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Help with a Eulogy

June 9, 2010 | 12 Comments

Garrison (or perhaps, Mr. Keillor);
I am a product of great Scandinavian reticence; yet I will be called upon to deliver a eulogy at a treasured family member's demise.

Could you just give me three good rules in story telling? I have a great story to tell; but my delivery sucks.

Jim S.
Anchorage, Alaska


A man with a great story to tell doesn't need help from me, Jim. A great story tells itself — just don't get in its way. Don't start out with an apology ("I don't know what I'm doing here. I have never been as nervous as I am right now. What can I possibly say about Uncle Ralph?"). Stand up and take a deep breath, smile, and launch right in. Give the audience a little warm-up, a thumbnail portrait of Uncle Ralph in 100 words or so, and then tell the great story, prefaced by whatever information the audience needs to understand it. And then sit down. It'll take you less than ten minutes. Just don't take ten minutes of material and make it into twenty minutes. You can be sure of this by writing your eulogy and then practicing delivering it, stopwatch in hand. You practice it three or four times and you won't need to look at the paper when you deliver the eulogy. And your beloved relative is worth the trouble.


Good advice. Good advice indeed.

May I also add: end decisively. Have an ending in mind and stick to it or at least don't linger on. Have a target in mind and when you hit it, get off.

Start with a fond memory of the person. A story about the person that will bring a warm response or a laugh. Then tell about a special achievement by the person. Show you admiration. Then build to a climax with another memory. No negatives! Warmth and positive throughout.

Start with a story of a fond memory. Show your warmth. The tell of a special achievement by the person. Be positive. Build to a climax with another memory. Be positive throughout. Do not ramble on. Have what you want to say in mind and stick to it.

During 12 years in Toastmasters, I learned not to say "thank you" to your audience. That habit is a nervous ending. Thanking your relative for the fruits and joys of his presence in your life, okay. You are the one who will be receiving thank you's from your listeners after the funeral for delivering the eulogy.

When giving the eulogy for my 83 year old Mother, I explained why we'd chosen to have a bag piper play - simple answer was despite being a Swede she loved hearing them. Then I spoke about her hoard of material - all neatly folded, labeled and boxed in her sewing room. There was enough to start a shop and more than enough to last her thru eternity. All this was presided over by a trophy which proudly proclaimed: "She who dies with the most material on hand wins!"
I suggested that small trophy be permanently retired with her name engraved on it because there was no doubt she'd passed over holding a bonanza of dry goods any sewing afficianado would envy forever. It was a short story that brought my Mother to mind and life for the many people attending.

Best story in a eulogy [not my family]: Dad saved everything, and he labeled everything. After he was gone, it fell to us to wade through the house, basement to attic, deciding what to do with the contents, and where it should go. At last, when only the attic remained, we went upstairs. Not much there [and that was a relief] until we opened a trunk filled with odd, short lengths of string. It was labeled, 'STRING TOO SHORT TO SAVE.'

Recently the memorial service for my mother-in-law, age 99 when she died, was begun dreadfully by a female rabbi who mopped her eyes as she told my father-in-law how hard he was going to find it to live on without her (we celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday). Most of us were appalled by that approach, we later found. She was followed by my younger daughter who prefaced her reading from Proust (my mother-in-law's favorite author) by loudly proclaiming "My grandmother was a woman full of joy," and then illustrating that remark. That rescued the tone of the service, and it turned into one full of fond memories. Funeral and memorial services are for the living; they help everyone bring together their different views and stories about the person so as to provide a whole picture that can be the first step in coping with the presence of the person's absence.

I have entered that contest, but as I am still here it is undetermined if I will surpass her to take that trophy.

Actually, I know from my sister's passing that I don't want to be a winner. I have been sewing like crazy and donating some fabrics to great causes. When people come over and look at my quilt room, they gasp. I still have a long way to go to get things used up.

I say all this because I don't want my family to have to deal with the fabrics and supplies I have accumulated which are 'treasures to me right now'. My question is

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH ALL HER TREASURES and how hard was it do deal with????

Sleepless in Seattle (because I sew all nite long)
Rita .........

my son passed away at the ending of my rememberences of him to the gathering of his friends and family, i recollected one of the many trips I had made to the dmv with him to try to get him to pass his written test for his license...the 2nd time he failed, this was one of the questions asked of him....'when you're driving and tired you should'.....a)pull over and rest b)slow down c)turn up the radio and change lanes frequently......nates choice was c. the gathering cracked up cuz they knew that is exactly how nate was....and as a mommy, made me feel good cuz so many people knew, just say it as it is...people who know the deceased want good, familiar stories

You already helped me and didn't know it. One year after my father's death, I didn't know what to do with his tennis trophies. Based on the wisdom of Clint Bunsen, I trashed them. All but one--Middle Georgia Champion, 1960. He didn't believe you should
clutter up your life with junk. Memories are more
than enough. Maybe too much?
Doug Pearce

I think if was FDR who recommended three rules for public speakers:

1. Be concise.

2. Be brief.

3. Be seated.

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