Writing an obituary
Writing an obituary for your loved one is a significant way to celebrate and cherish their life and story. Obituaries acknowledge the loss, inform family and friends, and invite them to attend the funeral and offer support.
An obituary records our loved one’s story so it can be cherished forever. An obituary pays tribute by saying something about their story and character, which is far more meaningful than a simple death announcement. You can do this by sharing a story from their life, their accomplishments, their hopes and aspirations, their loves and what they mean to you. The best obituaries often talk about all of these parts of a person’s life.
Writing an obituary can feel intimidating and overwhelming. The responsibility of writing about a loved one who has died can be emotionally difficult. You also may worry about forgetting important details or that the obituary won’t fully honor your loved one’s life. This is why pre-planning the obituary is important.
Speaking with a loved one about their life can give you a chance to be insightful about your family history and to reminisce about your loved one who has passed. Some people write their own obituaries ahead of time, adding a personal perspective on their own life story and to share wisdom to friends and family.
Most people write an obituary in the aftermath of your loved one’s passing. The obituary is just one of many things to be done during this emotional and exhausting time.
Funeral directors at a funeral home are also great resources, as they can help with many details related to your loved one’s death, including drafting and publishing the obituary in local newspapers. Check with newspapers for publication deadlines and pricing if you are writing the obituary on your own.
Essential Parts of an Obituary
- Death announcement
- Life story
- List family member
- Memorial/funeral information
- Any charity information
- A photo
Here is a guide on writing an obituary and the important information to include within it. Feel free to be creative, some of the most beautiful obituaries are ones that are unique and don’t necessarily follow the standard structure. However you choose to write your obituary, be sure also include as many of these key details as you can.
1. Announce the death
Start the obituary with a sentence that highlights the basic knowledge about your loved one, including their full name (first, middle, and last names, maiden name, nickname, and suffixes like Jr. or Sr.), age, date, place of death, where they lived, and cause of death. You can present this information in any way you choose (informative, creative, etc.)
There are many ways to state that someone has “died” (“passed away”, “passed on”, etc.) so you can choose any expression that you prefer.
There are many meanings behind why you should include the cause of death in the obituary. It informs your community, acknowledges the illness and your loved one’s battle with it. It also reduces the amount of times you are asked for the cause of death.
An obituary goes beyond just announcing a death, it gives us the chance to tell their life story. It helps memories of your loved one live on forever in memory. Don’t be afraid to add some humor if it is appropriate! You don’t have to share their entire life story. Just share the highlights, favorite memories, what you will miss the most about that person and what was important to them during their lifetime.
Biographical information you may wish to include in the obituary:
- Date and place of birth, marriage, and death
- Hometown, places lived
- Schools attended, degrees earned
- Places of employment and positions held
- Military service and rank
- Membership in organizations
- Place of worship
- Hobbies or special interests
3. List family members
Naming the surviving family members’ names in the obituary is common. Choosing whom to name in the obituary can be a difficult decision. Begin with the next of kin (spouse or partner, parents, children, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, etc.) and list individually by name or group together if needed (e.g. “five grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren”). Acknowledge the people most important to your loved ones, including friends. In current times, many obituaries include life-long friends, caregivers, and pets.
4. Include funeral or memorial service information
The obituary is usually published at least a day or two in advance before the service will be held. This provides the community with all of the important service information. Be sure to include the dates, times, and location of the service. Also include the name of the funeral home so that others may contact them, ask questions, or ask about sympathy flowers. Be sure to indicate whether your service is private.
5. Add charity information
Obituaries sometimes request to donate to a particular charity. A certain charity or organization may have been important to your loved one, or maybe the family would like to spread awareness about a particular illness by asking for donations and “paying it forward”.
Some families may wish to have people donate to a memorial fund to help cover funeral expenses, or for your loved one’s alma mater.
If your family prefers to have monetary contributions or charitable donations rather than flowers, please include a phrase such as “In lieu of flowers,” followed by “please consider a donation to the American Cancer Society,” “contributions suggested to the family,” or “the family is requesting financial assistance for the services.”
6. Select a photo
A photograph can help bring the obituary to life. Choose a photo that best represents your loved one’s personality. A portrait style or close-up photo of your loved one’s face usually works the best. The photo can be recent or from their youth. Be sure to check with the newspaper for any specific requirements, they may also allow you to choose more than one print.
If you are working directly with a funeral home, they will be able to assist you in writing the obituary, the photo, and submitting to the newspaper. Keep in mind we will be able to display multiple photos and even a video for the online version of the obituary.