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How do you write a meaningful eulogy?

The words we share also serve as a source of strength for the person as they make the journey from this world to the next

We have all been to funerals. It is one of the last sacred spaces in our world when we are not disturbed. Phones are off and we give our full attention. Without question, the most meaningful aspect of the service are the eulogies. The rabbi, family and close friends reflect on the life of the person who has died.

Think back for a moment to funerals you have attended. Which eulogies do you remember? Which ones have you found meaningful? 

We believe in Judaism that the body is a vessel and the soul never dies. The spirit of the person is fully present at the funeral, hovering over the casket, while in transition to the next world. We believe in an afterlife. The soul is only fully at peace once the body returns to the earth. When the casket is covered with earth, the soul rises and the period of shiva, of mourning, officially begins. 

During the funeral, the deceased hears the words spoken about them. It is a moment in time for the people to express gratitude to their loved one, for the values they instilled with them, the kindnesses bestowed about them and the declaration that the loved one will never be forgotten. 

How do you craft a meaningful eulogy? 

For most people, thank God, the practical import of this question is rare. Yet when the occasion arises it can be most daunting. 

As a rabbi who has officiated at hundreds of funerals, and witnessed thousands of people delivering eulogies, I know that family and friends ultimately find the words to capture the spirit of a loved one who died. Often when sitting with families in preparation prior to a funeral, I strongly encourage a child or grandchild to speak in tribute to a parent or grandparent. I will always speak as the rabbi, but having a family member share words is invaluable.

The Talmud states that words that come from our hearts enter someone else’s heart. This is a guiding truth when speaking at a funeral. Whether a public speaker or not, time and again, I have seen that people find the strength to share emotions and reflections from the depths of their souls. Even in a few words, they can offer a stirring tribute to someone who is loved. 

What is the goal of a eulogy? 

If you surf the internet, you will see many articles written about how to write a eulogy. From speaking slowly, expressing gratitude, being brief and sharing a personal memory or touching poem. From personal experience, the secret sauce of a memorable eulogy are reflected in the words of the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell:To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. 

These words of tribute, the eulogy, are not only cathartic for the family but amplify the soul of the person who died. How will they be remembered? How can they carry their spirit forward into our lives? The words we share also serve as a source of strength for the person as they make the journey from this world to the next. A soul is like a candle and one candle lights many flames. 

What light did your parents, grandparent ignite within you? What moment will you never forget? What memory pulsates within you? 

For what kindness are you eternally grateful? What guiding values serve as a north star for you and your family? 

A eulogy, even a brief one, even just one memory, can have the power to change someone’s life and elevate the soul of the person who has passed away. When we embody a value of a person in our lives even after that individual has physically left this world, they live on in us and through us. 

I will never forget a comment at a recent funeral. When I asked the children to share a few words about their mother, one of the sons said: “My mother always listened to me. When I came home from school, my mom dropped everything she was doing to listen to my day and give her full and undivided attention.” In those brief words, he captured his mother’s unconditional love. 

Imagine if each of us truly listened to those we loved on a more consistent basis. Too often we hear with half an ear, we get distracted by a phone, a text, an email or are thinking about something else. It is all too rare to give someone your undivided attention. This comment possessed the power to fuel his mother’s spirit in everyone who heard it. 

A eulogy is not a final goodbye, but it is a moment in time that has the potential to be eternal. The opportunity to reflect on someone’s life is a gift. We will never forget the words we shared, the deceased will hear them and it has the potential to truly inspire everyone present to bring the soul of the deceased into this world. 

I challenge you. Think now of one or two people in your life whose love and presence you cherish. Think of a person whom you may be called up to eulogize. Reach out to them today. Wish them a long life. And, most importantly, say thank you for all they have done for you. Share the memories, give them joy and let them know how and why they mean so much to you. 

God willing, we will find the words to deliver a eulogy from the heart that truly honors those we love and inspires others to embody their values. Even more importantly, let’s take the time now to cherish those we love and eternalize our relationships for now and forever. 

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