What’s the difference between a eulogy and an obituary?
A eulogy is a short speech, which is delivered at someone’s funeral or memorial service. An obituary is a written appreciation that is printed in the paper, or online, often alongside the death notice.
Writing and delivering a eulogy:
Many people find it comforting to share memories of their loved one. The eulogy is your chance to do this. Whether you prefer the minister or celebrant taking the service to talk about the person you’re saying goodbye to, or wish to do this yourself, a thoughtful eulogy can mean a lot.
There are several ways that a eulogy can be part of the service. Some people find it easier for the person conducting the service to speak on behalf of the family – if you choose to do this, you may wish to ask a family member to read a poem or religious reading as well, but this is up to you. Some people prefer the eulogy to be given by someone close to the deceased, such as a family member or friend, as they feel it’s more personal.
As with many elements of a funeral, there are no real rules about what you can do and who should do it, it’s about what you prefer and find most comforting and appropriate.
If you feel it might be too difficult for a friend or relative to give the eulogy, you can ask the person conducting the service to give it instead. This will need to be arranged in advance and they will usually meet you to talk about what you would like them to say.
If you’ve been asked to give a eulogy – or have chosen to do so – try not to get too anxious about it, no one at the service will be judging you or your speech, they’ll simply welcome the chance to remember the person you are saying goodbye to.
Your speech doesn’t need to be long – three to five minutes is usually about right – and it doesn’t need to use fancy words, simply talk about the person as if you were telling a friend about them.
You may wish to introduce yourself before you start your speech and explain your connection to the deceased. Something like “I realise that you won’t all know me, I’m Jenny, Alice’s old school friend” or “For those who don’t know me, I’m Danny, Fiona’s younger brother” is fine.
You don’t need to list everything the person you’re talking about ever did – it’s not a CV – but do include the things that everyone will remember about them and any achievements they were proud of.
The eulogy is all about sharing memories of your loved one and should reflect the person they were. If they loved football, talk about it; if they had a great sense of humour, retell their favourite joke or tell a story about a prank they played; if everyone is likely to remember a certain story about them, tell it. You don’t have to be stuffy and serious, but do make sure that you’re respectful and don’t upset anyone by telling a story that reflects badly on anyone or which others may not be comfortable hearing.
Remember that you’re talking about someone close to you, so you can be reasonably informal. Don’t be afraid to use the name they were known by, even if it’s not the one they used on official documents. If they were called Elizabeth but everyone knew them as Betty, talk about Betty. Likewise, if they were known by an affectionate nick-name, use that – if it helps you feel more comfortable you can always say something like “Richard, who was always known as Titch…” at the beginning of your speech.
If you’re not used to speaking in public or are worried that it might be too much for you on the day, you may find it reassuring to ask someone to be ready to give the speech for you if necessary. The chances are that you won’t need them to, but you may feel less anxious just knowing that they are there. Don’t get upset if you do need them to step in, everyone will understand. Likewise, if you start to get upset whilst giving your speech, don’t worry, you won’t be the first person to do so.