Emotions and Spirituality
I would like to speak at my father’s funeral, but I don’t know what I should say and whether I can do so without breaking down? How do I prepare for this?

Speaking at a memorial service is an honour. It gives you the privilege of paying respect to the person who has died, and of helping those who have gathered for the event. Speaking at your father's funeral is a special way of honouring him and the relationship you had with him. Your public mourning could be a significant healing step for you as you grieve your loss of him. It may help others who are present in their grieving too.

For most people who come to a memorial service, it is the personal stories about the person who has died that they remember later. In giving voice to the memories of your father, you help those present to remember their own experiences with him.

There isn't a specific right or wrong thing to say at a memorial service, but what comes from the heart is usually the best thing. Nobody else can truly know the way your father touched and guided your life or the kind of relationship you had. Even something that seems small may have had profound meaning for you and your family.

As this is a celebration of your father’s life, what you say should be a personal tribute to him. When you are preparing what you will say you may want to recall the memories of your father that you carry with you. Which of those memories do you want the larger community to carry away? What are the things about your father that you feel particularly thankful for? You may want to talk about what you learned from him or tell a story that highlights an attitude or value he passed on to you. Perhaps you want to talk of a special event involving him that has had a lasting influence on you. Memories of how you saw him in his relationships with you, your family, and other people can help everyone present celebrate the life he lived.

While it is appropriate for a tribute to highlight a person's qualities and traits that drew respect and affection, it also helps to keep it real and balanced. Your remembrances do not all have to be positive. As humans we all have our ups and downs, things we have struggled with, or perhaps amusing incidents that reveal our quirks or weaknesses. These are the characteristics that make each of us unique and memorable. It is okay to include some humour if this fits with your father and your family. Sometimes the touching moments we remember about people are also funny.

When you speak at your father’s service, you may be speaking not only for yourself, but for others in the family too. Ask them what they remember about your father. You can then add some of their memories, thoughts and feelings to your own comments about him.

Many who agree to speak in public about a loved one who has died find it a very emotional experience. The possibility of crying while speaking should not prevent you from taking part in your father’s memorial service as you would like. Accept that this is a tender, emotional time. Some find it helpful to say so as they begin to speak. If you become choked with emotion or start to cry while you are speaking, pause, take a deep breath, feel the support and understanding of those present, and gather yourself together to carry on. Some people find it reassuring to have a backup plan, such as having someone stand by to offer support or fill in if needed. Another option is to give a copy of what you plan to say to the leader of the service or ceremony and ask her or him to finish what you have written if you feel you cannot.

Here are some other tips that you may find helpful in preparing to speak at your father’s funeral:

  • Ask the leader of the service what is an appropriate length for your speech. The length depends on whether other people will make speeches, and how much else is in the service.
  • Do not try to give a complete account of your father’s life unless you are specifically asked to do so by your family or the leader of the service. Usually this information is in the obituary and most people will have seen it. Share the memories and reflections that are most important to you rather than trying to say everything you can about your father.
  • Avoid sharing details that your father or other family members would be embarrassed to hear.
  • You may want to comment on the comfort you have found in your religion or spirituality in the face of your father’s death, but using this occasion to promote your spiritual perspective is not appropriate.

 

These articles offer some information about grief and about rituals that may offer comfort in your remembrance and grieving:
Grief Work
Rituals to Comfort Families