Eulogy vs. Obituary: What's the Difference?

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A significant amount of time and effort goes into funeral planning. But don’t forget the finer details. You don’t want friends and family juggling last-minute issues. Two of the most commonly forgotten details are preparing a eulogy and an obituary. Understanding what they are and how they fit into funeral planning is key. That knowledge can help you demonstrate their importance to your loved ones. And help them understand why they should include them in their plans. 

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When you begin funeral planning, it is beneficial to understand the key terms. It’s not uncommon for people to use the words "eulogy" and "obituary" interchangeably. 

But, these two terms do not mean the same thing. Both are critical forms of expression when a person passes away. Make sure you understand the distinction between the two. It will help you avoid errors during planning.

Let's take a moment to examine the differences between these two terms, and how to discern what to write for each.

What's a Eulogy?

A eulogy is a speech that tells the story of a person's life. A eulogy goes into details about the deceased's life and shares specific memories from their life. It may include highlights, memories, and short stories.

A eulogy is a personal message that is delivered during the funeral. The person delivering the eulogy knew the deceased well. Their relationship with the deceased is why they are chosen to speak. It is not uncommon for this person to be a spouse, child, or close family friend of the deceased. In some instances, one person writes the speech and someone else reads it.

People typically have an idea of who they would like to speak during their funeral.  If a selection has not been made, then the family may make that decision while organizing final arrangements.

Try reading a few examples to get an understanding of the options. There is not one eulogy format, but there are a few tried-and-true styles. Reading some examples can help you decide the best approach for your eulogy.

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What's an Obituary?

An obituary is the public announcement of a person's passing. It is published in a newspaper or an online platform. They always include time the person passed away and where they passed away. Some obituaries only include that information. Others may contain more personal details. It is not uncommon to include details of the deceased’s life and list the surviving members of their family.

An obituary usually ends with the time and location of the funeral. Because newspapers charge for obituaries on a per-word basis, many families choose to keep an obituary short. Learning a few tricks on how to write an obituary will help you save considerable time in the future.

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Main Differences Between Eulogies and Obituaries

Eulogies and obituaries may have some overlap, but they are unique in their own right. To better understand the distinction between the two, let's examine some key differences. 

Presentation

One of the primary differences between a eulogy and obituary is the presentation.

A eulogy is a prepared speech read at a funeral. Typically a eulogy is between three and five minutes long. It honors and celebrates the life of the deceased. And it can provide support to those in grief.

An obituary is published in a newspaper or online as a way to announce the death of a person. It is not uncommon for an obituary to be only a few sentences long.

Content

Obituaries are shorter than eulogies. Obituaries tend to stick to the basics about a person's passing. They can include the date and time of passing, and sometimes the manner of death.

However, they may contain a few personal anecdotes, such as where the deceased attended high school or college. And what they did for work.

A eulogy delves deeper into the life and legacy of the deceased. It includes more personal information and specific memories from a person's life.

You can use it to highlight how the deceased’s life made a difference in the world. Or share a treasured familial memory. Eulogies can also include quotes, the playing of songs, or a video. They are an opportunity to celebrate the life of the deceased through recollection.

Length

There is no official length for either an obituary or a eulogy. But it is common for a eulogy to be much longer than an obituary. Remember, a eulogy is spoken.

There is not as much emphasis on length (other than the timeline of the funeral service). In contrast, an obituary may have to be limited to a certain word count based on the newspaper and cost per word. Obituaries are one or two paragraphs.

A eulogy may be as long as thirty minutes. But most resources would encourage you to keep your eulogy under five minutes in length.

Purpose

The purpose of an obituary is to announce a person's passing to the general public. And it shares specifics about funeral arrangements. It also serves as a record that can be researched by future family members.

In contrast, a eulogy is spoken during the funeral. It pays tribute to the deceased. And hopefully brings some closure to mourners. An obituary will focus more on the bare bone details of a person’s life, while a eulogy is much more descriptive.

Point of view

The point of view is another distinction between eulogy and obituary. An obituary is written from a third-person point of view. It may include a line such as “John Smith passed away October 30, 2014, at his home in Boise, Idaho.”

But, a eulogy is spoken from a first-person point of view (the perspective of the speaker). It may include a line such as, “I remember when John was a young man just learning to drive his first car…”

Selection of writer or speaker

Another key difference is the person who writes an obituary or delivers a eulogy. Sometimes, people prefer a close family member to do both. Some funeral homes offer obituary writing as a service. An obituary doesn't need personal knowledge of the person beyond a few key details. All these details can be provided by family members.

By contrast, a eulogy would be written by someone close to the deceased. This is a person who has intimate knowledge of the deceased’s life. They would have memories that are appropriate to share during the funeral service.

Remembering a Loved One with a Tribute

Eulogies and obituaries, while different, both serve a unique purpose. As you and the ones you love make arrangements, it's important to identify who will write or speak on your behalf. This can be a very challenging decision to make, so planning can save your loved ones a lot of stress.

It is not unusual for a eulogy and obituary to share some common information. Some people prefer to have the content of both pieces similar to make it easier to prepare. Take a moment to consider what information you would like to include.

And don’t forget to include who will prepare each piece. By doing this ahead of time, you’re helping your loved ones. Instead of feeling stress with managing one more thing, they will be able to focus on honoring the deceased's life.

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