A eulogist is a person who delivers a eulogy, which is a commemorative speech given at a funeral.
When someone dies, it is customary for people who knew and loved that person to gather in remembrance. In western tradition, this typically occurs in a church. The loved ones of the departed gather, sing songs and speak about their memories of the person and his or her legacy.
Let’s take a deeper look at what eulogists do.
As mentioned earlier, someone can only be considered a eulogist if the person is delivering a speech remembering the departed at a funeral. Any other speeches delivered at any other setting cannot be considered a eulogy.
Eulogies take place in all kinds of funerals, big or small, regardless of the religious tradition. This means that even the smallest funerals, attended by only a few people, can have eulogies spoken. As long as someone stands up to say something in remembrance of the departed, it is a eulogy.
Eulogies are also spoken in more public settings, especially if someone of note dies. This is especially true if the person was a leader of national significance, such as a president or a reputable judge. In these settings, the eulogies tend to be delivered by a person of comparable importance.
For example, when President Reagan passed away, President Bush delivered his eulogy. In his remarks, President Bush said of President Reagan, “In the end, through his belief in our country and his love for our country, he became an enduring symbol of our country.”
When a eulogy is delivered in a public setting for a public person, the eulogist tends to angle his remarks to a wider public audience. In other words, the remarks made are not just targeted to close family and friends (as is typically the case), but to strangers who may be tuning in to watch due to the public influence of the departed.
Segments of a Eulogy
An integral part of a good eulogy is a brief biography of the life lived by the departed. This is usually spoken of relative to the parts of the life experienced by the eulogist. For example, a eulogist who only knew the departed from their time at university might begin his eulogy remembering the departed’s life from that period of his life onwards.
Mentioning the biography of the person allows people attending the funeral who are less familiar with the departed to gain a better understanding of the life he lived. It allows them to catch glimpses into his life through the recollections of the eulogists.
For example, when President Bill Clinton eulogized President Richard Nixon, he spoke of his time as president: “When he became President, he took on challenges here at home on matters from cancer research to environmental protection, putting the power of the Federal Government where Republicans and Democrats had neglected to put it in the past, and in foreign policy.”
By commemorating Nixon’s time as president, Clinton was able to put his achievements into a larger context. It also gave listeners a chance to reflect on the work that he has done while in office.
Later on in his eulogy, Clinton talked about Nixon’s achievements after the presidency, “…he wrote nine of his ten books after he left the Presidency, working his way back into the arena he so loved by writing and thinking and engaging us in his dialogue. For the past year, even in the final weeks of his life, he gave me his wise counsel, especially with regard to Russia.”
Once again, this allowed listeners to appreciate the departed’s achievements at another period of his life – in this case, after he resigned the presidency. By piecing different parts of the eulogy together, listeners can more fully appreciate the very full life that Nixon lived.
The next part of a good eulogy is remembering the personal memories shared with the departed. This is different from a biography in that it is much more personal. For example, the memories recalled can be about intimate moments that were shared just between the eulogist and the departed.
This part of a eulogy is particularly poignant because it touches on how much the departed meant to the eulogist personally. It is this kind of personal touch that resonates deeply with listeners.
When President Obama gave a eulogy for the departed Senator Ted Kennedy, he recounted a personal moment shared between them, “It was only a few years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, when Teddy buttonholed me on the floor of the Senate for my support on a certain piece of legislation that was coming up for a vote. I gave him my pledge but expressed my skepticism that it would pass. But when the roll call was over, the bill garnered the votes it needed, and then some. I looked at Teddy with astonishment and asked how he had pulled it off. He just patted me on the back, and said “Luck of the Irish!”
This anecdote allowed listeners a chance to glimpse into the relationship that Senator Kennedy shared with President Obama. This is important because it shows that they had genuine interactions with each other, and that makes the overall eulogy more credible.
This is arguably the most important part of the eulogy because it commemorates the lasting influence that the departed has had on those who are still living. We all die someday, and when we do, it is the legacy that we leave behind that counts.
A mother who showed unfailing love to her children might leave behind a legacy of love that is passed down to the next generation. A father who instilled the values of hard work in his children might inspire his children to implement those values in their careers, thus leaving a lasting legacy on the community that his children belong to.
For public figures who have contributed greatly to the common good, this part of the eulogy is especially important. It allows listeners to contextualize the departed’s achievements and inspire them to carry on whatever good legacy was left behind.
When the civil rights icon Rosa Parks died, Oprah Winfrey eulogized her, and said of her legacy, “So I thank you again, Sister Rosa, for not only confronting the one white man who[se] seat you took, not only confronting the bus driver, not only for confronting the law but for confronting history, a history that for 400 years said that you were not even worthy of a glance, certainly no consideration. I thank you for not moving.”
This allowed listeners to put into context the legacy of Rosa Parks’ famous act of not giving up her seat at the front of the bus. It allowed listeners to connect Rosa Parks’ legacy to the life of Oprah Winfrey, and her lasting influence on the civil rights movement.
A eulogy is one of the most important personal speeches that one can make. It allows everyone listening to have one last opportunity to commemorate the life and legacy of the departed. It should always be spoken with sincerity, conviction – and hope.