Honoring the Deceased: Tips on Speaking at a Funeral
If you’re offered the opportunity to speak about someone that has passed away, it can seem like an overwhelming task. It’s often hard to find a balance of honoring the deceased with honesty and focus while maintaining an emotional element.
At Jewish funerals, eulogizing is an ancient custom often referred to as a hesped. The hesped tradition is known for truthful praise for the deceased, honoring the life they lived and often an emotional tribute that involves rousing attendees to tears in order “to lament”.
What Should the Hesped Include?
You could share inspirational parts of the deceased’s life story including any of their special achievements, unique character traits, and life values.
A good way to start gathering details is by interviewing friends and family to learn more about their loved one. Be sure to take notes to include in the speech but always get permission to use any information shared with you. You could ask about the deceased’s childhood, how they met their spouse, how they spent time with their family, their hobbies and talents, any career details, and their community involvement, and anything about their life with which you may be unfamiliar. This interview process will help you personalize your speech and touch on many aspects of the person’s life.
In sharing with listeners about this person’s achievements and positive qualities you remind them of the legacy which they have left behind. It’s also the ideal time to speak from the heart about your loved one or friend. If you find it is too difficult to write a speech, you can find a poem that you can recite which exemplifies your feelings. There are plenty of poems online or ask your funeral director for recommendations. You can also offer guidance on how mourners can face their own questions about mortality and how to cope with loss.
Delivering the Hesped Eulogy
It’s important to keep a hesped short. A good guide is to aim for ten minutes or less, as there may be other speakers, or you may have to give the speech outside in poor weather.
Delivering a eulogy can be challenging, even if you are experienced at public speaking. It’s a good idea to have your speech on note cards and designate a backup speaker who can read it on your behalf, if you find yourself too distraught.
Overall, the function of the hesped eulogy is to highlight the worthy and beautiful parts of the departed’s life along with their noble character aspects, while leaving the bereaved feeling comforted and inspired.