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How to do a funeral speech – the lessons I learnt from my two Grandads

How to do a funeral speech – the lessons I learnt from my two Grandads


If you are in the process of writing a funeral speech right now then check out my e-book – ‘How to Write and Give a Beautiful Funeral Speech‘. It will tell you everything you need to know to write and give a speech  you can be proud of.

Earlier this week I was at a funeral.  It was a small service of about 15 or 20 people for a man in his 60′s who passed away.  The civil celebrant who was officiating at the funeral had planned a short simple service as the man’s daughter had planned to give a eulogy herself as part of it.  But when the time came she was too upset and just couldn’t get up and do it.  The celebrant asked her friend if perhaps she would be able to get up and read it instead, but she wasn’t able to either.  He asked the group if there was anyone else who might like to get up and share their memories, reminding them that they were among friends.  One man got up but was very upset and after a couple of choked sobs he sat straight down again.  I always think it’s such a pity when this happens.

A funeral is such a beautiful chance to share thoughts and memories about someone you love but it is so tough for some people to get up and speak full-stop, let alone under such emotional circumstances.

I did my first funeral speech when my first grandparent died and I learnt a very valuable lesson then.  Since then it’s become expected that I speak at family funerals…so I’ve done a lot of them.

I thought I’d share the two most valuable things I have learnt about giving funeral speeches – one taught to me by each of my grandads.

Don’t be afraid to cry

This one was taught to me by Grandad Twist – my mum’s dad.  It was almost a decade
ago now that he died. I was the eldest of four grandkids and it was suggested it might be nice for me to get up and speak on behalf of myself, my brother, and my cousins. I was planning what I would say and the funeral director spoke to me the day before the funeral and tried to give me some tips on how not to cry while speaking.  I can’t even remember what she told me but I do remember thinking afterwards ‘what’s wrong with me crying when I’m up there?’ so that was pretty much how I began my speech.  I said that I’d been given tips how not to cry but that my grandad was dead and I was sad and if I needed to cry I was damn well going to do it and they’d all just have to watch me. (Seriously this is what I said.  You can get away with all sorts in a funeral speech!  One day I’ll write a blog about all the crazy things I’ve said up there……Actually you’ll see what I mean when you get to the next point)

Everyone present is there for the same reason you are and are all feeling some variation of the same emotions as you.  No-one cares if you cry.  Who cares if water comes out your eyes and your face goes a bit blotchy?  Who cares if your breathing gets a bit funny?  Who cares if you need to blow your nose? You’ll happily do it in public a hundred times when you have a cold.  Are you worried people will see you are sad?  They know you are so forget about it.

Telling yourself you aren’t supposed to cry and are supposed to hold it together up there (whose idea was that anyway?) will make it waaaaaay harder on you, especially if you are already nervous about speaking in front of a group.

Hey, I don’t love the idea of standing up and blubbing to a room either.  But I have done it often enough to know that the best thing you can do when you have to get up and speak at a funeral is tell yourself that you might, and that it’s fine.  And if you need to even start by telling everyone else that you might then do just that – it helps.

Maybe crying will make you or someone else uncomfortable but if you have something you want to share about the person you’ve lost then don’t let anything stop you. It might be your last chance to share with this particular group of people. One of the beautiful things about funerals is that they bring the people in your life together in one place the way no other event, not even a wedding, can.  There might be something tiny that you share that will bring a smile to the face of someone there or make them feel better.

Heck, what are you worried about?  They’re just tears.

 

Be honest.  Be brutally honest.

 


The other most important lesson I learnt was from Grandad West – my dad’s dad.  He died about 7 years ago.  In a nutshell Grandad West was a very tough man.  It wasn’t all bad of course – it never is – but in general he was very strict, quite controlling, could be pretty mean at times.  In his last couple of years he really mellowed out and was very different, but as kids we really didn’t get very excited about seeing him.

So come funeral time everyone was a bit nervous about speaking. I knew what would happen – everyone would get up and talk about how wonderful he was, and share all these amazing memories and basically fib.  A lot.  And all the rest of the family would be sitting during the service listening…and recognising all the fibs.  So here was the basis of my speech – I pointed out the good things about him but I also said that he was a hard man. I said that he could be mean and that we didn’t always like him.  But, I said, I wasn’t going to make up stories to honour a person of my own invention who didn’t even exist. I was there to say goodbye to my Grandad so I wanted to talk about him, warts and all, not some dreamed up fantasy of what I thought he should have been like.  Because, and here is the point, he may have been very tough to like at times, but he wasn’t tough to love. He was family – you love your family, it’s a given. No matter what they’ve done and no matter who they are, deep down you still love them. Sorry but there it is.  I said in my speech that to get up and talk him up as an angel was to suggest I couldn’t love him just as he was, which I did.

Like my first tip, if you are putting pressure on yourself to have to give some beautiful all-positive happy account of someone you love it’s going to make it that much harder.  Share.  Be honest. Talk about them as they really were because that’s who you knew and that’s how you loved them.

One day when it’s my turn to go I hope people at my funeral remember to share some of the embarrassing and stupid things I’ve done as well as the fun and exciting. I hope someone remembers to talk about how I could be a right royal stubborn and difficult pain in the backside, as well as all the lovely stuff.  Because I want to be remembered and loved for who I really am rather than who people would have liked me to be.  Don’t you? And don’t imagine that this isn’t the stuff people want to hear at a funeral.  That speech for my Grandad went down really well and quite a few family members, including my nana, wanted copies of it to keep.

So there are my two best tips for funeral speeches.  Don’t be afraid to cry, and be very honest. These will take LOADS of pressure off of you and make it much easier to stand up there and share whatever you’d like to with others who are also there to farewell the person you’ve all lost.

   

If you have found these tips helpful then you will   love  my e-book – ‘How to Write and Give a   Beautiful Funeral Speech‘.

As well as the above 2 tips it will give you another 11 helpful tips on writing/planning your speech and another 11 tips on how to stand up and give your speech.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

thaoski March 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm

ur blogs make me cry. not sure i can always read them but i love them :)

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Grace Kelly March 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Inspiring piece Kristie, thanks for sharing. Lately I have heard of 6 deaths within my social sphere, seems to be happening all at once. Any thoughts on this, surely no coincidences?
Gratitude, Grace

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Michael Greelish August 24, 2011 at 9:20 pm

I’ve been asked recently and a few times if I would perform a eulogy. I declined because I didn’t think it was appropriate being a minister performing weddings. After more thought, I realized people needed me to be their words. Not only in times of joy, but also in times of grieving. Thank you for sharing your story. I am more apt to help next time I’m asked.

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Kristie West August 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Hi Michael, thanks for the comment. And so glad to help. I’d say that if people are asking you then that makes you their perfect person to do it. There is joy to be shared in times of grief also. :)
Kristie

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Della March 18, 2012 at 10:07 am

Thank you Kristie. I desperately want to talk about my Dad (yes, warts n’all) and also know I am going to lose the plot if and when I do. I feel that a personal eulogy is the way forward but also feel I need a good friend on stand-by or even to deliver the speech I have written myself. Horrible dilemma but know he would be so very, very proud of one of his children at least attempting to honour him.

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Kristie West March 20, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Hi Della,

Well done for doing what you can….even if that does mean someone else reading your speech for you. And I agree he would be very proud of you…no matter how it turned out. I’d love to know how the day (and the speech) went for you.

Kristie
xx

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Kristi March 31, 2012 at 8:50 pm

These are good ideas, though I have been to funerals where people sobbed/sniffed and snuffled until it wasn’t about the one that had died, but shifted the attention to the person doing the reading. It always helps to read what they’ve prepared outloud 5 or 6 times until they’re able to share what you want to share about the person that died. Also, keeping it short is really a good idea, and finally it’s wonderful to tell a few stories that represent who the person is. A list of adjectives like funny, loyal and etc. are nice, but if illustrated by a specific event, it allows people to remember, laugh and cry about the one they loved so much. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Honor to the person who died and helping the folks who loved them celebrate and remember the life.

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Kristie West April 2, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Hi Kristi,
thanks for your comment and your thoughtful suggestions! I guess it’s about balance isn’t it – if you get to a point where you really can’t get a word out then maybe ask someone else to take over or stand with you.

K
xx

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Meg July 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Very powerful stuff. And useful. My husband is the go-to funeral speaker in my family, but I know I’m going to have to get up there someday and speak the truth about someone I loved. Thanks – terrific blog.

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Kristie West July 11, 2012 at 6:39 am

You’re very welcome Meg. I’m glad you found it useful.
Kristie
xx

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Justin Hardy August 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Dear Kristie
just wanted to say how much what you have written has affected me, it has empowerred me to speak at my grandmas funeral, as the eldest grandson i know i should say something but i also know i will not be able to stop crying ( i loved her so much !!)
once again many thanks for being YOU !!!!
regards
Justin x

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Kristie West September 2, 2012 at 8:50 am

Hi Justin,
thanks so much for this lovely comment. And I am so happy that you felt able to speak at your grandma’s funeral…despite whether tears came or not. I hope it went really well and I bet your grandma would have loved whatever you shared. Sending lots of love your way.
K
xx

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Chloe August 14, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Thank you so much for this blog. I lost my Granddad early this morning, and its been so hard trying to come to terms with it. It’s hard to imagine a day when this pain isn’t everything. But your blog entry inspired me to compile a list, of all the things I love about him, and all the things about him that near drove me crazy at times. All the little memories I can think of, his smell, his smile, all the things he used to say, like “that’s my girl!” whenever I did something to make him proud, and the same old jokes “Nana’s making me do the washing up, and she’s not going to give me any pocket money!” oh God how he made me laugh and smile. It makes me feel better to have this all down, the good and the bad. I miss him. I get my A level results on thursday.. in two days time. It feels like a lose lose situation. If I’ve failed, I won’t go to University, and if I passed…. I won’t be able to tell him, and I hate that so much. He wanted to know and I wanted to tell him. I miss him.

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Esther September 2, 2012 at 8:33 am

Thank you for this. I am going to be reading some words at my mother’s funeral tomorrow and have desperately looked for some words of advice on how to manage it. Your blog is the most useful thing that I have found – thank you.

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Kristie West September 2, 2012 at 8:48 am

You are very welcome Esther. I am so pleased it has helped. Sending you loads and loads of love for tomorrow. I’m sure what you share will be perfect.
K
xx

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Nick Page September 29, 2012 at 11:36 am

I’ve just lost the love of my life ~ my Gran (aged 102 and a bit) !

Before she died she asked me (and only me) to speak at her funeral which is in a weeks time. It’s my first funeral speech. Knowing what to say is easy, knowing how to say what I want to say is difficult. I want to honour her despite her being controversial and opinionated and a bloody tough old bird.

The blog has helped a lot and my speech will be brutally honest and perhaps a bit quirky. Thx very much for the tips.

Man size tissues at the ready ……. !

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Kristie West October 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Hi Nick,
I’m so glad to be able to help. I’m going to copy what I just posted to a comment by Steve about his dad’s funeral:

I know that can be a daunting number of people…especially if you aren’t used to speaking! The important thing to know is this is not about presenting an award-winning speech. Remember why you are up there – to share your love and thoughts about your dad. Your speech only has to be as long as you want it to be. Everyone is there for the same reason and you will be well supported. Just remember you are among friends and family – even the ones you don’t know. There are no strangers in that room. Choose 2 or 3 friendly/familiar faces in the audience and just talk back and forth to them if it makes it easier for you.
This is simply your chance to share what you’d like to say about your dad with the other people who loved him. Just write from the heart and think about what you’d truly love to share…then just hop up and speak.

My thinking is always don’t honour her despite her being controversial and opinionated and a bloody tough old bird. Honour her because of that! :)
I would love to hear how it goes if you haven’t done it already.
Kristie
xx

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Steve October 2, 2012 at 10:02 am

I am expected to speak at my fathers funeral on Monday – dreading it – have told my mother the funeral service will be a celebration following the crem which is before – expecting between 300 – 400 at service!!

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Kristie West October 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Hi Steve,
I know that can be a daunting number of people…especially if you aren’t used to speaking! The important thing to know is this is not about presenting an award-winning speech. Remember why you are up there – to share your love and thoughts about your dad. Your speech only has to be as long as you want it to be. Everyone is there for the same reason and you will be well supported. Just remember you are among friends and family – even the ones you don’t know. There are no strangers in that room. Choose 2 or 3 friendly/familiar faces in the audience and just talk back and forth to them if it makes it easier for you.
This is simply your chance to share what you’d like to say about your dad with the other people who loved him. Just write from the heart and think about what you’d truly love to share…then just hop up and speak.
I’m sure whatever you say will be lovely.
Kristie
xx

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NH October 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I’ve got an assignment that ask me to do a funeral speech. we were in group of four actually. I’m becoming the MC for the funeral. but actually I don’t get it how to be MC at a funeral.. what should i say. Do you have any information about this Kristie?
xoxo

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Kristie West October 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Hi NH,
Email me directly at kristie@kristiewest.com and I can give you some ideas/advice as I don’t have a blog specifically on this! Happy to help if I can.
Kristie
xx

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bamo nabaz October 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm

hey ….how are you… my friend who died last month so we have an event after 40th of jis death which it will be next weak …..so i need you help it its possible to give me something to read …and it is in English ,,,,thank you so much

regards;
Bamo Nabaz

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Kristie West November 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Hi Bamo, if you’d like the booklet send me an email – kristie@kristiewest.com – and I will send it back to you.
Kristie
xx

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Eugene Crawford November 17, 2012 at 12:35 am

Thanks. U R a God send. Your 2 tips are going to be very helpful

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JD January 3, 2013 at 6:58 pm

At 57 I have gone through periods where there seems to be a funeral a week. Most of you have also. This is one of those times. And speaking during this time is always going to be a challenge. With that said, I have had a great career in the insurance business, LIFE Insurance. And attended maybe my share plus of funerals. With that little background here’s my two cents worth. First, I started on my own eulogy at 47. Not to be wishing death to hurry but rather to set goals for myself to live up to. Think about…really, what better time to reflect on what you wish to accomplish. Also its easier to say your piece for your funeral while alive rather than after. Second, I have almost completed some things I wish to say for my Mother at her funeral. She is 94 and probably will outlive us all. But if God chooses her time to be sooner, then I wish only to read a short bit of verse so the time I should be grieving and celebrating her life with her and my closest friends will not be weighted down with such a heavy burden. Besides, it’s the things that people say while you’re alive that matter the most.

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KB January 4, 2013 at 2:52 am

Is it okay… to not write it out… I have to speak tomorrow.. and have nothing planned but many fond thoughts and memories to share.. I am a neurotic planner, thinker, writer… and I have not been able to put anything in writing or “plan” what I will say.. I just want to minister to the family in any way that I can.. and yet I don’t want to seem casual or flippant with this humbling opportunity.. thank you so much for your thoughts..

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Kristie West January 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm

KB I am sorry not to have seen this post quick enough. I hope everything went well!
K
xx

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Shae February 10, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Hi Kristie.

I’ve been asked to perform a speech at the funeral of my nana, the only grandparent I ever had~ in a couple of days- my 13th birthday to be exact.

I really dont know what to say, I was never very close to her because she had bad Alzheimers and couldn’t remember anything. What do I do???

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anne brown May 10, 2013 at 8:42 pm

i have to read a poem at a baby s funeral tomorrow and im afraid I will break down

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Rebecca Aziz July 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm

so grouding. thank you x

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Rebecca Aziz July 12, 2013 at 1:45 pm

*grounding….sorry, couldnt type through my tears ;)

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Mike November 29, 2013 at 10:31 am

Nice page, I too have spoke at several funerals now, but have a ‘biggie’ this coming Monday when I’m gonna speak for my dear dad. Biggest problem for me is the family strife with my mother and siblings. I have so much frustration, almost anger towards them regarding my dad, so I have to be so careful and be aware of ‘the time and the place’. I don’t consider it brave to give it a go, I feel it’s my duty to do so. Wish me luck folks.

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Kristie West December 4, 2013 at 7:09 am

Good luck Mike xxx

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sue March 25, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Finally, someone else who gets it! I have been our family eulogy speaker since my Grandpa died many many years ago. A minister who none of us knew got up and talked about life and death and no one said anything about my grandpa. There were things that needed to be said, but no one said them. I vowed, and have done so since that day, to say what needs to be said for anyone! I have often read others words for them because they are too emotional and I always have something prepared to say at every funeral I attend in case no one else does. People look at me as if I have something wrong with me when I volunteer to read the eulogy or anything else for anyone. It is nice to know I am not alone in my resolve to do what I can do, in that moment. Funerals are for the living, not the dead. If someone needs to say something-it needs to be said!!!!

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Kristie West March 26, 2014 at 12:08 am

Love it, Sue. Totally with you!
K
xx

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gill c April 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Have just read comment and blogs and I am so glad I have, have to read poems at my dad’s funeral on Friday and I know that in the coming few days I shall ne rereading the above.

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Marilyn April 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I am so happy I found this site ,it is very helpful to me .Thank you Kristie for sharing.

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Thami May 7, 2014 at 6:47 am

Im speaking at a friend and business partner , I don’t know what to say or how to start . I have never spoke at a funeral

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Lynette May 23, 2014 at 2:40 am

Thank you this was most helpful

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Rob Healey June 3, 2014 at 6:53 am

Thanks very much Kristie, like many things your points are so obvious, once someone like you points them out. I have spoken once and I wish I’d spoken a few other times. Armed with your advice I hope I will. I found this page while looking to see if there is a better way to have a funeral. I went to one last week and as always I think it was extremely hard on the family, adding stress when there is already stress and grief.
In this case it was the loss of a partner. My friend, the Husband, stood in the car park before the ceremony and we all went up to him to offer our condolences. It was very hard on him. Too hard. Sure you can say he shouldn’t have been there. Then there is the playing of an emotional song (or three) and so on. Then we all stood around for a second service at the graveside. I looked at all my friends and thought that maybe other countries do it better by howling and wailing, which is sort of how many of us feel inside.
Perhaps I’m wrong but I don’t want my funeral to be anything like that.

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SK August 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Hi I have to speak at a funeral for an employee on Saturday morning
I’m not sure what’s appropriate to say or really what the family needs to here she was young only 23 and she has only been at the company for 6 months , her aunt is an employee and she has been with us for years

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