Relationships

How to Write a Eulogy

In 2017, Kristine Keller and Marisa Polansky founded Speech Tank, a speechwriting company for special occasions. Mostly that meant weddings, and before long, they felt they had cracked the code on the perfect toast. Then they got their first request for a eulogy. Here’s what they learned in the process…


First, when writing eulogies, we learned to listen. We heard stories about about puppy love in old-age homes, firefly chases with barefooted grandchildren, and the secret to Dane County’s blue-ribbon chocolate chip cookies (which we dare not reveal here). And as we picked up our pens, we began to realize that wedding speeches and eulogies are not altogether different. They both originate from the same place: love. Joyous, grateful, life-affirming love.

If you’re reading this as you mourn, we’re so sorry you’re in need of our advice. And while this is advice on eulogy writing, the truth is that the only “right” words are yours, so here are some tips to help you find them.

1) Think of Prompts

If it feels impossible to sum up a life, that’s because it is. Instead take it in slivers. Imagine you were writing one of those student-of-the-week fill-in-the-blank reports about this person. What was their favorite way to spend a weekend? What was their life motto? What made them laugh the hardest? What was one thing they taught you? What reminds you of them when you’re not together? Think back to the moments you remember in eulogies. They’re likely all small, specific details. Here are some we love: an 80-year-old woman was remembered by her children’s friends as the parent who invited the whole class to birthday parties; a son thought of his mother every time he ate his bowl of cereal sitting down instead of standing up, heeding her advice to “treat yourself nicely”; a speech giver told the audience to think of her father every time they smelled grilled burgers, a sign that their dad was hosting one of his beloved backyard BBQs. In the end it’s those seemingly insignificant moments that end up being the most memorable. So, whatever comes up, write down.

2) Dig in

Now that you’ve got something on the page, revisit it. Be as specific as possible. Do you remember one special weekend in particular? How did they translate their life motto into action? What made that joke hysterical? It’s extremely tough to be vulnerable especially while grieving, but instead of telling through platitudes like, “she was the most loyal person on the planet,” tell through examples like “when I got sick with some mysterious grade-school illness, he sat on the cold bathroom floor to warm up the tiles since I’d be spending all night there.” Or instead of “she showed me the value of hard work,” talk about the time she spontaneously let you skip school, but instead of taking you to the latest installment of Harry Potter, she proudly brought you to her new corner office.

3) Find a Theme

When you look at someone’s life, chances are they were fairly consistent, so examine your stories for a through line. Maybe that person bucked clothing trends in favor of loud colors, chose to be an artist in a line of doctors, or insisted on driving to every 6 a.m. hockey practice and attending every single game, home or away. Your theme might be as simple as “she was meant to be a parent.” Once you identify your theme, you’ll be able to see which stories support the theme and build an outline from there. The best speeches include a few stories, and they’re framed by one overarching narrative. You do not have to cover an entire life: It is enough to be a highlight reel told from your perspective. Because remember, no one else has that perspective. P.S. As long as we’re talking structure, it’s good form to acknowledge family and close friends sitting in the front rows of the service, and also to introduce yourself and how you knew the person you’re eulogizing.

4) Don’t Be Afraid of Humor

Sure, portions of your eulogy should be lofty and serious. It’s what often feels fitting for the moment. But eulogies are about life not death. So, if you can find light in the darkness, let it shine through. One client told us a story of how her grandfather always did the ole quarter-behind-her-ear bit. Well into her teen years, she pretended to be surprised thinking it’s what he wanted. Only later did she discover he was only performing the joke to watch her do her terrible “I’m surprised” face! Of course, not every joke is fair game. Don’t tell inside jokes, don’t reveal their most embarrassing moment, and beware of saying something that paints the eulogized in a particularly bad light.

5) Remember: It’s an Honor

If you cry uncontrollably, or fumble the words, or suddenly get the strangest urge to sing their favorite song — do it, say it, sing it. There is no right way to go about grieving, and there’s certainly no right way to hold up that grief to others. Be genuine. Be yourself. It’s why you’re giving the eulogy in the first place. There is one thing, though, that’s the same with all eulogies…it won’t be easy. It may be unfathomably painful and feel like you can’t push through. But remember that this the ultimate way to honor your friend or family member who you miss so deeply. It helps to think of that person listening and being grateful to you for this last gesture of love and honor. Because maybe they are.


Thank you, Marisa and Kristine. To anyone missing someone today, we’re so sorry for your loss.

P.S. How to write a condolence card and 17 reader comments on grief.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)

  1. martha says...

    I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to write/delivery the eulogy for someone special in their life – to do so. I did so for my mom 10 years ago; then, April 2019 – did the same for dad when he passed at 95. It was hard, and at dad’s nearly backed out. Got to the alter, at the podium and said, “well, this seemed like a REALLY good idea a couple days ago.” That got a few chuckles and smiles from the attendees – exactly what I needed to go on. Dad was an engineer/pencil pusher by trade but always a writer. He loved that fact that I earn my living as one – doing what we both love. Had I passed on the chance to do so for the two of them, I know I would live with lifelong regrets

  2. liz says...

    amazing advice.

  3. This is so beautiful. I’m tearing up just thinking about having to give a eulogy for the people I love. I was recently reflecting on the idea of writing birthday cards as if they were eulogy speeches because I think it would be so, so painful to lose someone and then speak the most beautiful words about them after it’s too late. I know it’s morbid but it pushes me to more openly share the kind things I think about people behind their backs! https://feedingthesoil.com/2019/10/28/birthday-cards-as-eulogy-speeches/

    • Kelly says...

      My uncle passed away a few days before Christmas. The whole family trekked to his funeral since we’d be seeing family we hadn’t seen in a while and most of my family hadn’t yet met our 3 month old daughter. On the car ride home, my 5 yr old daughter asked, “Do you think Uncle Mark heard all the nice things everyone said about him?”, referring to the eulogy and comments overheard in conversations. I told her that I think he did. Your comment made me think of this and how nice it would be to have people hear it while they are still alive….

  4. Megan says...

    When our beautiful daughter Beatrix passed away just after her first birthday, my husband and I both found it meaningful and therapeutic to write about her. I wrote her obituary and he wrote and delivered her eulogy. Her death her was and is more painful than you can possibly imagine, but we are so grateful to have these records of our thoughts and feelings and to have had the opportunity to share them.

    Beatrix Reid Lawrence Obituary – Visitation & Funeral Information
    https://www.sullivanfamilyfuneralhomes.com/obituaries/Beatrix-Reid-Lawrence?obId=3388067

    Eulogy for Bea
    https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1HpvfNIur0IeRU7qp3uQeRnM6idqhH5sE4Zo0WtOtToc/mobilebasic

    One thing to think about regarding eulogies, don’t feel required to deliver them yourself. Our (Episcopalian) priest strongly discourages it knowing that not everyone is a strong public speaker and will focus their energy on that ‘performance’ during a funeral and not on the ceremony and symbolism of the service itself. In our western culture there are so few rituals around death and dying that being as mentally present (as possible) for the funeral ceremony itself is an important part of the grieving process.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this is a beautiful piece of advice, and i’m so sorry about the loss of your daughter. beatrix is such a beautiful name. it reminds me of the play Much Ado About Nothing and of course beatrix potter. she sounds like a very sweet little girl. xoxoxo

    • M says...

      Thank you so much for sharing this xoxo

    • Sarah D. says...

      Dear Megan, Thank you for posting your husband’s beautiful eulogy and the loveliest picture of your daughter, Bea. I’m sorry for the loss of your baby and am thinking of your darling family and sending you as much love as I can from California.

    • Lindsay says...

      Thank you for sharing — I am sorry you had to say goodbye to your sweet Beatrix. I’ll think of her now whenever I hear her name! Sending love to your family. xo

    • silly lily says...

      Oh my God, literally sobbing. God bless you all and send you Peace.

  5. Sally says...

    I gave a speech at my dad’s funeral, and it was both one of the hardest, and most positive experiences I’ve ever had.
    I agonised over the writing of it, and practiced it constantly. I was so nervous about the delivery, that when I practiced it in my best friend’s car, I had a panic attack.
    But when it came to the day, I stood up, and it just flowed. It was horrible, and delightful, hard and easy, all at the same time. Honestly one of the strangest moments of my life to date.

    Writing a funeral speech for a loved one is so hard to do, because you want to squeeze into 5 minutes, EVERY SINGLE THING that made that person magical. I wanted to tell everyone how dad championed and fought fiercely for the underdog, I wanted to tell them about the dumb games we played together, like when (only about 2 months before he died) we played zombies in a graveyard together, and made my mum take photos of us. I wanted to talk about how all the good parts in me, were at least partly down to him. And I wanted to quote Monty Python. :)

    But of course, all the people gathered there felt the same about him as I did. And I think that’s what people need to remember. People don’t generally come to funerals to hate on the dead person, or to wish ill on the “official” mourners. EVERYONE there came because they’d either loved dad, or wanted to support those of us left behind. And when you give your speech, I found it really beneficial to remember that all the people in the room are internally cheering me on. And it turns out giving a speech to an entirely supportive audience isn’t so hard.
    I’m glad I did it, and I will gladly do the same for my mum, when the time comes.

  6. I gave my first Eulogy at age 31 to my best friend who was also 31 this past December. Her mother had asked me to talk at her funeral. I was able to bring all of my favorite memories and it made people laugh and remember all the good times we had with her. I wish I was able to talk at my Dad’s funeral when he passed away a few years ago but I was not able to pull myself together at that time. I was pregnant with my twins then and was informed by my Doctors that I could go into labor at the funeral if I went up the casket. With time and prayer, it’s amazing to see how God talks through each of us in these circumstances when we need strength the most.

  7. janine says...

    I regret that I didn’t give a eulogy at my father’s funeral (even though I’m a writer!). Honestly, I was just so overwhelmed and no one asked me to do it, and I didn’t even think to say I wanted to do it. I don’t know that I could have gotten through reading it, though – I was just a mess. He was a wonderful person and suffered a terrible amount when he died (cancer).

  8. Rachael says...

    I read this post just hours before learning that my grandmother, who lives overseas, had passed away. At one point, I believe on this site, I read that “grief is love that doesn’t have a place to go”, and so, I knew I wanted to find somewhere for my love to go – and I’ll be channeling into writing something for her funeral. Thank you for the resources and compassion.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Thinking of you xo

  9. Alyssa says...

    This was a lovely post. Had me welling up with tears as my 92-year-old Pop Pop is going to an appointment today to see what is going on with his heart. There could be good news, bad news or no news, which would likely devastate him most. I can’t help but know that the time is coming when I might need to call upon this advice, which puts a pang of sadness deep in my chest.

  10. Elizabeth says...

    My wonderful dad died 5 months ago and I gave his eulogy along with my brother and my uncle. Such good advice in this article. Crystallising how I felt about my him into 5 minutes was incredibly healing. I was worried that I’d lose it while I was speaking and not be able to convey what I wanted to say but a friend gave me this advice which I’d like to pass on to anyone who is in the same position: “whether you cry or not something will come over you and you will be fine”. And it did, and I was.

  11. Terri says...

    I had the privilege of giving the eulogies at both of my parents’ funerals.

    My dad died of cancer at age 68 and (unfortunately) I had plenty of time to prepare this one. I wrote out every word but it was delivered well and I was able to be myself while having the script written to give the message of love and gratitude without having to remember exactly I wanted to say.

    A couple of years later, my mother died suddenly at age 69 and (again, unfortunately) I only had three days to prepare this one. Get the pattern? There’s no best scenario in which a eulogy has to be prepared….but it just has to be done…and there are ways in which it can be done well!

    It is never an easy process but the tips and suggestions given in this article are very useful and helpful. I will never regret being allowed the opportunity to write and give the eulogies for my parents.

  12. Agnès says...

    Thank you so much for these beautiful posts on death, they’re so natural, simple and real. Thank you so much.

  13. Nicole says...

    Obviously I love all posts, but this one was especially helpful to many, including my future self, of this I am sure. Thank you.

    • CC says...

      Yes, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for this post.

  14. Heather Hosac says...

    Crazy timing. My father has ALS and his time is near. My mother asked me to speak at the funeral and I wasn’t sure where to begin. Thank you.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Sending you the biggest hug, Heather.

    • Agnès says...

      A very close friend lived with ALS for a few years; when you know the end is near, life becomes so real and every minute shared is such an intense and unforgettable gift. It will give you strength for the rest of your life. Sending many thoughts to you, Heather.

  15. Virginia says...

    Wow, thank you for this post. What timing. My grandmother died just this weekend and she made such an impact on my life during hers. Her service is in a couple days and I’ve been wondering how to put together words, but this article has made me feel more empowered and prepared to do so. Thank you.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss xx

  16. Abesha1 says...

    Cup of Jo,

    Thank you for continuing over and over to deal with grief. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Kate says...

      Thank you, I second this comment. Americans are unique in how privately we grieve losses so when my first major loss happened, I had no tools to process it. This post is a good tool to help us through grief, may you be so lucky it happens many years from now.

      As an aside, when my mom passed away her family gathered in my grandmother’s backyard overlooking the Wasatch Mountains and Salt Lake City, telling personal stories about her life that followed these eulogy tips. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the woman who sewed my sister and me dresses, both when it was cool (a fairy godmother for Halloween) and not cool (7th grade band concert).

  17. Joaquina says...

    Jimmy Kimmel used light humor in his euology for Kobe Bryant (and his daughter) and it struck me as very touching. I don’t think I would have thought to inject good-hearted humor but it sure makes sense to bring some smiles or slight moments of joy when commemorating someone/people who passed. This article was really informative and will stick with me. Well done.

  18. k k says...

    This may sound crazy, but I think it’s never too early to start jotting down notes for your parents…assuming you or someone close to you will be giving their eulogies or saying something about them. Both of parents are still alive, but to think of having start with a blank Word doc when the time calls for it, makes me have some extreme anxiety. For my dad’s 50th birthday I wrote the 50 things I love about him….just 50 short bullets about him and why he’s awesome….like, He loves the movie The Karate Kid, how he treats the woman in his life, the way he tears up in happy times. So I have that as a start and it makes me feel a little at ease…considering. I’ve also written the eulogies my dad had to give for his brother and his sister.

  19. Cynthia says...

    Well-written advice. Our youngest daughter wrote and gave the eulogies for her paternal step-grandfather, her maternal grandmother, and my brother. Somehow, she has the knack for this.

  20. Rae says...

    What wonderful advice! I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral and it is one of my proudest moments. My father had a chronic, progressive disease and spent the last year of his life with the support of hospice care. He gave his loved ones a great gift by planning every single thing that he could about his funeral and life right after his death. He made so many spreadsheets. And he announced to me I would be the one giving his eulogy. He and I had a long history of encouragement (him) & reluctance (me) over any sort of performance & public speaking so even this final request felt like a fathering moment. Writing the eulogy was taxing, emotional, and stressful. It was also quite lovely to sit and just remember my father while in the midst of feeling loss. I discussed him with family and friends. I went through old photos. I wrote and rewrote many times. Ultimately I gave up on describing my father’s professional accomplishments or achievements and spoke of the humor, music, sports loves, and warmth that made him my father. It absolutely felt like an honor and I know I made him proud.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Wow that sounds incredible, Rae. What a gift you gave to your family and father.

  21. Angela says...

    I had the honor of giving a speech as the MOH at my best friend’s wedding last fall. It is one of the highlights of my life. Not only do I love to entertain an audience, she is truly one of my favorite people on the planet. I probably could’ve talked for 20 minutes of my love of her and what a wonderful human being she is, so brevity was more of my challenge! I definitely followed these ideas. I kept a doc that I would add things to as I was thinking of them (on my drive home or daydreaming) and then it pretty much just wrote itself when I sat down to connect the dots.

  22. Amy says...

    Beautiful.

  23. Silver says...

    My comment is the opposite to the eulogy, it is a wedding speech but it refers to the emotion the speech maker might display. My friend was asked to make the Friend of the bride’s speech, and as she took to the stage she started to giggle – and giggle and giggle. I can’t even remember if she ever articulated more than a few words. However those giggles contained a world of love and everyone in the room felt it. Weeping at a funeral also conveys a world of feeling – and a honest depiction of the grief that love can leave us with.

  24. DC says...

    This is all such good advice!

    Also in this sentence: “It’s extremely tough to be vulnerable especially while grieving, but instead of telling through platitudes like, ‘she was the most loyal person on the planet’ through examples like ‘when I got sick with some mysterious grade-school illness, he sat on the cold bathroom floor to warm up the tiles since I’d be spending all night there.’ ”

    Shouldn’t this should say “give” instead of the second “through”? I think a word is missing here…

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thank you, fixed!

  25. Celeste says...

    Thanks. Gave my father’s eulogy 18 months ago; attended my uncle’s funeral today. I think I hit most of the points and orders make me feel better to know that.

  26. Agnes says...

    Thank you so much for this. I gave a eulogy at my mom’s memorial four days ago. I have never given one before and this reaffirms everything I said! I’m an only child and was the only one to speak, so it was a lot on my shoulders, but yes, it was truly an honor.

    • Emily says...

      sending love xo

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Agnes, I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother. Thinking of you.

  27. Julie says...

    As the oldest of 23 grandchildren I was chosen to give my Pop Pop’s eulogy four years ago. I remember sitting in my living room with my laptop, the blank Word document blinking its cursor at me like it was saying “YOU’RE GOING TO BLOW IT.” So I breathed and thought of what he meant to me, his 7 kids, his other grandkids, my Mom Mom. And I started jotting down phrases and sentences or aspects of his life I wanted to discuss, e.g. “mention his faith, his love of reading”, “say that we should all be that lucky to know the depth of Mom Mom’s devotion”, “his legacy is his family”, “talk about how he loved his recliner the most but at least loved Mom Mom more than the couch.” I felt more confident once I had an opening paragraph, but I was still terrified that I would disappoint everyone. My Mom Mom ended up carrying a copy of the eulogy until we lost her this September.

    • ann says...

      i’m sure it meant so much to her and be able to read that anytime she needed and carry it with her.

  28. arielle says...

    I had the sad honor of writing 3 eulogies in 3 months this fall, and wow I wish I’d been able to read this beforehand. It’s kind, compassionate, and such good advice. I appreciate this post so much.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Sending love to you xoxo

  29. Jenn says...

    I wrote and delivered my father’s eulogy last June. It was one of the greatest honors of my life.

    • Wendela says...

      This comes 3 months too late for me, but matches totally with what I eventually figured out for myself. Find themes, include a bunch of stories/anecdotes, be specific, find a way to mention the people who are there at the service listening (and thank them!), and allow things to be both funny & sad (the latter: obviously! But also the former). I wrote a ton and then edited heavily. I was told to aim for 7-9 minutes of talking (not sure how standard that is, but it helped me to have that as a guide).
      Hugs to anyone working on one of these now. It’s not easy.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Jenn, I’m sure your father would have been so touched and proud.

  30. MKW says...

    May I add? Keep the person human… just because they died doesn’t make them perfect/angelic. We can love and speak of those we adore in realistic life terms. It’s more relatable. Good obit writers have this figured out. Read the weekly obituaries in the Wall Street Journal. They are great… and often written by a fellow North Dakotan/UND grad. (State reference wasn’t necessary to the comment but us North Dakotans need a little shout-out here and there. We are sometimes under-appreciated!!)

    • Cindy says...

      This made me laugh. We love you ND! Also, this is very good advice: avoid the temptation to make them perfect/angelic. Yes.

    • Susannah says...

      Yes, and i feel the same for condolences too. My mom died last year and – although it was comforting to hear how valuable she’d been to so many people – it bothered me when anyone talked about her as saintly or perfect. Of course they meant well, but it dehumanized her somehow.