Do you wonder if you could write a funeral tribute? I am here to say, YES you can! Why? Because the best tribute is genuine, heartfelt and simple. Many people think it must be formal and finely-crafted, using complex language. When the perceived standard is so high, it’s not surprising that many people run a mile from giving a tribute – even if they have lovely things to say. And then, another person ends up giving the tribute, just because they do a lot of work presentations or have a drama degree, which aren’t really the best criteria.
To my mind, the best funeral tribute isn’t the longest, or the shortest, the grandest, or the plainest. The best tribute is the one that captures something of the character and life of the person who has died. And it’s delivered by the person who really wants to do it. It’s personal.
If you don’t know where to start
A lot of people say they’d like to say something at a funeral but have no idea where to start. It can be difficult to condense all your thoughts, feelings and memories into a 5 minute tribute. You may find starting with their date of birth really uninspiring. Try writing a thank you letter to the person who has died. Alternatively, make a list of everything that made them happy and see what stories and memories spring to mind. You might get random things like ‘gin and tonic’, ‘grandchildren’ and ‘fishing’ together and that’s all good.
What to say in a funeral tribute
A tribute needs to be adapted to the audience. If you’re having a small family funeral, everyone will know about where Uncle George was brought up, his work promotions and his foreign travels BUT they probably won’t know about what he got up to with his teenage friends, smoking and lolling about in the park.
How much of the person’s life are you talking about? If it’s their whole life, don’t forget to talk to older family members or friends, to find out the bits you weren’t around for. A good tribute covers the full scope of someone’s life, unless there are solid reasons for not talking about certain things.
It’s always more interesting to hear anecdotes than straight facts. You could say Granny made amazing roast potatoes but it’s more fun to hear about her secret recipe. Did she have one, or did she cheat and open a packet when no one was looking? This is a real story, and the answer is yes, she cheated!
What we treasure most about people we love is their unique collection of personal qualities. Talk about their strengths, and how they used them. You can also talk about their weaknesses, as long as it’s in an affectionate, respectful way. Sometimes it’s hard to think of the right descriptive words, but luckily Google has all those, handily listed under the search term: ‘list of personality traits’.
Is it ok to make a joke? Yes, if the person who has died was known for their sense of humour. If it feels right, you could tell one of their favourite jokes or a funny story that they often recounted. Make sure you’re sensitive to people’s feelings and remember that some jokes don’t stand the test of time. Sometimes, humour is just inappropriate: when there has been a sudden or unexpected death, or when it would be insensitive.
It’s always poignant to talk about a person’s legacy – to you, your family, friends, the community or their field of work? It doesn’t have to be Nobel prizeworthy. It could just be simple – like how they taught you to manage your money, or plant vegetables, or make the most of every day.
This is the golden rule of tributes. As my mother used to say: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If you’re not sure whether to say something, that’s a definite sign not to say it. A funeral is never the time to air secrets, grievances or past mistakes. Keep it kind and positive.