Writing an obituary is one of the things you’ll have to think about when you lose a loved one. But having the right words to say when someone passes away can be tough - after all, how do you fit a lifetime into a few short paragraphs?
Writing an obituary is something to approach with lots of love, care and thought. Some people find it a valuable part of the healing process as it offers a chance to reminisce and celebrate someone at their best.
If you don’t know how to get started, this guide can help shed some light on the obituary writing process.
An obituary is a personalised tribute to someone who has died. The obituary serves as a written announcement of someone’s death, gives an account of their life and gives out information about the upcoming funeral.
Obituaries are mainly published in three places: local or national newspapers, online obituary records, and on social media. Where you want the obituary published may help you structure the obituary, so think about this first.
While newspapers are the traditional route, some charge a per-word fee and you may find yourself having to work with a smaller word count than you would like. Posting an obituary online means you’ll have more freedom to make it personal too.
If you want to be able to share stories, memories or anecdotes, publishing the obituary online or on social media may be better for you and your loved one. Plus, there’s no reason you can’t do all three!
Most traditional obituaries, such as those published in newspapers, follow a similar structure. As a minimum, an obituary should include the following details.
First and foremost, the obituary is the place to communicate the passing of your loved one. Here you’ll need to include the deceased’s full name, age, date and location of death. It’s up to you whether you include the cause of death - if someone passed peacefully in their sleep it might bring comfort to their loved ones, but other cases could do more harm than good.
It’s hard to summarise a lifetime of achievements into a few points, but this section should recount some of their most significant life highlights.
Each life is unique, but you might want to think about things like:
There’s no right or wrong answer for what to include here. You don’t need to include every little detail, just the key points that would help the reader learn more about them.
It’s common to include the names of family members left behind: partners, mothers, fathers, children or grandchildren. A tip for listing these is to start with the closest relations (spouses and children, for example) and work backwards.
Be careful to check that you haven’t left anyone out of this section as that can cause family drama right when you don’t need it.
Include information about the upcoming funeral or memorial service: where it is to be held, the date and time of the service, and whether or not the service is to be family only. These details can all be finalised with your funeral director before the obituary is published.
It’s common to see messages at the end of obituaries saying where flowers should be sent, or if charity donations would be welcome instead. If you’d prefer people make a charitable donation on behalf of your loved one, think about a charity that would be meaningful to them.
Depending on where you publish the obituary, you may want to include a photograph of your loved one. Top marks if you can find a photo that they loved too and would be happy with.
You’ll no doubt want to show off your loved one in the best light in their obituary, but keep it accurate. Try not to embellish facts or bend the truth as this could be more upsetting to read by someone who knew them well.
On the other side of this, an obituary is not the place to settle a score. If you’d struggle to write many positive things about the deceased, stick to facts about their life and information about the funeral service. An obituary is not a eulogy - you don’t need to share any personal observations or stories. It is a permanent, public record though, so always be respectful.
Once you have the structure you should follow, the tough bit will be actually sitting down to write the obituary. Here are some tips to get you started when putting pen to paper.
Read a few obituary examples from the place you plan to publish the obituary to get a feel for the level of detail to include and how they are structured.
Remember that the obituary doesn’t have to be solemn and serious if that isn’t who your loved one was. Obituaries can be light-hearted and still respectful.
Start by gathering the basic facts - names, dates, places and times. Once you have those, add in more personal information; things like interests, achievements or insights into their life to give the reader a feel for not just what they did, but who they were.
Check, check, and check again. Proofread and spell-check the obituary two or three times once you’re finished and double-check all names, dates and times are correct. Let someone else read over it too to make sure there’s nothing missing.
It’s tough losing a loved one and writing a fitting obituary that truly does them justice can be hard. If you’re having trouble putting together an obituary or just want someone to assist with the finishing touches, many funeral directors will be happy to help.
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