Write Your Story - Craft Your Eulogy

Why Should I Write A Eulogy?

Writing your eulogy and then reviewing it in your morning ritual will benefit you in four ways:

  1. Create a filter: Because your eulogy will include at least one major project you’ve worked on, it will provide a vision for your life. That vision will create a filter helping you decide how to spend your time. Having a project that requires you to take action will help you experience a deep sense of meaning.
  2. Create community: Because your eulogy will mention the people you live your story with and for, it will remind you to remain connected to the people you love. Being relationally connected is one of the elements that help you experience a deep sense of meaning.
  3. Redeem your challenges: Knowing that the challenges you face each day will contribute to a better world gives purpose and meaning to the conflict you encounter. The challenges you encounter are transforming you into a more healthy, better version of yourself. This perspective will contribute to a deeper experience of meaning.
  4. Generate narrative traction: Reviewing your life plan will actually help you accomplish your vision by creating cognitive dissonance. When you compare what your life is supposed to be like to the way your life is now, your mind will generate a kind of tension. This cognitive dissonance will motivate behaviors that ease the tension. The only way to alleviate the cognitive dissonance is to actually become the person you are reading about.

Before you write your eulogy, here are some suggestions you will find helpful:

  • Keep it short. You will be tempted to get long-winded, but remember you’ll be reading this as part of your morning ritual. If it’s too long, you’ll find yourself skipping this reflection and moving straight into some other pressing activity. I do that myself sometimes, but I try not to do it too frequently. Your eulogy will serve as a North Star. Take your eye off it and you’re more likely to wander off the path. Keep it short so it’s more likely to do the job you need it to do: help you create narrative traction.
  • Make it ambitious but realistic. If you’re fifty and hope to win Olympic gold on the Serbian rugby team, your eulogy is not going to help you create narrative traction because it will find nothing but dead ends in the actual living. The vision you have for your life must be ambitious enough to posit a story question (will you get it done?) without being so delusional that it’s simply impossible. That said, I never thought I’d actually become a bestselling author or run a company or marry a woman as incredible as Betsy. You’re likely able to accomplish more than you think, so make the vision you have for your life ambitious. Also, remember, it doesn’t matter whether the vision actually comes true. Meaning is found by taking action toward a vision, not by accomplishing that vision. Whether you accomplish what you want or not, you’ll find meaning in the attempt.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the details. Stating the date you’ll die and listing the people you are survived by is the stuff of a real eulogy. But this isn’t a real eulogy. This exercise is about creating a vision for your life that you find compelling. It isn’t about anything else. This is a fictional document you are going to live into so that it’s more likely to become true. Again, the point is narrative traction.

Not sure what all to include in your eulogy? Here is a brief checklist of things you can include to make it interesting enough to inspire the narrative traction you will need to move into a meaningful life experience:

  • What major projects did you work on and accomplish?
  • Why did you choose those projects?
  • What message were you trying to send to the world?
  • What causes were you passionate about and how did you defend them?
  • What significant relationships did you engage in and what do those people mean to you
  • What communities did you belong to or create?
  • What is the legacy you hope to leave behind?
  • How did you want people to feel about themselves after they interacted with you?
  • What significant challenges did you overcome?
  • What’s the one thing you want others to remember you for?
  • What one piece of wisdom do you want to pass along to those who come behind you?

Of course you don’t need to include all of these elements. Your eulogy is your eulogy. All you need to do is write a paragraph or two that inspires you enough that you want to wake up in the morning and put a little something on the plot.

When and Where To Write Your Eulogy

If you want to take a crack at writing your eulogy right now, feel free. Consider that attempt a rough draft. The actual assignment should be a little more reflective. When this is taught in a workshop or class, the assignment of writing your eulogy is given a full hour so that participants have time to reflect. And again, don’t forget that it’s an evolving document. There will be times you’ll think of something you want to do with your life while you’re on a walk or taking a shower. Edit and develop your eulogy over time.

Many people who create a Life Plan set aside a morning or even go on a weekend retreat to make sure they have enough time to reflect. You want to think of your eulogy and life plan as an outline for a novel. The more time you spend on your outline, the easier it will be to write the book. The same is true for this process: the more time you spend on your life plan, the easier it will be to live an interesting story and experience a deep sense of meaning.

What does a working eulogy look like? Here are a few samples, starting with the author, Don Miller:

Donald Miller was a loving husband to his wife, Betsy, and an ever-present father to their daughter, Emmeline. His number one priority in life was always his family, which is why he limited his travel and work schedule to enjoy time with the people he loved the most.

Don and his family built a home called Goose Hill in which many friends, family members, and invited guests found rest and encouragement. Don, Betsy, and Emmeline loved to practice hospitality and were always surrounded by people who were working to make the world better. Goose Hill housed book readings, picnics, small concerts, fundraisers, planning sessions for bipartisan political initiatives, family game nights, lectures, poetry groups, and many other activities that helped people get some rest, gave them hope, and cast a light on important ideas being brought into the world. The principle that guided Donald Miller’s life was that the world would improve if individuals accepted their own agency to live a better story and that all challenges could produce a blessing. He felt this as a calling from God and chose to serve God by joining Him in the process of creation.

Don’s company, Business Made Simple, helped business leaders discover what was wrong with their businesses and gave them the simple frameworks they needed to keep those businesses growing. His company certified more than five thousand business coaches and marketing consultants to help business leaders grow their companies.

Before he died, Don wrote more than twenty books. He wrote memoirs, business books, novels, and even a book of poetry about life with his family at Goose Hill.

Don provided his children with love, security, and an example to follow. As a husband, Don supported his wife by being a constant encourager and never losing track of what a gift he’d been given in his family.

Don never let the ambitious stories he wanted to live come before the love story he got to experience with Betsy.

Joan Freeman was known for teaching her neighbors how to grow a vegetable garden. Each house on her street was given a small, raised bed in the field beside her house, and each season she’d visit families and help them plot their summer garden. Looking back, though, we realized she had little interest in gardening at all. Joan loved people and loved to see how much they grew season after season. She knew that people, like plants, flourished when tended to. Each summer, she’d establish workdays where all the families would come together to share the workload of tending the garden.

Many of the families on her street now credit those days to the deep friendships that they have established in the neighborhood, and some parents even credit Joan for creating much-needed time with their own busy children. Each year, her neighborhood enjoyed a peak season feast where they’d eat from the produce they grew. Joan is survived by her husband of thirty-seven years and their two adult children, who have created community gardens in their own neighborhoods. Above all, Joan valued time with family and friends, nourishing conversations, the joy of fresh food, and the bounty of hard work. After her funeral services on Thursday, the neighborhood will dedicate the community garden in her name with a sign and plaque. The Joan Freeman Community Garden will now be tended by a board of directors made up of family members from Joan’s neighborhood.

Matthew Cornelius leaves behind a legacy of family, terrific friendships, and fly fishing. In his midforties, Matthew and his wife decided to quit their jobs, sell their home and possessions, and buy an abandoned retreat center in Montana. It was there that Matthew began leading fly-fishing trips down local rivers, pouring himself into groups of executives from businesses and nonprofits he believed were changing the world.

Hundreds expressed their condolences and recalled long conversations in fishing boats during which Matthew, over and over, proved himself a terrific listener and encourager. Matthew leaves behind his wife and two children, all of whom are avid fishers and each, in their own right, terrific listeners and encouragers.

Sara Carter raised over $1 million for charity by running more than twenty-five marathons.

A running coach at Harris High School, she inspired countless students to do hard things for great reasons.

Sara ran a local publicity campaign for each race, stopping by the small-town paper, hosting dinners, showing up to speak at churches, and even giving her presentation at the local senior center. In her presentation, she would highlight a local charity and introduce her network to the work these organizations were doing. Then, she’d raise money and run the race, always taking a runner with her who either worked at the charity or was being benefited by it.

Her tireless work promoting good in the world changed an entire community. Nonprofits began to network with one another and share best practices. City leaders began working with charities to enhance their reach and capabilities. And the local police precinct credited a drop in crime to Sara’s efforts to combat poverty.

Sara leaves behind a husband and three children who were each surrogates for her causes and all of whom ran multiple marathons with their wife and mother. Her family requests that, in lieu of flowers, make a donation to Sara’s foundation, which matches the donations of other runners for charitable causes.