Why we have eulogies

The eulogy – which comes from the Greek eulogia, meaning “praise; good or fine language” – acknowledges the unique life of the person who died and affirms the significance of that life for all who shared in it.

Without a eulogy and/or other personalised means of acknowledging this particular life and death, the funeral often becomes an empty formality that implies this unique and precious person’s life story wasn’t worth gathering and sharing.

There is value to “telling the story” – of reviewing, aloud, the sequence of events of a person’s life, including the weeks leading up to the death. For mourners, telling the story is central to their healing. In the context of the funeral ceremony, the eulogy is the grand, public telling of the story that unites all the mourners present.

In addition to helping mourners recall the person who died, the eulogy usually addresses the mourners’ search for meaning. What did this person’s life mean? What value did it bring to those it touched?

Through the stories the eulogy tells, it often suggests possible answers to these kinds of questions and can help begin to move those in attendance closer to a sense of peace. The fact that a eulogy is being given helps those present with the reality that the person has died.

At the gathering after the funeral, the eulogy often fosters conversation, giving family and friends a common lifeline to hold onto as they support one another and give expression to their thoughts and feelings.

Done well, the eulogy can be the most memory-filled moment in the funeral. Whoever writes it can be encouraged to gather memories and thoughts from others so the story is as rich and comprehensive as possible.

Families often say the eulogy is the most meaningful part of the funeral ceremony – but only in cases in which it was truly personalised. It’s usually much more meaningful to have a family member or friend of the family give the eulogy. Instead of a formal eulogy, it’s possible to have funeral attendees stand up one at a time and share a memory or thought.