People often mistake an obituary for a eulogy and vice versa. It's understandable as each presents a short account of a person's life. What is the difference between an obituary and a eulogy? As you'll see, the overall differences are length and delivery. Here is a brief history of each type of writing and some things to consider when determining whether to go with one, the other, or both.
The first documented obituaries were published in Ancient Rome around 59 BC. These public death notices were written and published to inform the community of the passing of prominent figures, initially reserved for the elite. During wartime, however, publishing obituaries was done for a greater purpose, as they were intended to alert the public of soldiers killed in the heat of battle. These became a part of public record that included not only the time and place of death but a brief account of the person's life. By including information about the life of these heroic men, the obituaries reflected a sentimentality that gave honor to those who fought bravely. Today, obituaries are still published in newspapers, The New York Times being the most prominent, but they can also be found on mortuary websites and even social media outlets.
The Characteristics of an Obituary
Informative in Nature
While an obituary is a written account of a person's life, just like a eulogy, it is much shorter in length. The average obituary is 200-300 words. The shorter length allows for only limited details and excludes anecdotes that reflect the personality of the deceased. Because obituaries were originally published in newspapers simply to alert the public of the person's passing, they had to fit within the confines of a newspaper column. For the most part, the original format remains the same today, beginning with the death announcement, followed by the when and where of birth, schooling, career, and family. It is also common for obituaries to list the predeceased and surviving family members, and it's customary to inform readers of the service times and locations.
The word "eulogy" is derived from the Greek word meaning "true words of praise." Not only were these words of praise documented in writing, but they were also recited in a public gathering. In Ancient Greece, eulogies were first conducted to honor those killed in battle. These funeral orations were then developed into a practice that memorialized the lives of famous or wealthy figures, reminding the public of their greatness. Since then, the practice of honoring someone through written expression has become commonplace throughout the world. It no longer exists as an honor bestowed upon only the most notable individuals within society. Instead, it is suitable even for the most common of folks, as it now impresses upon us that every life story is worthy of being told.
The Characteristics of a Eulogy
Narrative in Nature
Like an obituary, a eulogy is a written account of a person's life, however, it is lengthier and presented as a speech at the funeral or celebration of life ceremony. The average eulogy is approximately 1,000 words and contains more than just simple facts about the when and where of birth, schooling, career, and family. It is a much more detailed story, allowing for the speaker to recall memorable stories that create a more intimate reflection of the person. Instead of simply listing the predeceased and surviving family members, a eulogy includes them as essential characters within the narrative.
Which is Appropriate for You?
Whether you produce an obituary or a eulogy depends on your intended delivery. If the purpose is simply to alert friends and family of your loved one's passing and to inform them of the details of the arrangements, then publishing or posting an obituary will suffice.
On the other hand, if the purpose is to make the funeral or celebration of life ceremony a bit more personal, then a eulogy is the way to go. Though producing a eulogy is a greater undertaking, requiring the writer to spend more time contemplating upon the person's life, it is well worth the effort. In fact, the experience is cathartic for most because it provides family members the unique opportunity of gathering to talk about their loved one and reminisce about shared memories. Let's face it, the time immediately following the death of a loved one is sad and often hectic but reserving some time to talk about your loved one and recall special moments with those you love can be the perfect antidote for finding some peace and closure.
Whether you use an obituary, eulogy, or both to honor your loved one, you will be taking the important step of paying tribute in a respectful way. If you need help writing your loved one's obituary or eulogy, hiring a professional can ease the burden. In Tribue Eulogy Services is ready to assist you in creating something memorable.