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Q. I've been asked to speak at a memorial service for an employee of my company. I barely knew him, as I only recently started working here. How can I come up with something appropriate?
As the population continues to age rapidly, many of us will find ourselves required (or invited) to compose and deliver a eulogy. It's hard to do, but particularly daunting if you're speaking as a company representative, and the deceased is a relative (or complete) stranger. The first step is to ask, "Who is this person?" – and find out via research.
Begin by talking to people who worked closely with the deceased. Ask them to discuss their memories of him and describe his strengths, as well as quirks. Pump them for details and anecdotes, such as the time he talked a customer out of switching her business to her brother-in-law. Or maybe he loved standup comedy and performed occasionally at a local club. Check with human resources to find out whether he won special awards at the company or in the industry.
His family and friends can also provide a true sense of this individual. Did he have a nickname or did he serve in the military? Was he an amateur photographer who never missed a camera show? Did he smoke cigars in the backyard? Did he volunteer as a Big Brother for six years? Was he married and/or a parent of three girls? Such information helps you compose a vivid picture of a human being. In your place, I'd also corroborate the facts with more than one source to avoid inaccuracies.
Be honest, as well. For example, after a policeman was recently shot and killed in the line of duty, the police commissioner began his remarks with: "I did not know this officer in person in life. I've only come to know him in death." An opening statement like this is powerful, touching, and sets the stage for the words that follow.
Speaking at a memorial service is also an opportunity to make an impression, and you want to do it right. The idea is to pay tribute to the deceased and affirm his life. Of course, keep in mind that five to seven minutes (or even less) is long enough for a eulogy. This is true especially if there is more than one speaker.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a blog for bereaved spouses and partners.