| Putting into words the essence of another person is a difficult task in the best of times. But it’s especially daunting when you're grieving the loss of a loved one and have only a few days to gather your thoughts to compose a eulogy. But experts have some advice on how to make the process easier.
The first step is to understand what a eulogy is — and isn't.
"It isn't an obituary," says Carol DeChant, editor of the book Great American Catholic Eulogies. Obituaries are usually mini-biographies, focused on what a person did, she explains, "but the eulogy is much deeper, more about who the person was, than just the facts. It's meant for the select group of people who knew and cared for that person, or who care for the survivors."
"It's the personal touch," says Garry Schaeffer, author of A Labor of Love: How to Write a Eulogy. "It's someone getting up and saying, 'This is what this person meant to me.' It's what makes the service special and heartwarming and memorable."
There's no one right way to eulogize someone, the experts say. Some memorial services are more formal and have only one or two eulogies that might need to be approved by the clergy member beforehand; others are more loosely planned and might include four or five short eulogies — or organizers might welcome any number of extemporaneous eulogies.
Whatever the format, it's helpful to organize your thoughts before you share them with other mourners. Some tips:
1. Start by brainstorming
Schaeffer suggests using a form of outlining called clustering or mind-mapping. You start by drawing a circle with the person's name in it. Then, he says, ask yourself, What are the qualities of the person? What is most outstanding about him or her? (For example, “sense of humor.”) Write those down in circles around the person's name. To add details to a topic, draw a line out from it and add more key words or phrases — just enough to jog your memory. Move around the circle with new ideas, clustering related thoughts together.