Difference between a eulogy & an obituary

Written by joan mansson
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Difference between a eulogy & an obituary
Eulogies are not delivered in the cemetary chapel, funeral home or house of worship. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

"Today is our chance to say thank you for the way you brightened our lives, even though God granted you but half a life," said Charles Spencer in the eulogy for his sister Diana, Princess of Wales. Eulogies are an opportunity to pay tribute to our loved ones. Here we can share with those gathered to honour the deceased tales from her life and of her nature. The obituary, in contrast, is an announcement of the passing of a loved one. It is a way of announcing to the community the time and place of services and may be only a few lines. In the case of the Princess of Wales, the London Times obituary was five pages long and ended "her two sons survive her." Most obituaries will be a paragraph.

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The Eulogy

Poet Andrew Motion wrote "The eulogy is the moment at which the deceased is brought close, and a time when he or she steps away. It is at once a greeting and a letting go." The eulogy, written and read by a family member or close friend, shares events from the deceased's life. The speaker shares stories of family and special events rather than a linear history, although there are no hard and fast rules. The eulogist incorporates personal accounts of his relationship with the departed in the speech. For instance: "I was new to town and it was the first day of school. Mark walked over to me, introduced himself and offered to be my friend. We were six years old." Often attendees of the service didn't know the departed well and this is an opportunity to share after her death what wasn't shared before.

The Obituary

Journalist Peter Utley said "An obituary should be an exercise in contemporary history, not a funeral oration." Indeed, obituaries are first announcements of the passing of an individual. Secondarily they are an announcement of the date, time and location of services if there will be any. An obituary may recount a brief list of achievements, list surviving family members and recommend charities worthy of consideration in lieu of flowers. It may be a few lines or a full page. Photos may be included or not. The author may be the funeral director working from notes he took during interviews with the family or by a family member or friend. An obituary does not have to mention cause of death or even if the death was sudden.

How Eulogies Overlap Obituaries

At the funeral, family members may be mentioned during the eulogies as they were in obituaries. The eulogist may recount facts from the obituary such as military service and education during her speech. She may mention when and where the decedent was born during the recounting of their relationship.

How the Obituary Overlaps the Eulogy

An obituary may be but a paragraph and still tell something of the life of the departed. For example: "Mr. Jones arrived in the U.S. on a tramp steamer from South America after escaping from Nazi Germany." This simple line speaks volumes and most certainly, if there is a eulogy, more will be said. However, if there is no eulogy, such statements in an obituary act as a published eulogy as well. Certainly, when the individual has some national recognition, newspapers will print longer obituaries, including highlights from his life.

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