Learning Objectives

Define the characteristics of eulogy.

A eulogy is a speech usually made at a funeral or memorial service. It is often made by a family member commemorating the life and accomplishments of the deceased person. It is meant to be a positive view of the deceased’s life, to remember the best of his or her personality and accomplishments. It is meant to console and uplift the people there by helping them celebrate their feelings for the deceased person.

Eulogies can be written beforehand, which gives you the luxury of time and even the input of relatives and friends. It can be delivered by the officiant or a friend if necessary. Depending on the kind of memorial event, a eulogy might be a place for fairly elevated language. And depending on the faith tradition of the deceased, it might be a situation in which religious language would be appropriate.

The length of a eulogy can depend on the formality of the service and the wishes of the family. The impact of the eulogy is that it gives the living a chance to renew their commitment to life, to consider the effects of their actions, and to embrace their humanity.

to Watch: Susan Bro, Eulogy for Heather Heyer

Thirty-two–year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of protesters against the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. In this eulogy, Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, speaks about her daughter’s life and legacy. This speech exemplifies the most important characteristic of a powerful eulogy: try to remember the person the way they would want to be remembered. In this case, Bro talks about holding a large, public remembrance instead of a small, family affair because that’s how her daughter would have wanted it. Bro closes with a powerful line, very much in the spirit of her daughter’s activism: “I’d rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

You can view the transcript for “‘They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what? You just magnified her.’ (C-SPAN)” here (opens in new window).