Recently, a client asked for advice on how to prepare to speak at the funeral of a close friend. His question got me reflecting on all the times I’ve attended ‘celebrations of life,’ funerals, and memorial services, and how apparently difficult it is to speak publicly on those occasions. Based on my observations, here are the few tips I offered the client:
- Start your preparation by deciding what it is that you want to get across about the life of your friend. Write down some general adjectives or qualities you would use to describe them (e.g. Vivacious, goofy, generous…whatever is appropriate).
- Then think of stories that illustrate those qualities.
- Make it general enough (so other people can relate), but also personal (so that the stories carry the emotional weight they should).
- Write it all down, and read it through several times. You never know how the emotion of this kind of moment/occasion will affect you. Have the paper up at the pulpit/podium with you. Ignore every piece advice you’ve ever heard about not reading your speech. Feel free to read your speech, if that seems best. At one funeral I attended, the individual delivering the eulogy had prepared a beautiful speech but had to stop halfway through because his emotion overwhelmed him. After a moment break, he opened up his written speech and read the rest. It was just as moving and meaningful as it would have been had he spoken without notes.
- Cry if you need to. People will wait, and cry with you.
Most of all, as you prepare your funeral address, be honest and sincere. It is a great honour to be able to pay public tribute to a friend.