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Gracious, Respectful, and

Emotionally Preserving Alternatives to


Eulogies

by Fran Ponick

Lifetime Resources

http://www.eulogyadvisor.com

About Alternatives to Eulogies

Not long ago, my husband Terry and I lost our parents


© 2010 Fran Ponick
http://www.eulogyadvisor.com
and in-laws — four people in three years. During that time
we learned a lot about funerals and about grieving. We
discovered that it’s not always emotionally possible to
prepare and present a eulogy, and in some situations it's
not even appropriate.
Sometimes people who are devastated by grief force
themselves to go to a podium or a pulpit. They need
comfort at least as much as the mourners whom they are
expected to comfort. Or they have always been
uncomfortable with public speaking, and now they have to
do it at a funeral? There has to be a better way.
As an author, a communicator, and a writing coach, I see
how hard it is for people to prepare presentations and
present them publicly even in the most benign
circumstances. So I wrote this ebook to offer alternatives
for the unique circumstances associated with individual’s
funerals.
Giving or not giving eulogies are not the only choices.
This ebook offers bereaved persons gracious, respectful,
and emotionally preserving alternatives.
I hope it helps, and I’d love to hear about your
experiences with it.

© 2010 Fran Ponick


http://www.eulogyadvisor.com
About Fran Ponick
Fran Ponick is a speaker, author, poet, playwright, commentator, teacher,
philosopher, and coach. She has decades of experience in technical, business,
marketing, and proposal writing and editing, and has won awards in
journalism, formal poetry, acting, and other fields.

© 2010 Fran Ponick


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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Reasons for Not Giving a Eulogy 2
Saying “No, Thank You,” with Kindness 5
How to Be Helpful Anyway 8
Other Options … 10
Prayer and Blessings 11
Poetry 12
Prose 13
Music 14
Community Participation 15
Silence 16
Conclusion: Saying No Is Not the End 17

© 2010 Fran Ponick


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Eulogy Alternatives

Introduction

This ebook from Lifetime Resources discusses

♦ reasons for turning down an invitation to speak at


another person’s funeral,
♦how to turn down an invitation,
♦how to be helpful even if you will not be the eulogist,
and
♦alternative approaches to giving a eulogy.

© 2010 Fran Ponick 1


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Chapter One
Reasons for Not Giving a Eulogy

The primary purpose of a eulogy is to praise the


deceased, comfort the mourners, and provide inspiration
that will last past the day of the funeral. Not everyone
feels up to that task, even if they deeply loved the
deceased person.
There are many reasons for turning down an invitation
to give a eulogy. The list below is not comprehensive.
However, it does cover many of them:

You are too overwhelmed by grief.


Perhaps the death was sudden, or you were hit much
harder emotionally than you expected.

You didn’t know the person well enough.


It’s possible that the person who asked you to give the
eulogy does not realize that the person was an
acquaintance of yours rather than a close personal friend.

Not enough information is readily available to you.


You might want to give the eulogy, but you’re not in a
position to do the research you’ll need in order to give a
© 2010 Fran Ponick 2
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good eulogy. For example, you or the closest relatives may


live at some distance from each other. For a number of
reasons, email or phone calls may not be an option, or you
simply don’t have the time you need to do a good job.

You feel you are not the appropriate person.


For reasons of good will or logistics, you believe that other
family members or friends may be better suited to giving
the eulogy.

You disliked the person.


For reasons perhaps known only to you, you believe that a
eulogy you might give could be adversely influenced by
the deceased person’s personality or something that he or
she did that you did not respect.

You are unable to express your personal feelings in public.


You are an intensely private person, and attempting to
reveal your feelings would not help other mourners.

Participation is not permitted by your religion.


You may be able to attend a funeral, but are unable to
actively participate in the activities of another religion.

You can’t think of anything to say.


You may not know why, but you’re tongue-tied. You know
for a fact that you’ll fail, even if you give your best efforts
to the task.

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There are too many other eulogists.


Although you might enjoy speaking, there are already
three or more others who will also be giving eulogies at
the funeral. If you don’t know them, you may not be able
to coordinate your collective efforts or may inadvertently
duplicate material.

You have other reasons not listed above.


There are many more legitimate reasons to turn down an
invitation to give a eulogy. The bottom line is that if you
can’t honestly honor the person or make an effort to
comfort or inspire the mourners, the best contribution you
can make is declining to write and/or deliver the eulogy.

Attend the funeral if you can.


Even if you can’t speak, your presence—the fact
that you made the effort and that you mourn
with and for the other attendees—will be
remembered and appreciated.

© 2010 Fran Ponick 4


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Chapter Two
How to Say “No, Thank You”
with Kindness

You’ve been asked to write a eulogy. For one or more


of the reasons listed above, you just can’t do it. That’s
understandable. You’re not obligated to accept the
invitation.
However, turning down a request to give a eulogy is
not a “Just Say No” situation. There are two things to keep
in mind:

First, regardless of how strongly you may feel or how


justfiable your reasons may be, use gentle words in
your refusal.
Second, if at all possible, be ready to provide
alternative suggestions.

Glance through this chapter for a few ideas about how


to say no gently. If you have already accepted an
invitation to speak, you can let the requestor know that
you’ve given it more thought, and then use one of the
suggestions below.
It’s very important to use only the reason that applies

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most accurately to your situation. Multiple reasons can be


interpreted as multiple excuses, so keep it simple:

You are too overwhelmed by grief.


“I am so sorry. I need comfort so much myself. I think
almost anyone else would do a better job for all of us. How
about [name someone else]?

You didn’t know the person well enough.


“I wish I had known Alex better. Even though we knew
each other for years, we really didn’t get into a lot of
personal detail. I feel that I’ll know Alex much better if
someone closer to him gives his eulogy.”

Not enough information is readily available to you.


“I’d love to give a eulogy for Ramona, but there’s so much
I would want to add to what I know. I can’t get there in
time to talk to people who live in the area. Maybe
somebody who lives close by would be better.”

You feel you are not the appropriate person.


“I wish I could, but I’d feel bad if Anne or another close
relative didn’t do it.”

You disliked the person.


“I’m so sorry. I wish I could, but my feelings at this time
are too powerful. I think another person would be a better
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choice.”

You are unable to express your personal feelings in public.


“I want to, but I’ll be honest. I have a such a hard time
expressing personal feelings in public that I know I won’t
be able to do justice to Grandma.”

Participation is not permitted by your religion.


“I’m honored to be able to attend the funeral, but it’s not
possible for me to participate in the service.”

You have nothing to say.


“I wish I could say yes, but even in the best of times I’m
not able to speak in public.”

There are too many other eulogists.


“I’d love to speak, but I understand there are already three
others who will speak. Is there some other way I can honor
him and you?”

You have other reasons not listed above.


“I’m so sorry. I wish I could, but I can’t. I’ll be happy to do
anything else you need.”

© 2010 Fran Ponick 7


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Chapter Three
How to Be Helpful
Even if You Aren’t Giving the
Eulogy

Offer to help anyone who may be selected as a


replacement for you. Be as helpful as you can to that
person. This means not going into detail about why you’re
not able to give the eulogy. Spend as little time as possible
on yourself and as much time as necessary to help the
other person.
I’ll be blunt: as close as you may have been to the
deceased person, and as devastated as you may feel
about not giving a eulogy, this funeral is not about you. It
is about your community.
Remember: Even if you have to turn down giving a
eulogy, you remain an important member of your
community. There are still ways that you can contribute to
it and feel good about your contribution.
Then next page explains how to transfer the role of
eulogist to another person responsibly.

© 2010 Fran Ponick 8


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Easing the Transition to a Different Eulogist

1. Review Chapter 2, “How to Say, “No, Thank You,


with Kindness.”
2. Briefly tell the person who invited you why it won’t
be possible for you to give the eulogy, and that you are so
sorry.
3. If the person presses you, gently explain that you
find your emotions about the death so overwhelming that
you will not be able to do [use the deceased person’s
name] the honor that he or she deserves. You may need to
rephrase this and say it again.
4. If possible, suggest another speaker. This is no time
for you to expect a bereaved person to make explanations
for you and invite someone to replace you. Offer to invite
the speaker yourself on behalf of the bereaved, and to
share with that person any information you have already
gathered.
5. If your offer is accepted, provide the facts you know
to the new speaker. Under no circumstances should you
tell that person what to say or what you would have said.
6. Let the new speaker know that you are available
anytime to help or answer questions, that you know how
hard this job is, and that you are grateful beyond words for
their help. Be available to help 24/7 until the funeral
begins.
7. Even if the eulogy does not go as well you as you
think it could have, remember that you attended the
funeral as a mourner, not as a critic. Simply let the
speaker know again how much you appreciated his or her
effort and how grateful you are for his or her willingness to

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step in.

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Chapter Four
Other Options to Consider

If you don’t want to prepare and give an original


eulogy, or if you can’t, there are other things you can do at
the funeral on behalf of the mourners. For these there are
two considerations:

1. Avoid duplication of effort (for example, a piece of


music you may want to share may have already
been planned into the service).
2. Ensure the acceptability of your proposed option.

The eulogy alternatives presented and described


below include Prayers and Blessings, Poetry, Prose, Music,
Community Participation, and Silence.
You may prefer to use one of these ideas as a way of
participating in the service while avoiding the stress of
having to do a eulogy.
If so, be prepared to accommodate and negotiate
those who are responsible for the ceremony. Ask the
person who originally invited you to do a eulogy what they
think of the new idea. Then run the idea past the priest,
minister, or whoever is in charge of the service.
Please remember that any of the alternatives
© 2010 Fran Ponick 11
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suggested below will require a brief introduction and


conclusion.

Prayer and Blessings

Spontaneous Prayer
Strange as it may seem, spontaneous prayer, whether
public or private, is usually learned and/or taught. When
people are depending upon you for comfort, it’s best to
give them what you believe you can provide successfully.

Original Prayer
Writing your own brief prayer for the deceased person
is entirely appropriate.

A Scriptural Passage
Reading a short excerpt from the scriptures is another
good idea. Consult with the priest or minister to ensure
that the passage you select is appropriate and does not
duplicate any that are already part of the service.

Other Sources for Prayers


Thousands of prayers have been written throughout the
centuries for people who have died. You may have run
across one that is appropriate, but looking for one special
prayer may not be practical if you are already short on
time.

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Poetry

Well-known Poetry
There is probably at least as much poetry appropriate to
funerals as there is prose. Select one that you know you
can read easily and that you audience won’t have to strain
to understand.

Poetry Written by the Deceased Person


Sometimes people leave fragments of writing behind that
deserve to be heard and are appropriate for reading aloud.
If you have such a piece, introduce it briefly, read it aloud,
and then briefly express your appreciation that it was
made available to share.

Poetry Written by You


If you have written a poem, whether for this occasion or
previously, make sure that it features the deceased
person, not the writer (you).

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Prose

A Letter You Have Written


Once again, if you have written an original piece, make
sure that it focuses on the subject, not the writer.

A Letter Written by the Deceased Person


This type of letter could be a love letter, a legacy letter to
survivors, or another letter appropriate for the
congregation to hear. Get permission in advance to read
any letter written to someone other than yourself.

Excerpts from the Deceased Person’s Writings


Perhaps the person kept a diary or a journal. If you don’t
have access to it, ask someone who was close to the
deceased person to see if there’s anything they’d like to
hear read aloud. It’s possible that survivors are too grief-
stricken to make suggestions, but are willing to allow you
to see the journal. If so, select two or three possible
passages. Ask the closest survivors which they prefer, and
get permission to read it.

A Selection from the Classics or from a Contemporary


Writer
Looking for a piece to read from literature can be
challenging. If you are a person who loves books and may
even depend upon them to deal with powerful emotions,
immersing yourself in the search for the perfect passage to
read at the service may be as personally satisfying as

© 2010 Fran Ponick 14


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anything else you could do.

Music

Music You Love That Would Honor the Person


A particular song may have reminded you of the person
every time you heard it. You could play it on a recorder as
a way of sharing it. If you are a reasonably good musician
—and reasonably sure you can sing it without breaking
down, performing it yourself could be a lovely gift to your
community.

Music the Deceased Person Loved


Usually people who love a particular song also love a
particular performance or version of it, so play the
person’s preferred recording. Many mourners at John
Belushi’s funeral were shocked when Dan Aykroyd played
a recording of “The 2,000 Pound Bee” by The Ventures
instead of giving a eulogy—but Ackroyd was fulfilling a
promise he had made to Belushi a few months previously.
You probably won’t be called upon to do anything like this,
but “socialize” the musical idea beforehand just to make
sure it’s appropriate for the given assembly.

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Community Participation

Brief Comments from the Congregation


Inviting the congregation to share requires some logistical
planning and management. Here are the steps:
1. Find out in advance from the leader of the funeral
service how much time is available for community
sharing.
2. Let the congregation know that today you’ll share a
unique moment from your relationship with [xxx].
3. Tell a brief story of your own experience.
4. Invite those in the congregation to briefly share their
own unique moment. Say, “We have about XX minutes,
so let’s share the time while we share our stories.”
5. Start with, “Who has something they’d like to tell us?”
6. For each story, thank the person and ask, “Who’s
next?”
7. Allow the sharing to continue for the planned time.
8. When the time is up, thank everyone who spoke and
invite those who haven’t spoken to share their stories
with each other after the service/at the reception/in the
weeks ahead.

© 2010 Fran Ponick 16


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Silence

There are three steps to offering a moment of silence in


remembrance of the deceased person. These include
presenting a brief introduction, taking a short time for
silent meditation, and resuming the funeral service.

Introduction
Say, “This eulogy is simple. Let’s honor Mary Jo with a few
moments of silence. Please give some thought to who she
was. What particular characteristic did she leave in your
heart that you want to keep forever?

A Moment of Silence
Plan for about 30–60 seconds of silence. Resume speaking
when you see signs of motion in the congregation.

Conclusion
Say, “Sometimes silence can be more profound than
works. Thank you for allowing each other to share a
moment of silence in memory of Mary Jo. May we continue
to remember her name and our love for her in the days
that follow.”
Then quietly go back to your seat.

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Conclusion:
A Final Word about Invitations

Not every invitation to give a eulogy can or should be


accepted.

Turn down those you need to, and accept those you can.

Consider your options carefully before you respond.

Finally, remember:

There is no wrong response


and no need for later regrets—

if you honestly choose the response you believe


will guide you best.

© 2010 Fran Ponick 18


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