGY WHEN ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS CRAWL IN A HOLE—especially his take on brevity and humor and the best questions to ask as you’re writing. The column is funny and inspiring, it’s got useful tips, and it won’t take long to read, which is great, because you’ve got work to do.

I would add to Dean’s tips two of my favorite pieces of writing advice. One: Sleep on it. Let at least one night pass between the writing and the final edits on your eulogy. It’s amazing the clarity that you’ll gain from a little distance. Two: Read it out loud several times. This will help you find the bumps and awkwardnesses, the yawny places, and the ones you want to skim.

If you’re feeling stuck, remember that your relationship with this dear person was unique. Begin with the story of how you met or a time you disagreed or a mundane thing you did together. “Every time I learn something new about a lost loved one, I can’t quite say that it’s like they’re alive again—but man, it’s still a beautiful feeling to discover that there is still more to discover,” writes Dean.

dear person services

Writing your own obit is a fulfilling exercise that will be a big help to your loved ones when you die. I also have a structured program, with one-on-one coaching, to help guide you through this important project.

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