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Sunday, May 16, 2010

How to Speak at a Funeral

Maybe you have been asked to speak at someone's funeral. Maybe you have asked to speak. What do you need to say? How should it be said? What is the best approach? May I give some suggestions?

I have heard people embarrass themselves at funerals often enough. Maybe they heard something in a movie in which everyone cheered or maybe they just thought it would be so "cool" to say something that pushed the envelope of decency. It doesn't matter. These things were embarrassing for the families, the friends and the fools who said them! You don't want to be one of those fools, do you?

I suggest that you write down what you are going to say. This will help you formulate what to say. You don't have to use what you have written at the funeral. You do need to take it with you. Most people can look down and read it if they get emotional or forget what they were going to say. You can give it to the preacher to read if you get too emotional. However, I have seen people get to the pulpit and forget all they were going to say. They could neither read it themselves or give it to the preacher to read (he doesn't read minds). They felt extremely embarrassed.

Your ultimate goal is to express a character quality which you appreciated in the deceased. The preacher's job is to give comfort to the family and friends. You may share the fact that the person gave their hearts to Jesus or what type of Christian the deceased was but your goal is to express your appreciation for the difference the deceased has made in your life.

Therefore, don't say, "She was a great cook," and leave it there. You need to say what that cooking meant to you. You need to describe how she would cook. You need to attach it to a character trait like love or caring for others. You need to describe what she cooked in such a way that the people taste the food while you are speaking. If what you are saying is truly a character trait, they all know what her apple pies tasted like too. You can identify and describe so that they will join you in remembering the character trait.

Don't claim you have a relationship better than others. I have heard, "I am more hurt than any of you because I loved Momma more than you did." The rest of the siblings want to throw this one out the window. Funerals are no time to cause rifts (or widen them) in the family. Join the people in your grief but don't think yours is greater because you express it differently than anyone else.

Work on what you are going to say last longer than any other part. You need to leave the platform somehow. You will bore people if you keep thinking of another story to tell. You will eventually be ushered off. One of the relatives or the preacher will tell you its time to sit down. What is the most important thing you want them to know about the deceased? Save that for last. It will mean the most and it will be the most remembered thing you have said.

Forget about grandstanding. No one is going to cheer when you get through. Be humble because this isn't about you. You are not seeking compliments. You are remembering someone you love. (Refuse to speak if you didn't love the deceased.)

Keep it to about five minutes and you will be loved. Go twenty-five and they will talk about you at the reception following the service. Keep it short and simple.

It is okay to become emotional but don't try to become emotional. I have seen so much wailing at services that was disingenuous that I would like to throw up. If I can tell, believe me others can too. This is not an Oscar performance. Believe me, people know whether or not it is real.

Think of others' feelings about what you might say. Do not confess the deceased sins. Do not reveal some dark secret that you and the deceased have kept to yourselves. It might make a great episode of Desperate Housewives but it will not make a great funeral service.

Afterwards, when people tell you that you have said just the right thing, answer, "Thank you." Don't go on and on about what you could have said or what you wanted to say. You appreciate the compliment. You don't dwell on it.

I hope and pray that the deceased you are speaking of knew the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, don't tell the people that he or she didn't. It won't do the deceased any good. Say instead, "The hope that we all have is found in our faith in Jesus Christ. Those who know Him will be together forever. We all look forward to that great reunion that is assured for those who know Him."  You don't have to rub salt in the wound of the family if the deceased didn't know the Lord.

I hope this helps you as you prepare what you will say at your loved one's funeral.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NIV)
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to put this together. It is not my first time doing this, but it is the 2nd time that I have had to speak about a loved one that I was unsure of their salvation.

Daniel said...

Thank you for writing this. I read this and used it to write a eulogy for my friend who passed away. I felt that this was great advice and I was a little clueless before reading it. The eulogy went well and his dad's father thanked me for it afterwards.