The Eulogy; the hardest, most rewarding story you will ever tell

18 minute read

On Christmas Eve 2022, my father’s cousin, a man I had called ‘Uncle Willie’ all my life, passed away peacefully aged 79. I was asked to help write a eulogy for his funeral service. Like many people tasked with this enormous responsibility, I was somewhat panic-stricken. It was not because I’d never done this before or because I was not confident in my writing abilities. It was simply because, although I’d known him all my life, I felt I didn’t know him well enough to write a story about his life. But I was wrong. Here’s how I faced this important call of responsibility and what I did to bring his journey in life to light.

Willie & cousin Keith, Dubbo, circa 1960

So, what is a eulogy and why does it strike fear into so many people? A eulogy is a collection of anecdotes, musings and the life experiences of a recently deceased person, told by loved ones, at a funeral service. It often needs to be written in a very short time period, which only adds to the pressure of the task. There are two aspects to a eulogy; the writing of it and the deliverance of it. One person may write it, another may read it, or one may do both. And whilst it is tempting to ask those who are practised in the art of writing or public speaking to do the job, sometimes it is a task best done from the heart, by those closest to the deceased.

The first eulogy I ever wrote was for my dear departed father. He passed away in a farm accident, in what was a sudden shock to us all. In the blurry days that followed, I travelled back home to support my mother, brother and other family members and prepare to say farewell. He was only 55, far too young to go. I remember many things from those in-between days, albeit mostly odd things. Like the celebrant’s hairy legs sticking out from his shorts as he sat on one of our lounge chairs. And the meeting around the dining table with the funeral director, playing the ridiculous game of choosing the coffin that fitted our price range and the style Dad may have approved of. Those in-between days are a time of acute pain. They are days of denial. It can be hard to start the process of writing a eulogy because that just feels so final. Those tasked with organising the funeral often have enough both physically and emotionally on their plate and offering to help write the eulogy or even deliver it can ease the overwhelm of those in-between days and allow them to focus on the essential funeral arranging tasks. Many a eulogy has no doubt been written in the wee hours of the night, in a state of exhaustion, grief and panic. Your offer of help may just save someone from breaking under the pressure. For me, as the years have gone by and I’ve written a eulogy for, or spoken a eulogy at, several funerals, the task has become a little easier. To help you get started, overcome writer’s block and finish a piece of writing you’ll be proud of, here are my tips for bringing a eulogy to life.


Create a timeline of dot point facts about the person’s life. This will help highlight gaps that need filling, prompts questions and allows you to have a base to start writing from.

Write ‘remember the time we…’ to prompt times you shared that stand out to you.

Talk to other people who were close to the deceased to ask them for their memorable moments and the person’s best qualities. Doing this helps create a collective sense of life and allows others to reflect and share in the process, often discovering some wonderful stories.

Type out/re-arrange the mini stories and facts into paragraphs; at least one paragraph per story.

Number the facts and stories in a logical order, so you create a nice flow.


Would a more formal tone honour the person or were they a bit more laid back or a larrikin? Thinking about this will help set the tone for the eulogy.

Decide what stories above stand out and flesh these ones out further.

Sit in a quiet place where you can reflect and allow yourself to feel, allowing some emotion to infiltrate along with the facts.

Don’t be afraid to use humour to balance out the sadness.

Avoid smuttiness, too much swearing or the harrowing details of their death. It’s OK to reveal hard times but remembering that this is a life worth celebrating, will allow the achievements and special moments to shine brightly.


Using paragraphs allows you to have somewhere to pause. This will help you speak at a slower pace when delivering the eulogy. After all, we want the audience to absorb what you are saying and to have time to reflect on the parts of the person’s life that held meaning.

Pausing during a eulogy is also common as the content of the eulogy or audience reaction may trigger emotions. The eulogy is a not a race to the finish, rather a slow, meaningful curation of a person’s life. Savour the moment.


A thousand words will take you about 5 minutes to read. Two thousand words will take 10 minutes and so on. An A4 typed page in 11 size font will be about 500 words, so a 2000 word eulogy will run to about 4 pages.

An 8-10 minute eulogy is a good length to aim for. This gives the audience enough detail to feel satisfied they have not only learnt something but been allowed enough time to feel like the deceased has been honoured adequately.

However, if you feel the eulogy is too long, you could ask another person to stand with you and take over reading the second half of it.

Tidy up

Programs such as Microsoft Word can help you edit out spelling and grammar errors.

Enlarge the font so you will have no trouble reading it and add page numbers to the top so it’s easy to see the order (if more than 1-2 pages long).

Print the eulogy and have it either stapled together or placed inside a plastic pocket document holder so that it doesn’t fly away if the ceremony is being held outdoors.


Read the eulogy out loud to someone else. You’ll be amazed how different the tone can be between reading it and speaking it.

Edit where you feel you stumble or falter over words to make the flow smoother.

Finally, your audience are there to honour the person, remember their life and their achievements and to feel the love they shared for that person. It is a final farewell for everyone to the deceased and a time to shed emotion. Don’t be afraid to allow the audience to feel these moments.

Stand and deliver

Deliverance of a eulogy is another skill entirely. The best eulogy I ever heard read was by my father’s cousin Laurence, who was a Catholic priest. He spoke of the life of my great Uncle Bertie, speaking off the cuff for most of it and in a manner that was both relaxed and cheeky. It was a lesson in making an audience comfortable in a time of sadness.

If you can, plan to deliver your eulogy early in the ceremony. This will ensure you are not stressing too long about public speaking, which a great many of us are none too fussed about, even terrified of.

Ask the celebrant or clergy to speak the majority of their part, after you read your eulogy. You can then breathe a sigh of relief and mentally and emotionally re-join the funeral service, ensuring the whole ceremony is not just a blur.

If you think it will help, have someone join you at the podium/microphone to provide moral support. They can provide a comforting arm if needed or give you a sign to slow down and breathe if the atmosphere is starting to overwhelm you.

Showing emotion is inevitable in many cases. Don’t be afraid or upset with yourself for doing this. Remember, a funeral is a reflective event which allows you to process deep emotions which can provide some closure.

Ultimately, a eulogy can be what you want it to be. There are no rules, only suggestions, that may make the process easier to bare. And finally, do not be afraid to give writing or delivering a eulogy a go. It truly is a privilege that will allow you to discover hidden gems about your loved one and connect with them on level you may not have had before their death. For those of you who will attend a funeral in the future, remember, we should never sit in judgement of the delivery style or content of a eulogy. Those tasked with this responsibility have enough to bare without the added pressure of what others may think or even say. And last of all, respect for the dead is of upmost importance. Speak only of the things your loved one would be happy for you to reveal. For those of you brave enough to broach the subject with your loved ones prior to their death, jotting down the main stories of their lives and the things they’d like said about them, can be a comforting start when you are faced with this inevitable task.

When the day comes, as it will for most people, it’s good to know there is help available. You can ask the funeral director or someone you know who has been through writing a eulogy recently. Perhaps you’ve heard one delivered that you thought was wonderful. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’ve also included an example below of the eulogy I wrote for my dear Uncle Willie. Whilst written in my usual ancestor biography blog style, I hope it shows you how to weave stories from other people into the eulogy narrative. It contains some of our family folk law and times we often reminisce about. It did take a few days to write, as I collected stories and tried hard to perfect the final product. At 2000 words, it runs to about 12 minutes to deliver it. The beauty of spending so much time on it however, is that it was not just a story for a day but will now forever remain a story to tell for generations to come.

Today we are here to celebrate the life of William George ‘Willie’ Iverson.

William Iverson was born in Wollongong, the steel capital of NSW, on the 12th October 1943, right in the thick of World War 2. He was the eldest child of Cecil James Iverson, known as Bandy, and Ellen Kathleen Reidy, known as Nell. William was named after his paternal grandfather, William Iverson, with whom he lived as a baby in (ironically) William St, Unanderra, along with his grandmother Elsie.  William had one brother, Robert, and three sisters, Kay, Gwen and Lynette. William had close relationships growing up with his Iverson, Lonsdale and Poulter families and those relationships would build a solid foundation for William, despite his tough childhood. At some stage in his early years, William became Willie and the name stuck.

William Iverson, 1943

Around 1948, Willie and his family moved to Gunnedah, to a property called ‘Iona Downs’, where Pop Iverson was a station hand. It was 12 miles from town. On the other side of Gunnedah, six miles from town, lived Willie’s cousins, the Poulters and the Lonsdales and his maternal grandmother Minnie with Sam Hill.  ‘Iona Downs’ and ‘Frogmore Park’ played a huge role in the early years of Willie’s life, growing up with his siblings and about a dozen cousins.

The kids amused themselves with games from their wild imaginations. Little cousin Kay, younger than the boys by quite a few years, would be placed upon the ‘operating table’ to have her appendix taken out with scissors, until luckily, an adult intervened in time. Chastised about using each other for their dangerous games, the gang of boy cousins then took cousin Joan’s doll and placed it on the road. When a car slowed down to see if it was a real baby on the road, the doll would magically disappear, pulled off via a string by the gang of cousins.

In late 1954, the Poulters moved to Dubbo, leaving Willie without his best mates. A few months later, after the big floods had been and gone and Lynette had been born, Willie’s parents up and moved the family to Dubbo, to join the Poulters once more. A place to live was found on the west side of the bridge but when it burnt down, the Iversons got a home in Ronald St and then finally into a housing commission home a few blocks away in Sanderson St.

The Poulters lived nearby in Bailey St for a couple of years and then moved to their forever home at 131 Jubilee St. It was here that Willie continued his long and close association with the Poulters and with friends of the family, including the Weinerts and later the Dradys, Bonhams and Pipers. The gang continued to grow, as did the parties at Jubilee St, which often ended with the cops arriving on the doorstep. Willie was a witness to the mad chaos from the 1960s to the mid-2000s, when his Aunty Rene finally gave up the house. Many an Easter, Christmas, New Year’s Eve or a birthday party was had in the beer garden, a specially built grapevine-covered party central area that Willie no doubt also contributed to.

During his school days Willie was good at reading and writing but lacked some discipline, like most boys his age. He and his cousin Keith were closest in age, just six months apart and hung out together in school. They played football together on the same team, their team photograph revealing Willie’s thick crop of curly blonde hair and Keith’s surly face. This was perhaps an indication of the teenage attitude which led them to ditching the pre-requisite school uniform in favour of black shirts and psychedelic patterned socks. Daily cuts with the cane did nothing to deter their chosen method of academic rebellion. Willie did excel at one thing however and that was rugby league. As a teenager he was highly valued on the field as a star tackler, easily making 50 tackles a game.

But like any other person in the world, there were things Willie was not good at. The difference was he knew to quit whilst ahead. Take driving for instance. As a young man, Bandy allowed Willie to have his first go in the driver’s seat. Cruising through the main street of Narrabri, Willie somehow managed to hit a post. His father not impressed, Willie gave up driving and no-one saw him behind a steering wheel ever again. Swimming was also not Willie’s strong suit. He loved to go fishing but out in the tinny one day, he somehow fell overboard and slipped beneath the surface of the river. Down he went, then up again, then down again. His cousins Ray and Phillip tried to grab him by the hair but as by now he had none, down he went again. Next time they grabbed him by the ears and pulled him into the boat. Willie came up fighting; fighting to survive and in his agitated state, fighting his rescuers too!

Money was always tight growing up and with so many mouths to feed, treats were rare. Many a hare-brained scheme was concocted, and trouble usually followed. You could almost guarantee that although Willie was not the instigator, he was for sure in the mix. Call it guilty by association. For example, as an honorary member of the infamous Dubbo Poulter gang, he was a witness to the light-fingered fate of Mr Chee Lee’s vegetable garden produce. A visit to see their grandmother Minnie in Chelmsford St was not complete without Mr Lee from four doors down swearing in Chinese at the rogues stealing his watermelons, oranges, and whatever else they could grab before being noticed.

The shenanigans didn’t end in his wild teens and 20s. Many years later, on a visit to his sister Kay in Batemans Bay to do a paint job on her loungeroom, Willie and Keith took a few shortcuts. Six months later when Kay went to move the bookcase, she found the wall behind it unpainted. When not in on the joke, Willie was sometimes the target of the joke. One Christmas the normally very placid Willie blew his stack when his cousin Ray rubbed fresh chilli all around the head of Willie’s beer bottle.

Painting was Willie’s livelihood and allowed him to maintain the close friendships he had with his cousins and mates. It also allowed him to experience life in the outback towns. Throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s and even into the 90s, Willie worked for his cousin Ray and contributed to the painting jobs in many schools, court houses and police stations across the central west and far northwest of NSW. The days were long and the work hard, but the pay was pretty decent. At night there wasn’t much to do in the small towns and as they often stayed at the local pub (how convenient) what was a man to do but have a drink with the locals. Like I said, the pay was decent enough, but sometimes the surplus was drunk instead of saved.

Willie was also well-travelled. In addition to his paint roaming days, he also took trips with his sister Kay and other family members. In the mid-1990s Willie joined his cousin Keith, brother-in-law Neville and nephew Daniel on a fishing trip to Thredbo. In 2009, he was one of the members of the Five Fossils and a Filly tour that travelled to Gundagai, Narrandera, Mildura, Renmark, Swan Hill and Adelaide. He took in the sights of the mighty Murray River and enjoyed spending time with Kay, Neville, cousin-in-law Margaret, niece Julie and her husband Marco. A few years ago, Kay and Neville took Willie on a trip to see their sister Lynette in Mt Morgan, near Rockhampton. This driving tour also took in the most famous parts of Outback Queensland, including the Stockman’s Hall of Fame. And of course, there was always a trip to Batemans Bay to see Kay and her family; many, many trips over the years, so that The Bay felt like a second home to Willie.

In his later years, Willie lived on his own in a house in Morgan St, Dubbo and then in a flat across the road. Once retired he kept busy growing his vegetable garden with an array of pumpkins, beans, chokos and many others. He made his own pickles and bottled home-grown beetroot. He was a good cook and ate home-cooked, gourmet meals from his own garden, with skills he had learnt from Pop Iverson, who was also a keen vegetable gardener. Willie also loved crossword puzzles and was an avid reader.

Not too long ago, when his home care package came through, he was able to get a comfy recliner chair which he was thrilled about. ‘I’m gonna sleep in this’, he declared! He loved watching all the NRL games, beer in hand, in his new recliner. In the past year, when his shoulders were giving out on him, he would prop up one arm up with the other in order to raise the bottle to his mouth and celebrate the game he loved.

When he wasn’t at home, you’d find Willie at the Castlereagh Pub, his very own local, having a schooner of 4X and a bet on the horses. It’s lucky his family knew his routine so well. He had a home care worker scheduled to come regularly to clean his house. One day his niece Suanne got a call from the company to say Willie wasn’t home for the service. This initiated a protocol at the home care company that required Willie to be found as soon as possible to ascertain his welfare. Suanne went to check his house, but Willie wasn’t there. She rang his regular haunt, the Castlereagh Hotel, who checked their security footage. Sure enough, he’d been there that day but had already left. Suanne rang the company back but a second-hand sighting was not good enough! She had to sight him in person or the police would be called to do a welfare check. So off she went to town looking for Willie. Up and down the main street she went, until boom, there he was going into Riverdale. Leaving him to his shopping, she confirmed the sighting and went back to work. The next time she caught up with Willie she told him there was a warrant out for his arrest. He couldn’t believe his innocent normal day out had caused such a stir. ‘A man can’t even go for a drink’, he cried!

What Willie lacked in a family of his own he more than made up for with his four siblings, 14 cousins and many more nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews, who all adored him. He said recently, whilst reminiscing with Suanne, that seeing the kids grow up and mucking around at family gatherings brought him heaps of joy. And in a life of almost eight decades, that right there, was more than enough for him.

He was the quiet, humble, and placid son, brother, cousin and uncle of our family. We will miss his understated presence at our family gatherings. He was always content to sit in the back stalls but not today! Today we bring Willie into the limelight and honour his rich contribution to the tapestry of our family’s history. We will always remember him with fondness.

Willie passed peacefully on Christmas Eve 2022, aged 79. A good innings indeed and just in time for the annual heavenly gathering of his best mates at their favourite time of year.  Rest in peace, Willie.

Uncle Willie, camping trip, circa 1980s