If you're new to funeral planning, it's important that you understand the difference between an obituary and a eulogy.
An obituary is a notice of death. It usually reads like a newspaper story and gives a brief biography of the deceased as well as the details of the funeral. You can find obituaries in the newspaper or online through the funeral home’s website.
A eulogy is a speech given at the funeral that usually discusses the deceased’s positive qualities.
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A eulogy or obituary, or both, may be written and given by a family member of the deceased, or you may ask the minister or funeral home director for help with these tasks and speaking at a funeral. Learn more about how to read an obituary at a funeral, below! We’ll lead you through the process.
Tip: If writing an obituary is just one of the tasks you're facing for the first time after losing a loved one, our post-loss checklist can help.
Do You Read the Obituary at the Funeral?
Funerals have become highly personalized events. It's usually up to the family whether or not someone reads the obituary during the funeral. They may also seek the guidance of their religious leaders to ascertain whether it's appropriate based on the deceased’s religion.
Some family members choose to write both the obituary and the eulogy. They may also choose to read both texts at their loved one’s funeral. But neither the obituary nor the eulogy is a required part of a funeral. You may choose to have a religious service that does not include these personal touches.
Other families may choose to make the service highly personal by having several family members participate in the service. If that's your choice, here are some tips for reading the obituary during the funeral.
Tips for Reading an Obituary at a Funeral
Even if you’re an excellent public speaker, you may struggle to speak at a funeral. You may find it especially difficult if you were close to the deceased or if you’ve had a difficult time with the deceased’s death. You may find it even harder if family members and friends of the deceased struggle to keep their emotions in check during the service.
Here are some tips for reading an obituary at a funeral.
1. Keep the tone of your task in mind
Reading the obituary at a funeral is different than giving the eulogy. An obituary is more of a factual account of the deceased’s life, not an emotional tribute to a person.
When someone gives a eulogy, it’s usually spoken using words that person wrote. The obituary of the deceased may have been written by anyone, including the funeral director who was hired to do the task.
You may still feel emotional when reading about the facts of your loved one’s life, but it may not be as difficult a task as speaking about what made the deceased special.
2. Practice your delivery
Even if you are used to public speaking, you may struggle to get through reading a simple 500-word obituary in front of your grieving loved ones. The more you practice the delivery, the more likely you will be able to get through the task.
Use a variety of methods to practice your speech:
- Stand in front of the mirror.
- Record your delivery and rewatch it.
- Ask others in your family to watch as you read the obituary and ask for constructive criticism.
You may not know how your tone of voice sounds — maybe even too harsh or too jovial for the situation. You also don’t want to sound bored or devoid of emotion. You also don’t want to sound as if you are rushing through the reading. Getting feedback from others will help you get the right tone.
Make sure your body language is appropriate for the situation. People wouldn’t expect you to have a smile on your face unless you are reading a section of the obituary that might make people smile.
No one would expect you to memorize the obituary you read at the funeral, but you may want to be pretty comfortable with the text. This will enable you to look up from the reading periodically to give eye contact to the crowd. Make sure you know how to pronounce every word you read.
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3. Practice the delivery of the obituary at the funeral site
You may also want to practice reading the obituary at the funeral site, especially if you’re using a microphone. Speaking through a microphone takes practice and you may need to learn how to use one before using it in front of an audience.
Some families choose to have their loved one’s funerals live streamed. If this is happening, you may want to be aware of the location of the camera.
If you don’t have a microphone, you’ll need to learn about the acoustics of the room. You’ll want to use an appropriate volume so that people sitting in the back can hear.
Practicing at the funeral site may require that you arrive at least an hour before the event is scheduled.
4. Don’t forget to introduce yourself
As you stand up to deliver the obituary, you may want to introduce yourself to the funeral attendees. This can be done as simply as this, “My name is Ben, and I’m Frederick’s grandson. I would like to tell you a bit about my grandpa’s amazing life.”
The person leading the service may also handle the introductions. Sort this out before the service begins.
5. Be prepared
You may want to prepare for this task by asking another family member or friend to step in for you if you become too emotional to finish. While there is nothing wrong with showing your emotions, it is difficult to read and cry at the same time.
Some people try to come up with strategies on how to hold their emotions in check while speaking. You might want to try to breathe deeply before you speak. You may also want to avoid looking at those in the audience who you know will be crying. Some people have success with biting their lips or pinching their hands. Others try to distance themselves from what they are reading and allow themselves to become more present in the moment when the task is done.
You may also want to have water or tissues nearby to help you prepare yourself to physically give the speech.
You may also wish to print the text of the obituary in a large, easy-to-read font. This might help you keep your place as you look up periodically from the printed copy.
6. Edit the obituary so it is appropriate for the funeral
Some families write several different versions of their loved one’s obituary. Since newspapers often charge a per-word fee to print death notices in the paper, the family may have a shorter version for this purpose. They may choose to have a more extended version of the obituary for the funeral home website and to share on social media.
One would expect that a more extended version would be appropriate to read at your loved one’s funeral. However, you may want to read the shorter version if there is a concern that the funeral may run too long.
Most obituaries include information about funeral services. You might want to omit this information when you read it at the service.
After the obituary is read, you may pause and then offer the attendees additional information about graveside services, scattering ceremonies, or receptions that may be scheduled after the event. You may also want to take this opportunity to thank people for taking time out of their busy lives to attend the service.
Are You in Charge of Writing the Obituary?
Has the task of writing and reading the obituary been assigned to you? If so, take this task seriously, as it may be the final personal account of your loved one’s life.
Read lots of obituary samples to learn what format you would like to use before beginning the writing process. Then, gather all the necessary factual information by looking through your loved one’s documents and interviewing family members.
Once you have written it, have several different people read the text before sending it to the funeral home for publication. Ask family members to verify the spelling of names and check for the accuracy of the information. Ask trusted friends who have impeccable grammar to look for grammatical errors. You might also consider running the text through an editing program similar to Grammarly.
You may be nervous about the idea of writing and delivering your loved one’s obituary. While we understand that writing for large groups and public speaking may make anyone nervous, think of it as the last loving act you will perform for someone who was an important part of your life.