You have been honored by being asked to write a eulogy for a loved one or a dear friend. Congratulations.
You’ve graciously accepted, and now it is time to begin.
But it’s shocking at how blank that computer screen looks. There is, literally, nothing on it and it’s all up to you. How to start a eulogy? What do you say at the very beginning? What are some good opening words for a funeral service?
Getting started, of course, is the most difficult part. Getting the first words down on paper (or computer screen) is the first hurdle.
Those first few words tell your audience that what is about to come will be good and worth listening to. Their expectations become their reality. Your eulogy will be better than any they’ve ever heard – if the words are right. And, if you’ve done it properly, your eulogy will be a wonderful tribute to a life well lived.
Those first words are important because what you have to share is meaningful and the words you choose will bring wonderful (or not so wonderful) memories to the minds of your listeners and, perhaps, a smile to their faces or tears to their eyes.
A eulogy is different than any other speech you will ever give because of its intensely personal nature. You will be telling the life story of someone you’ve lost. That’s emotional. You will be telling of memories personal and public and that is, sometimes, the most vulnerable a person ever gets. You are putting yourself on the line to honor the one who has passed.
The first words of the eulogy are important because they set the tone for all you will be saying.
There is an internal psychological defense mechanism that numbs our hearts and minds when we lose a loved one. “Tell me about Uncle John?” is a question a funeral celebrant or someone writing a eulogy may ask the family. The response is often a blank stare or useless generalities.
“Uncle John was a very nice man.” “Uncle John loved everybody.” “He liked to work hard and play hard.” Virtually NOTHING to use in a eulogy! It’s “Memory Block” brought on by loss and grief and questions that are too general.
To overcome memory block when writing a eulogy, you need to ask yourself specific questions. Ask things like, “What parts of Uncle John’s character do you think he would most like to have passed on to his nieces and nephews?” “How do you think he impacted his world?” “Who were his heroes?” “How would you describe his outlook on life?”
See? All of a sudden, you can answer those questions because they are thoughtful, specific, and have some depth. Including them in your eulogy will make the eulogy you write much more interesting and not just a listing of facts. The eulogy will bring the story of Uncle John’s life to life.
Go to a eulogy writing site and look at their questions. Those will be most helpful in getting the memory juices flowing.
If you find a list of good questions, copy them and actually fill in the answers. This will help immensely in the writing of the entire eulogy and not just the beginning words.
Standing to Speak
You win or lose your audience in the first few sentences (maybe the first few words) of any speech. What you say is important, but even more important is the way you say them.
As you approach the podium, clench your teeth. Those few seconds of clenching will make your enunciation crisper.
When you get to the podium, take a deep breath before you say the first word. This will send a relaxation signal to your body, infusing it with a tiny burst of oxygen that will produce calmness.
Then speak with confidence as though this were the most natural thing in the world.
Use inflection. Use pauses. Use a higher or lower volume with your voice, as indicated by your content.
The Sound Barrier
Unless you are an experienced public speaker, the first thing you will want to do is hear the sound of your own voice in the microphone.
You will want to say something that is emotion neutral before beginning to share memories and stories.
Even though there is a microphone, speak up. People appreciate being able to hear what you are saying. Even a microphone cannot improve on mumbling. Speak up. Speak clearly. Speak confidently.
One of the ‘tricks of the trade’ of public speakers is the utilization of the fact that our minds can do several things at the same time. One of the things you will be doing is speaking, of course. But try also to ‘see’ yourself almost as though from an ‘out of body’ experience. Imagine YOU watching yourself give the speech.
This technique brings amazing calmness, because you are no longer the one speaking (even though you are). You are now one of the guests watching and listening and enjoying.
The First Words of Your Eulogy – “Thank You”
Always begin a eulogy by thanking guests and mourners for coming. This is common courtesy as well as an opportunity for you to build your own confidence as you hear your own voice and gain the hearing of your audience.
Too often, the person delivering a eulogy fails to recognize that people have given up their time to attend the funeral or memorial service. They forget that everyone likes to be appreciated. You gain points by doing so with your opening remarks. SAY THANK YOU!
Here are a few examples as to how to begin the eulogy by saying expressing appreciation :
- I’d like to begin today by thanking you all for being here as we say a final farewell to our dad. Joe and Tina and I – and mom – have been so grateful for all the cards and emails received and the calls so many have made. All have been greatly appreciated and have meant so much.
- Thank you all for being here today. It is so great to see so many of mom’s family and friends gathered in one place to honor this amazing woman. She would have been humbled that so many of you took time out of your day to say, with the rest of us, ‘good-bye.’
- As you know, Tom was an incredibly shy person. He would have been SO uncomfortable having you all here today with him being the center of attention. But how could we not come to say a final farewell to a man who has done so much and touched so many lives? Thank you for being here today to honor him.
- Look at this crowd! Sarah was such an amazing woman. Everyone who ever knew her was touched by her love. Thank you all for being here today to pay your respects and share your memories of my sister. Mom and Dad – and our entire family – have been so blessed that so many have reached out with words of encouragement and care. Thank you.
NOW the Eulogy Begins
The ‘thank you’ is prelude to the eulogy. It allows you to get a feel for the environment, to hear your own voice, to settle your nerves, to begin to build a positive relationship with your audience.
The first real paragraph can vary in content quite a lot, depending on whether it is a eulogy for a father or a mother, a sibling, or a friend.
Begin with something that the questions you asked yourself from the questionnaire revealed as most interesting or something about the person that others may not have known – or something that EVERYONE knew to be one of the hallmarks of the departed loved one.
Following are first paragraphs for a variety of situations. These are the first paragraphs of eulogies actually written by a professional eulogy writer. Feel free to borrow and adjust them to fit the life and personality of the one you are eulogizing.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Mother
- Mom was healthy all her life up until six weeks ago. Then it all caught up with her and our beautiful mother left us. Mark, Greg and I always knew we had a wonderful mother in the years we were growing up. She was always there for us, nurturing, loving, doing whatever it was we might need done. Three stubborn boys weren’t always easy to raise, I’m sure, but she did it with wonderful grace and we never, for one minute, doubted her love and commitment to us. Whatever we needed, we had. Wherever we needed to be carted, we were taken. Whenever we needed a listening ear, she was there… The three of us were the most important things in her life (other than dad, of course) – and we were totally aware of that.
- These past few years haven’t been easy ones for the Hayes family. Watching mom lose her cherished memories; having her personality change SO much from what she used to be and for her to know, early on, what was going on – very difficult and painful. Throughout it all, dad has been amazing. He was there every step of the way, loving her as he has the entirety of their 49 years of marriage. Nothing could ever change that.
- Martha, Hammed and I grew up knowing that we had an extraordinary mother. I’ve told people that any compassion and grace – and manners – any of us have, is due to mom. She had those all down pat and taught them to us from a very early age. She was the kind of mom who was always there for us, teaching and helping us in any way she could.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Father
- You hear stories about men or women who are referred to as ‘self-made.’ They’ve come from humble backgrounds and have managed, through determination and hard work – through ingenuity and taking risk – to achieve the American Dream. Dad was one of those men. He wasn’t highly educated, but he had a vision for what could be. He looked at life always through the lens of optimism and knew he could do it. He built a successful company from nothing and saw it grow and prosper and provide for his family…
- Most of you knew our father as a very serious minded man – in many ways almost stoic. And he was. But he was also a man with a very tender heart. Kevin and I grew up knowing that he always loved us. He may not have shown that in overt ways, but we always knew. We knew that we were the most important people in his life (other than mom, of course – they were married for fifty two years). We always knew that dad loved seeing us grow up and loved being a role model for us. And he was. Almost everything that Kevin and I are can be attributed to dad and his example as to what it means to be a father or a brother or a friend.
- I’m not entirely certain of this, but I believe my voice may have been the last voice dad heard before he went to heaven. It was over the phone. I told him that I loved him. I told him that I know our relationship has had some major ups and downs but that it would be the desire of my heart that he get well and that we could rebuild our relationship. That was not to be, of course. That evening he was taken.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Grandmother
- Do you know anyone other than my grandmother who would be up at 2:00 in the morning combing out the tassels on the living room carpet? Until we realized she was doing it, I had no idea that tassels EVER needed combing. I’m still not convinced. It was just one of her quirks.
- Grandma was 81 but she had a young soul. No matter what came her way, no matter how many trials or hardships or obstacles, she carried a smile on her face. That smile kept her young and positive and strong. It kept her going through good times and bad. It was something that, if you saw her, you expected… and you always knew you were in the presence of a caring, giving, loving woman – a woman of strength and character.
- I remember so well how, when we were young, Dodo would babysit Keith and me in the summers at Oscar’s Beach. We would spend entire days in the sun. We would dig clams in the morning and she would cook them up for lunch. To this day, when I so much as smell clams, those memories come flooding back. She taught us how to play Yatzee and the card game “31.” We loved to play games with her. She probably sometimes let us win, but when we won we always thought ourselves so triumphant…
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Grandfather
- The first character trait I think of when thinking of grandpa is that he truly respected others. He didn’t always agree with them, but he so believed that every person deserves respect. I imagine that every one of us here today has some story we could tell of grandpa and I would guess that 90% of those stories have to do with ‘respect.’ If you knew him at all, you knew that you had better not disrespect him or anyone else in his presence. He simply wouldn’t tolerate it. People were too important to not be given the respect they deserve.
- Grandpa had so many friends, didn’t he? Usually when you are 92 you’ve outlived most of your friends. Not my grandfather… He lost a lot of them over the years, but so many of his friends were decades younger than he was. I guess he was planning ahead when he gathered them into his sphere.
- Last April we celebrated grandpa’s 94th birthday. I’ve begun to realize that when a person has lived that long, all of their friends have already passed. Years ago grandpa stopped attending funerals because he was already the last one standing. That has to be a rather sobering realization.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Sister
- Nancy and I weren’t twins, of course, but I always thought of us of being pretty much like twins. We were close in age. We looked alike. We thought alike. We defended one another against all others. When we were kids and mom or dad would spank Nancy for something, I’d do the crying. Nancy remained stoic.
- Krysi was my little sister. When she was born, Michael and I knew a little treasure had entered our lives. We knew that she would be one of our best friends… that she’d be with us forever…
- Cat spent the first two years of her life as an only child – absorbing all the love and attention mom and dad could lavish upon her. But she gladly gave up her ‘only child’ status when her sisters came along. How she loved being a big sister – a little mother – a best friend — to Cairi and Ciera.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Brother
- My brother, Mike, was such a man of principle and character. I remember so clearly the lessons we all learned in his warehouse when we worked there in our younger years. Two things he instilled in us: First – Build a network of people you know and trust and then don’t be afraid to use those connections throughout your life. People resources are the most valuable resource you can have – in business or in life. The second lesson, equally important: Use the resources you have and the opportunities that come your way to help others – for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.
- I don’t remember a single time when Don was impatient, unkind, or too busy for others. He was a warm, caring man who always had time for you and showed interest in your life and what you were doing. He was a man who consistently gave his best self to every one of us. How can you not love a man like that?
- Social science tell us that the first born in a family tends to be confident, a high achiever, driven and self-assured. Those words are a perfect description of Oboy. When our father died, back in 1998, Oboy stepped up and became the ‘man’ of the family. He watched out for the rest of us and encouraged us and, in so many ways, took dad’s place – helping mom and the family financially – standing up for all of us. Vergel, Meilyn, JP, and I have always known that our big brother had our best interests at heart.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Daughter
- When we look at Alexeya and Alannah, we see our daughter, their mother, Lala, in their smiles and laughter. We see her in their mannerisms and in their playfulness. We see her in their sense of humor and in their inquisitiveness. And we see her often in the subtle hints of their strong wills which, I’m sure, will be even more pronounced in the years to come.
- Our daughter, Weez, spent her life in service to others. She got her masters in Speech Pathology and, perhaps because of the profession, or perhaps because it just came natural to her, she became a world-class listener. She was what is often called an “active listener.” That means that she wasn’t just quiet while you talked and she listened. She asked questions that probed into whatever issue was at hand. And she listened in such a way that those she was talking with, knew she cared. And it was that listening skill – that continual affirmation of others – that made people love her.
- I have known and loved LaVerne longer than anyone living in the world today. I loved her from the first moment I saw her on the day she was born. I remember thinking how I couldn’t wait until he could walk and talk and how much fun we’d have. And we did – more than I could ever have imagined at the time.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Son
- Our son’s life was just getting started. He had just turned 16 at the end of June. He had the whole world ahead of him before it all ended. Eric (the family called him E.J.) was, in many ways, the typical 16 year old. He loved to ride his dirt bike, go camping, play video games, hang out with friends. He loved to look good, to have nice shoes, to have fun… He wasn’t a big fan of going to school but he was determined that he would finish and graduate in a couple of years. He wasn’t sure exactly what the future held but thought that, maybe, he’d join the military. There he’d get some training, get physically fit, and have some time to figure out what he wanted to do…
- Jack had a bit of a struggle coming into this world. He was in the NICU for a few days. But from the first day out of the hospital, he captured every heart who met him. He was all boy – full of energy and laughter and fun.
- My son was my hero – and a true American hero. His service to his country was exemplary. His death meant our military was short one of its best soldiers. But his heroism was more than military, it was personal. He was the most loving, caring, compassionate and empathetic man I’ve ever known.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Wife
- God granted Christine and me 22 wonderful years. There should have been more – we should have grown old together – we should have one day sat in our rocking chairs and looked back over the decades we spent loving one another and all the memories we made. That will never be, but each and every one of the memories we did make I will cherish forever…
- As most of you know, Cheryl was an optimist to the core. She was always positive and refused to take part in any discussion of anything negative. Even with her cancer. She didn’t want to talk about it unless it was absolutely necessary. She didn’t deny it. She just felt no need to dwell on it. She was a woman who was always ready to look for the bright side to whatever came her way. And she wanted that for everyone she knew. If she could, she’d help you put a smile on your face and work through whatever the trouble might be.
- The Bible talks about a woman of character being a treasure to her family. Mae truly was. Her brightness lit up our lives every day. Her courage inspired us. Her work ethic spurred us on toward success. She was the love of my life.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Husband
- Life always laughs at plans we make. David and I expected to see all of you in this room one day to celebrate his retirement, not to meet here to remember his life. We expected that to be a few years from now…
- When John and I got married three years ago, we knew this day would come. He had been diagnosed a year before, but we chose to walk this final earthly journey hand in hand – together. We had known one another for quite a number of years – since all the kids were young. We were friends for years before God brought us together in, what I would describe, as a wonderful, love-filled marriage. When we were dating, we discovered that we had the same values and family ideals. We both wanted the same things in life. We both were committed to our relationship with God. And God honored our coming together by giving us three wonderful years. Not long enough, of course, but every day was full and rich and never to be forgotten.
- I can imagine that Tom would feel a bit uncomfortable today if he were alive. He never wanted people to make a fuss over him. He never wanted to be the center of attention. I can imagine him saying, seeing all of us gathered with our memories and grief, “My God! – such a fuss.”
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Friend
- I’ve had the privilege of knowing Jeremy for 22 years. We met at Target while we were stocking shelves as young men. I remember that day like it was yesterday. He had such an energy about him – a sense of joy and life – that I knew we’d be friends. He was quiet at first, like he was with everyone, but as you know, once you got a bit acquainted, he was a funny guy. His personality came out and his sense of humor, and you could talk and joke around and laugh together for hours. I am so sorry we didn’t get a chance to say good-bye to him and that he left us so soon.
- Kelly was an amazingly positive woman. Nothing ever got her down. She was committed to self-care and making everyone around her smile and enjoy life just a little bit more. She ran a guest house in the French Quarter and was, without doubt, one of the best hostesses anywhere. She had a knack for making people feel comfortable, for knowing what they needed before they did, and always keeping them laughing. I have no doubt that everyone she hosted, went home with stories about their stay with her – planning to return as soon as they could. She was MADE for being around people and she thrived there, in the quarter.
- As we grow older we continue to understand the meaning of a true friend. Someone willing to put your happiness, principles and values right there in the friendship. With whom you can be yourself without fear of judgment. This is the friend Preston was to us all.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Co-Worker
- There isn’t anyone in the world who fought cancer harder than Al. He never complained about his cancer and all the treatments and all that has been going on for the past 16 months, but he did admit, from time to time, how he felt. He said, “This sucks.” And it did. Saying a final farewell sucks, too. He was too young, too vibrant, too good of a guy to leave us.
- To know Dave was to love him. He was the kind of man who was always there for you. He was always ready and willing to do anything he could to help out anyone who needed a hand. I suppose that, at first meeting, Dave may have come across as a bit unusual to some people, but that didn’t last for long once you got to know him and see what kind of character he had – once you saw his sensitivity and humility and love. If you knew him, you invariably got his signature move… He’d point at you and wiggle his fingers until you smiled [demonstrate]. He wanted people to be happy.
- I’m Steve Weisman, John’s boss for almost 24 years. My dad hired him when John and I were both young and we’ve worked together ever since. It is my honor to be standing here today talking about a wonderful man in my life and in so many of your lives.
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Neighbor
- Looking back on their 34 years of marriage, there was little doubt for Mack that their wedding day was probably the best day of his life. He got to marry the woman of his dreams and together they were an example of love and commitment and working together – of loving one another for over three decades. No one who knew Mack and Naomi ever doubted their love… in fact, many of us in the neighborhood, wished they could have such a relationship themselves.
- I knew Doc for fifty-one years. We’ve played hundreds of rounds of golf, walked countless miles through fields chasing up birds. We’ve probably shared barrels of beer. It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to have called this man my friend and my neighbor. My biggest regret is that, in all that time, being together on a million occasions, I never actually told him, in words, that I loved him… But I did…
- These past several years, since his accident, have been pretty hard for Johnny. His health began its decline then and just continued. Dee was always there by his side, doing whatever needed to be doing. Dee you really came through for your husband. It’s not easy being a care giver, but you took seriously your vows on your wedding day, “in sickness and in health.”
Examples of How to Start a Eulogy for a Difficult Person
- It’s hard to know what to say about dad. He had some issues. He wasn’t always easy to get along with. He was often a bit aggressive and almost always argumentative. As someone said, ‘he was quite a character.’ To which I replied, “That’s an understatement.” But he was our dad and we loved him even with his quirks and eccentricities. There wasn’t any time, when we were growing up, that we didn’t know that he loved us.
- The human mind is such a complex thing – it is always in a precarious balance of its chemical and neurological components. Most of us, most of the time, are completely normal, but all of us, from time to time, find ourselves in various moods for which there is no obvious explanation… but all within the ‘normal’ spectrum. Mom’s didn’t always stay in that narrow spectrum. Modern medicine helped, but the side effects were often less than desirable. Like so many others who struggle with that mental chemical imbalance, she’d abandon them for a while, only to fall into some of the darker recesses of the mind. No one’s fault. It is just, sometimes, how we were made and how we are forced to live.
- From the time Jeremy was born, we knew there were problems. He cried constantly. When he got older, his fits of rage were frightening. As an adult, it was sometimes very difficult to be around him. But between those difficult times, he could be a wonderful, loving, giving person. He was my brother and I loved him.
If you are looking for more resources for writing and delivering a eulogy, please see:
- How to write a eulogy and speak like a pro
- 30+ best eulogy examples to inspire you
- 100+ beautiful quotes to use in a eulogy speech
About the Author
This post on how to start a eulogy was kindly provided by Steve Schafer, a professional writer who writes beautiful eulogies for clients in the USA and Internationally. To learn more about his work, please visit The Eulogy Writers.