Being asked to give the eulogy at a funeral is a great honor but it’s also a massive burden which is fraught with numerous pitfalls. There are many things that you should talk about during a eulogy, and even more that you shouldn’t. Below are some topics and approaches you should absolutely avoid.
Topics to avoid during a Eulogy
Let’s start off by first talking about the topics that you should steer clear of if you don’t want to upset the more sensitive members of the funeral congregation.
Eulogy Mistake #1: Talking about exes
Although our lives are shaped by our failed relationships, you shouldn’t dwell on this fact during your eulogy. It’s absolutely fine to refer to an ex-spouse or partner, especially if they are present or are the parent of children present.
However, it is poor taste to go into detail about separation or to assign blame to either party. it’s also poor taste to express the fact, even if true, that the previous relationship gave birth to a much better partnership later down the line.
If you can avoid the entire topic, then it’s best to do so as someone will more that likely have their nose put out of joint.
Eulogy Mistake #2: Talking about crimes
Even if the deceased was a career criminal, it’s best not to celebrate or condemn them for any sort of criminal acts during their life. Grieving families want to remember their loved ones in a good light at the end of their life and bring up past misdemeanors would be unwise.
Also, there is the chance that you may unintentionally air your family’s dirty laundry in front of a congregation that was unaware of the deceased troubled past. So, don’t include references to instances of fraud, theft, or even unpaid parking tickets.
Eulogy Mistake #3: Highlighting character flaws
Every one of us is deeply flawed in many ways but when you die you get a free pass for them, at least during your eulogy. If you are talking about a close relative or friend with whom you have some unresolved issues, don’t refer to them during the speech.
Even saying things like ‘she/he was a difficult person to know’ is just unnecessary. Be as generous as you can with your summation of their life, even when those closest to you know the truth. It’s just the accepted etiquette.
Eulogy Mistake #4: Talking about the cause of death
The eulogy is not the time to review a post-mortem report. This speech is to celebrate the person’s life and not to explain their death. Everyone in the congregation is already aware that the deceased is, well, deceased and they will likely have heard how they died. You need to describe how they lived!
It’s not necessary to entirely ignore they ARE dead, but you should refer to the fact more in the sense of ‘they will be greatly missed’ rather than ‘they suffered a lot in the end’. You may also if you want to, thank any doctors or hospice staff who may be in attendance, again not explaining exactly how they helped.
Eulogy Mistake #5: Inappropriate jokes
Although a eulogy is a celebration of life and humor is one of the best things about being alive, some jokes won’t fly. Even if the deceased was notorious for a dirty limerick or two, the eulogy isn’t a stage for stand-up comedy.
It’s absolutely fine to include humor but refer to humous events which are family-friendly rather than the more risqué events of the deceased’s life.
It would be very unwise to include any jokes which are insensitive or would be offensive to others. You don’t know who is in the congregation and you don’t want to sour their lasting memory of the deceased.
Eulogy Mistake #6: Cussing and cursing
Just because of the nature of the ceremony and its probable locations, uttering any swear words would be in extremely poor taste and don’t really fit the mood of a eulogy. if this is how you normally express yourself, that’s fine but you don’t want to offend others especially at this exact moment in time.
Eulogy Mistake #7: Bringing up old grudges
Not everyone who dies was an angel and not all the people who deliver the eulogy ended on the best of terms with the deceased. Nevertheless, you don’t have to share old scores and grievances with the other funeral-goers.
It’s absolutely fine to talk about regrets but not to place blame, even if it’s completely justified to do so. For example, you would not say ‘I wish we had gone fishing more, but Dad never had time for me and never kept his promises. Instead, you could say, ‘I wish we had gone fishing more but I’ll always remember the time when…’.
Eulogy Mistake #8: Talking about failed business
It’s ok to talk about a person’s professional career during their eulogy, but don’t remind the world of huge financial blunders or a chequered employment past. If the deceased left a family business in ruins for others to pick up the pieces, it’s best not to dwell on that fact during the eulogy and perhaps to concentrate on other things altogether.
Eulogy Mistake #9: Discussing politics
As with dinner parties, politics is a topic best avoided in eulogies, especially if you had varying world views of the deceased. You probably couldn’t win the argument over policy with them when they were alive, so it wouldn’t be fair to attack them now while they can’t depend on their position.
The only exception to this rule may be when the deceased was a politician, in which case it would be pretty hard to avoid the topic. Nevertheless, you don’t have to get down to the nitty-gritty of what they did well and badly.
Eulogy Mistake #10: Arguing about religion
Religion is as much a driving force as one that brings people together. If you and the deceased didn’t see eye to eye on religion, it is best not to discuss that fact during the eulogy.
If the deceased was an atheist, don’t harp on about the errors of their ways. If you feel the need to utter a pray that’s fine, but don’t go against any express wishes laid down in a last will and testament calling for a lack of religious sentiment at their funeral.
The same can be said for when you are giving a eulogy at a religious funeral. Don’t try to convince the congregation that they are wrong, just let everyone mourn in the way they feel most comfortable.
Eulogy Mistake #11: Bad memories and experiences
When something terrible happened to you or the deceased, try not to make it the main plot of your eulogy. A failure of tragedy that gave birth to a raging success in life may be contextually relevant, but it doesn’t mean you have to spell out every little detail.
If you only have bad memories of the deceased and you have to give a eulogy, you should reach out to others to try and find a more positive perspective of the deceased or to concentrate on their other achievements in life, such as offspring, career, or childhood.
Eulogy Mistake #12: Blaming the deceased
Giving a eulogy is not your long-awaited platform to finally shame the deceased for all the ills they wrought you, even if you are 100% in the right. Doing so may give you closure, but it’s going to be a very uncomfortable performance to watch for everyone in the congregation.
If you really need to voice some long-repressed grievance with the deceased, you can do so during a visitation, after the burial/cremation, or by writing a letter which you place in the casket.
Things to avoid doing when giving a eulogy
In addition to things, you shouldn’t say there are also some methods of delivery you should avoid too. Read more about this below.
Eulogy Mistake #13: Reading like a robot
Public speaking is an art and it’s so far out of most of our comfort zones that relying on a script is natural. Added to the awkwardness of standing up in front of a congregation of people is the emotional impact of the event. If left unchecked, the likely result will be a monotone explanation of the deceased’s life.
This can be avoided by a few simple techniques:
- Write the eulogy as notes or prompt cards rather than a text – forcing you to speak rather than read
- Choose one or more people to look at as you are speaking – this will make you more animated in your speech
- Pause every so often to give yourself to process your next thought – this will add solemnity to your eulogy.
Eulogy Mistake #14: Minimizing the loss
It’s perfectly OK to acknowledge the full extent of the loss you feel and not to try and downplay it. Now is the time to give voice to the shared grief that the entire congregation will be feeling.
Becoming emotional is both expected and tolerated when giving a eulogy, but try not to use this as a means of having an emotional meltdown. There is a happy medium between distraught and disinterested.
Eulogy Mistake #15: Not listening to common sense
You are probably reading this article because your brain has been running over the things you want to say but aren’t sure you should. In almost all cases our first instincts are good and you should listen to common sense.
If you think that you shouldn’t say something, don’t. If you are really unsure, then go through your speech with someone you trust, even if they aren’t attending the funeral, and ask for their advice.
We regret the things we say in life more than the things we don’t.
Eulogy Mistake #16: Getting drunk
Getting up in front of a room full of people, even friend and family, is weird and very far removed from your daily routine. We all know that taking a bit of Dutch courage can settle our nerves, but having one too many can lower your inhibitions and make you fall into more than one of the traps I’m listing in this article.
Save the drinks for the wake!
Eulogy Mistake #17: Not preparing in advance
Unless the funeral planner was highly incompetent, you will know that you are giving the eulogy as far in advance of the funeral as possible. This means that you should have at least a few days to prepare an adequet eulogy.
Don’t try to do this off the cuff. have at least an outline of what you want and need to say. Even if you are a natural speaker, you may find that the significance of the moment finally hits you while all those people are looking at you and your mind goes blank. That is the moment that some notes come in very handy!
Eulogy Mistake #18: Staying up all night
The stress of having to speak in front of strangers is huge. When you have to do it in front of people you know and for such an important moment in all of their lives, it can be even more daunting.
Make sure that you get enough sleep the night before the funeral and don’t stay up to the wee hours working on your eulogy. Being drowsy the next day will make your delivery worse and you may feel even more stressed than if you had got your full 8 hours.
Eulogy Mistake #19: Not showing your emotions
This is perhaps one of the few moments in our lives where we can let down the shield and show what we are truly feeling within. Eulogies are celebrations of life and an acknowledgment of loss, so do allow yourself to show the full range of emotions that fit your speech.
If you come across cold and distant, it can take away from the experience for others and is more than distracting. You want the focus of the congregation to be on your words and not your delivery.
Eulogy Mistake #20: Concentrating on recent events
It is sometimes hard to give a eulogy for a relative that you only knew in the golden years of their life, such as grandparents.
Although this is your personal experience of them, other people in the congregation may have known the deceased in their youth. Your eulogy should try to help everyone present reflect on as many aspects of the deceased life as possible.
This is why you should do some research and talk to as many people as you can before giving your eulogy. You may find out some fantastic stories that you never knew about and this will give your eulogy well-rounded content.
Eulogy Mistake #21: Being a list-maker
A good eulogy is in essence a good story. You want to make it as engaging and informative as you can. Simply listing out events or achievements can be extremely dull and will quickly lose the interest of those listening.
If you want to cover a lot of features of the deceased’s life, don’t forget to add details and anecdontes rather than a bulleted list.
Eulogy Mistake #22: Going off-script
Even for the most adept speaker, going off on a tangent can be a disaster when giving a eulogy. It can lead you to say lots of things you never intended to and can quickly alienate the audience. Try to stick to what you have outlined in your preparation, even if you aren’t reading the eulogy word for word.