Eulogy vs. Obituary: What's the Difference?

Updated

If you’re helping a loved one with end-of-life plans, assisting with the coordination of funeral plans for a friend, or planning your own loved one’s end-of-life celebration, it’s important to have a clear understanding of all the pieces of the puzzle.

Jump ahead to these sections:

You might be tasked with writing someone’s eulogy, obituary, or both. So what’s the difference between the two, and how can you honor a loved one with each of these written tasks? Read on for everything you need to know about the differences and similarities between a eulogy and an obituary.

Overview: Eulogies vs. Obituaries

Eulogies and obituaries are both written pieces that are produced in the immediate days after a person’s death. An obituary is needed first, but the eulogy follows closely behind. 

Eulogy: Definition and Example

A eulogy is a speech that honors the deceased person by recalling their specific attributes, lifestyle, and acts that made an impact on the world. It can be read during a funeral service or a memorial service. 

For etymology buffs, the word “eulogy” comes from the Greek eulogia which means “blessing,” “praise,” or “fair speech.” So think of a eulogy as an opportunity to provide a fair speech to praise the deceased by sharing how they were a blessing to those around them.

A short eulogy example would be something like this.

“Memaw, or Grandma Janet as everyone else called her, was a wonderful mother, sister, grandmother, cousin, and friend. She never met a stranger and always focused on helping those in need. She shined the light of grace, love, and gratitude in this world, and we are all better for knowing her. Those who knew her well would say that her first love was her family and her next love was everyone else.

One day Memaw and I were out for a walk, and she had made three new friends by the time we got to the park. Once we arrived, five more people were added to the list of people who adored her. She was always looking for ways to bless people. From her never-ending candy stash to give us grandkids, grocery store gift cards for complete strangers, volunteering at the food pantry, or always being available for her grandkids to talk to and gain wisdom from, she was one special woman.”

Obituary: Definition and Example

An obituary is a short written piece that is published online or in a newspaper. Its purpose is to alert the general public to the news of someone’s death, share a few things about the person who passed, and invite readers to attend a funeral or memorial, if applicable. 

Obituaries have been used as records of death in newspapers since the 1700s, and the trend continues today with both newsprint and online publications. Thanks to the ease of online obituary hosting sites, many families are opting for free online publication in place of, or in addition to, publishing their loved one’s obituary in a local newspaper.

Here’s an example of an obituary.

Gene Scott (Scotty) Bertrand, beloved husband, father, brother, uncle, and friend passed away on May 3, 2021, at age 63. He is preceded in death by his father, Norman, and both sets of his grandparents, Betty and Don Bertrand, and Tim and Suzan Kay.

Gene was born to Norman and Kelly Bertrand in San Jose, California, where he lived most of his life. He went to UC Berkeley and studied marine biology, a field that would eventually take him around the world. It was on one such trip that he met his wife, Cindy Kay. They married and had two children, Brenda and Scott. 

Scotty’s love for his wife and children was evident to all who knew him. He was well known for his zest for life and passion for travel. He also loved living on the California coast and surfing every chance he got. 

A private funeral service is planned for May 7, 2021, at 11:00 am with a public memorial service to follow at noon. Please come to 5297 Beech St. San Jose wearing a Hawaiian print shirt in memory of Gene’s favorite place and ready to tell a story. Light refreshments will be served.

In lieu of flowers, we know Gene would love donations to be sent to the Marine Wildlife Fund.

Obituary vs. Eulogy: Differences and Similarities

As you see already, obituaries and eulogies are two separate items. They do share some similarities; however, their differences are what make each thing unique.

Length

A eulogy is a speech that can be anywhere from two to 10 minutes long. Most eulogies average between 500 and 1,000 words.

An obituary, on the other hand, is a much shorter text. Newspapers typically charge per character, per line, or per batch of 100 words. Most obituaries top out around 500 words, and the average comes in at much less, around 250.

Note: Online obituaries have fewer restrictions, and it’s becoming popular to use this platform to create a longer obituary that details more about the person’s life than would otherwise be possible.

Tone 

The tone of a eulogy is uplifting, positive, and filled with gratitude. Since eulogies celebrate the life of the person who passed, the focus is on bringing a smile to everyone’s face through the retelling of a person’s finer points, acts of charity, or personality characteristics that made them so special.

An obituary’s tone is usually sober, though this has been changing in recent years. The shorter snippets that alert the public of someone’s passing usually include a small amount of information about the person’s education, career, hobbies, and family. This is often written in a very straightforward manner with the overall tone being more “informative” than upbeat.

Note: Some families are getting creative with their loved one’s obituaries and making them humorous or laugh-out-loud funny, but these are still rare in comparison to the majority of obituaries.

Structure

The structure of a eulogy is more like a flowing story. The speaker typically begins with how they know the deceased, then launches into a few interesting anecdotes. They’ll share what lessons they learned and what they miss the most. Finally, they’ll wrap it up by telling the audience how they’ll specifically remember the person or how they can all continue to uphold their legacy.

An obituary has a different format altogether. An obituary usually starts out with the person’s name, age, date of death, and reason if applicable. The next section then lists those who the person was predeceased by and who they are survived by. After this, there are usually a few lines about the person’s schooling, marriage, children, career, and hobbies. 

Finally, the obituary typically ends with information on when the person’s funeral or memorial is taking place, along with special information such as memorial donation requests.

When it’s used

A eulogy is needed for the funeral or memorial service and can be written, edited, and finalized during the time prior to the service.

An obituary is needed to let people know about the person’s death and to notify them of funeral arrangements. This is one of the first things you’ll need to do right after a person passes away and funeral plans have been finalized.

Where it’s used

A eulogy is used during a person’s funeral or memorial service, and it’s read aloud to all in attendance. It’s used as an integral part of the service to praise and honor the deceased.

An obituary is placed in a newspaper or funeral home website to notify the public of a person’s passing. This document is key in getting the word out about a person’s death.

Who writes it

A eulogy is written by someone close to the deceased. Depending on how many people are speaking, it can be written by a close friend, grandchild, sibling, coworker, parent, or another relative.

An obituary is most often written by the person’s nearest relative, such as a spouse or child. Sometimes, funeral homes will offer obituary writing services and the main details will be provided by the family but written by funeral home staff members.

Frequently Asked Questions: Obituary vs. Eulogy

Wondering whether you need an obituary, if you can assign someone else the task of writing a eulogy, or you have another question completely? Here are a few answers to common questions.

Do you need a eulogy, obituary, or both?

Typically, you need an obituary if you want to notify the public of a person’s passing. Though you don’t necessarily “need” one, it’s an easy way to notify a lot of people all at once.

A eulogy is only needed if you’re planning on speaking or if you’re asking someone else to speak at the funeral or memorial service. Speaking at the service is when a eulogy comes in handy.

Do you read an obituary, eulogy, or both at a funeral?

You read a eulogy at the funeral. A eulogy and obituary might contain some similar information, but you only read the eulogy.

Who typically writes a eulogy or obituary?

Typically, a close relative such as a spouse or child writes the obituary. In contrast, anyone who was close to the deceased may be asked to write a eulogy. 

Honoring Your Loved Ones

Writing an obituary or sharing a eulogy with friends and family members are two ways to honor someone who was close to you. It can take some time to write a great obituary or an excellent eulogy, so be sure to plan ahead and give yourself the space you need to do your loved one justice.

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.