Guide on the Side - Final Words: Delivering a Eulogy

By Marie Wallace, Published on February 1, 2002
Previous Articles by Marie Wallace

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O'Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries' highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute's programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms "Life in Progress," which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art.  She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her "free" time to various non-profit and civic activities.


The death of a family member, close friend or colleague, whether expected or unexpected, always comes as a shock and stirs unfamiliar emotions of loss. We are never ready for the passing and even less ready to speak at the funeral or memorial service. Yet delivering a eulogy is a rewarding and healing experience. The trick is to know how to prepare. A eulogy is a great gift--to the deceased, other mourners and yourself. Offer it whenever there is an opportunity.

A eulogy is more difficult than other types of speaking because:

A eulogy is rewarding because it:

How to go about preparing a eulogy:


"We are here to celebrate the life of xxx. My name is yyy and xxx was my boss for five years. I have many fond memories of working with him. He was a highly regarded judge but the memories I want to share with you is how he made a difference in my life as a triathlete coach. xxx was not an athlete. He didn't swim, run nor bike. He didn't even workout (some of you might think as I often did, that he should have), however he was a competitor and knew that competition is won in the head and heart. Let me tell you... [Story 1 and story 2]." [Close] "I am competing in my first Iron Man in 2 weeks and xxx will be there for me every mile, the best coach anyone ever had have."


Although you may get an adrenaline rush before other types of speeches, the nervousness usually lasts only a few seconds and once you connect with the audience, you become comfortable. In an eulogy, you may lose control and begin to openly weep at any time. However, the two places that are of greatest concern are the opening and closing. One thing you can do is to design the eulogy so that emotionally loaded ideas do not come at these points. (Note in the example the opening is factual rather than emotional as the stories are likely to be.) As for weeping, be sure you have kleenex or handkerchiefs in your pockets. If you are overcome, pause, take a few deep breaths, drink some water (make sure you have it beforehand) and proceed when you are ready. The audience will understand that the emotion you show is natural.


Humor will relax yourself and the audience. Base it on the person's foibles or characteristics. For instance, Peggy was a person who could get things done--in the community, at home and at work. She didn't mind upsetting people to achieve her goals. Her ex-husband began her eulogy with this statement: "There isn't a person here today who knew Peggy who at sometime or another wasn't mad as hell at her--including me and our two sons." There was a roar of laughter. Even Peggy would have laughed. It was true. Peggy could be a pain but she knew how to accomplish things no one else could. Even when family, friends and neighbors were angry with her, they loved her. Her ex-husband, sons and neighbors all picked up on the "mad as hell" theme with their stories.

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