How to Start a Eulogy
Being asked to write a eulogy is an honorable thing. You might be caught off guard, surprised by the offer but privileged, nonetheless. After the request, a smile shows upon your face, followed by a slight nod of the head in agreement with the selection. Yes, of course you'll do it. Afterall, you're capable and certainly worthy of the selection. The initial surprise and gratitude settle, and your mind begins to focus on the task before you. Now, the nerves begin to surge at the thought of it. Maybe you never imagined being asked to stand in such esteem before the closest friends and loved ones of the person you admired, paying tribute upon their final farewell. You can't blow it! You have an important job ahead of you.
Oftentimes, when you have a writing project such as a eulogy, you get stuck as soon as you place your fingertips on the keyboard. You are ready, positioning each finger exactly as your 10th grade typing teacher taught you, however, you can't seem to get those fingers moving. Your mind goes blank! With the memorial service just one week away, you find yourself suddenly on a tight deadline. You immediately begin to panic. You knew the deceased well and have in mind what you want to say. You intend to give this person the honor they deserve, highlighting the most memorable personality traits and providing a rundown of all the many accomplishments and accolades. But how do you start? Here are a few ideas to consider:
Of course, introducing yourself is always important, especially if there are attendees who may not know your relationship to the deceased. Thank everyone for attending and express what an honor it is to be the one to share your memory of the person. This is an easy and adequate way to begin a eulogy.
Hello everyone and thank you for being here today. For those of you who don't know me, my name is (insert name), and I am (relation to deceased). Though it is difficult for me to be standing in front of you today as we prepare to say goodbye to (name of deceased), I am extremely honored to share with you a little bit about the remarkable life and legacy.
Following your introduction, continue with the date and place of birth of the deceased. Follow this with a description of the childhood and subsequent events in chronological order. You are off to a good start!
Tell a Funny Story
A great way to grab the attention of the audience and create interest is to recall an incident you or someone else shared with the deceased. This should be a moment that was brief but memorable, conveying the personality of the person you are honoring.
One recent memory that I have of my grandmother was when I asked her to accompany me to a party. I was always looking for any opportunity to show her off. When I finally convinced her to come along, she responded, "Oh, I guess I'll wear my champagne clothes." Even in her most advanced years, she was willing to party so long as she could do it in style, wearing designer clothes, donning posh accessories, and displaying a tall glass of champagne in her hand. Click here for full eulogy
Opening with a funny anecdote is a more creative way to begin a eulogy. It captures the audience's attention and puts everyone at ease as they share in the memory. Those who knew the person will appreciate it as they secretly reminisce a similar incident they shared. Capturing a moment like this gives others the opportunity to reflect in a more collaborative and memorable way.
Open with a Quote
Opening with a famous quote is always an effective way to begin a eulogy. If you already have in mind a quote that would be appropriate for the occasion, use it! You are on your way to writing a great eulogy! If you're like me and lack the awareness of genius prose from notable people, then Google is your friend. Search something like, "famous eulogy quotes." Here are a few to consider:
"What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us." - Helen Keller
"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln
"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." - Dr. Suess
If you know a song that your friend or loved one was fond of, begin the eulogy with one of the lyrics. This is a great way to lighten the mood right from the start and draw the listeners in with something familiar and reminiscent of the one they miss.
Another idea to consider when it comes to opening with a quote is selecting a Biblical or religious citation that reference a teaching-of-life moment. The Bible is rich with words that remind us of the true meaning of life and the assurance of an afterlife.
The Apostle John wrote, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
This Bible passage from Revelation is effective if you wish to open with a reminder of our future. In the Afterlife, no pain, suffering, or sorrow will exist. This is an especially appropriate opening if the deceased suffered through an illness. Again, this idea that suffering has ceased will be an instant reminder that will put those who hear it at ease.
5 Famous Eulogy Openings
Teddy Kennedy speaking at funeral for Jackie Kennedy Onassis
Last summer, when we were on the upper deck on the boat at the Vineyard, waiting for President and Mrs. Clinton to arrive, Jackie turned to me and said: "Teddy, you go down and greet the President."
But I said: "Maurice is already there."
And Jackie answered with a smile: "Teddy, you do it. Maurice isn't running for re-election."
She was always there - for our family - in her special way. Click here to listen to full eulogy.
Mona Simpson speaking at funeral for her brother Steve Jobs
I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I'd met my father, I tried to believe he'd changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.
Even as a feminist, my whole life I'd been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I'd thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man, and he was my brother. Click here to read full eulogy
Luke Russert speaking at funeral for his father Tim Russert
Good afternoon. I'm Luke Russert, proud son of Tim and Maureen. Just before I begin, my mother and I would just like to extend our deepest thanks for the tremendous outpouring of love and support we've received from all of you and everyone all over the country. Click here to read full eulogy
Ted Kennedy speaking at funeral for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette
Once, when they asked John what he would do if he went into politics and was elected President, he said, "I guess the first thing is call up Uncle Teddy and gloat." I loved that. It was so like his father. Click here to read full eulogy
Maya Angelou speaking at funeral for Coretta Scott King
Singing: "I open my mouth to the Lord, and I won't turn back, no. I will go, I shall go. I'll see what the end is gonna be."
In the midst of national tumult, in the medium of international violent uproar, Coretta Scott King's face remained a study in serenity. In times of interior violent storms, she sat, her hands resting in her lap calmy, like good children sleeping. Click here to listen to full eulogy
Always Consider Your Audience
Consider your audience when selecting an appropriate opening to the eulogy. If the ceremony is in a church, then you can be sure that most of the family members and friends would appreciate a Biblical selection or some reference to the soul of the person.
On the other hand, if the memorial is in a park or some other non-traditional venue, then it's probably more of a celebration of life rather than a religious ceremony. If you choose to begin with a religious reference, you might lose the attention of some. In this case, a funny or touching anecdote might be the best choice.
In any case, the audience is something that every writer should consider when delivering a eulogy.
Contact me today and let me help you write a memorable eulogy for someone dear to you. Don't underestimate the value of leaving a lasting impression with your words!