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10 Tips for writing a funeral speech

By Susanne Duijvestein, sustainable funeral director of Bijafscheid

How do you write a good speech for a funeral? Where do you start? How to do it? One thing is certain, the process does not look as orderly as above.

A couple of days. A week at the most. You have to write a speech in that short of a time. About someone's life, what someone meant to you, what his or her message was to the world. It is up to you to put this on paper and present it. And then for a large group of people that you may only partially know.

How in heaven's sake are you going to do this?

1. Don't be too hard on yourself

With the idea that it must be a good flowing story all at once. You are going to change, rewrite and redirect a lot. So just start with rough layout. Only when you have drafted the different parts will you determine the order and create a coherent story and structure.

2. Let your heart speak

Whether others are impressed by an intelligent story or not doesn't matter. You don't do it for that. You have something to say from your heart. That is a different language all together.

3. Collect your memories

The most beautiful, funniest, peculiar, and typical. Take the time to reminisce about memories, and do it ideally with others. With a pot of tea, a bottle of wine, a walk through the garden, together going through stuff or photo albums. Let the memories come to you.

4. Tell an anecdote

The most moving speeches I have experienced are made up of anecdotes of those memories. The more lively described, the more they appeal to the imagination, the better. The great thing about anecdotes is that you can put humor into it, because a smile (or hard laugh!) can be really welcome at a funeral. Telling a good anecdote is an art: it must be about your own personal memory, keep it short, exaggerate a bit, but don't overdo it and let it be clear what the core of your message is: what does the anecdote say about him or her?

5. Honesty is healing

Nothing but good about the dead. But what if the truth about someone isn't just beautiful? Don't shy away from the less beautiful side, says American death doula Sarah Kerr. Especially if that is important for the people in the room, to recognize the stories and to see a complete and correct image of someone. Honesty is healing, albeit with love. Of course, it should not be a comprehensive statement of shortcomings, a respectful interpretation or a wink is enough.

6. Life story

Maybe you are the right person, maybe someone else, but it can be nice if one person tells the life story during the ceremony. This helps to form a complete picture of the life of the deceased. The beauty of a life story is that you can do something with it after the funeral, such as a booklet or perhaps a 'documentary' for yourself.

7. Give yourself a rest

Write in a place you like, take breaks, put it away for a while, give yourself peace. You won't be the first to write the speech the night before the funeral.

8. Who are you adressing?

Do you want to say something to the people in the room, or to the person who died? Make a choice to give your message direction.

9. What more I would like to say to you

Was there anything you wanted to say to him or her? (Be prepared for tears.)

10. Check the story for love

And last but not least. Once your story has taken shape, written down, check with all your attention if it is written out of love, respect and compassion. Love is what overcomes.

Did you know that there are people who have made their trade of writing life stories and speeches? Two women who are very good at this are Karien Hermanns and Klazien Kruisheer. They are the best (I think) in retrieving and writing down a life story. You tell them yourself, unless you want them to do the same.

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