Writing a eulogy is a unique challenge. What can we do when we have so much to say and so little time?
We all know the expression, time flies or should I say ‘tempus fugit’! So when people invite me to create funeral services, ceremonies or eulogies for them, I wait with interest to see whether I will be given a little amount of information to work with or a mountain of stories and tributes.
How long should a eulogy be?
As a celebrant and creator of unique and powerful funeral services, it is my responsibility to lead the mourners and ensure that all goes to plan, specifically that the service fits the allocated time slot.
In most crematoriums, I can assume I will have 30 minutes service time, which includes people arriving and leaving the chapel. Many crematoriums will levy a fine if funerals overrun. This is only one reason why it’s imperative that the service fits the time slot. Just imagine how miserable it feels to be next in but held up as the previous service goes on over your start time!
Writing a Eulogy as a Celebrant
When I create a service for a funeral, I start by meeting with the family spokesperson who is my client and finding out as much as I can about the life stories of the deceased. I then work relentlessly to achieve a piece of writing that fulfils the wishes of my client.
I have on occasion, made up to ten amendments, simply taking out the odd word or phrase and adding something that had been missed. It is only when it’s all down on paper that my client can make sense of what is happening and gain clarity as to what they really want to say. This relaxed but thorough approach has gained me credibility with the local community and with my funeral directors and the number of funeral services I’m invited to take continues to rise.
What if lots of people want to contribute to the eulogy or speak at the funeral service
One of the challenges comes when lots of people have something they want to say and contribute to the service. Some of these people are willing to come up and read their words out themselves to the congregation whilst others prefer me in my role as Celebrant to take the lead. I don’t mind either but what I must make sure of is that we have enough time! Inviting another speaker up takes precious seconds which are also factored in.
I recently wrote a service for an incredibly popular man and had no fewer than 10 people wishing to contribute on the day. I was sent numerous emails, some several pages long, asking for them to be incorporated into my words. If you add that onto the eulogy, the service can be very long indeed!.
So, what I did first was I put all the information I had received onto one Word document. I went through and I highlighted all the common factors and all the information that I had previously used somewhere else in the service. I mentioned the contributors by name so they didn’t feel slighted or left out. I then apologised saying that we would be there for a couple of hours if I were to read out everything.
The family of course, must take priority and their eulogies were given in full.
Shorten the Eulogy – Adding Tributes to the Order of Service
Another option if you are running out of time and you have important words to say, is to consider putting a page of tributes into the order of service. To do this, I simply take the important chunk of words and asked for them to be printed alongside the name of the contributor. This can nicely avoid a tricky problem.
Shorten the Eulogy – Tributes after the Service
If there are lots of people who wish to offer a reading or tribute I also suggest that people are given a platform to say their piece if there is to be a wake after the service.
Sometimes, if I have lots of contributors, it can take me literally hours to get it right and I work right up to the wire for my families. However, the reward comes when the funeral service is completed in time and the family clearly are delighted with the results.
You only get one chance to get this right!