Obituaries: How to Write an Obituary
Not sure how to write an obituary? Use these 5 easy tips to get started!
Like writing a eulogy, writing an obituary for a loved one is difficult – after all, how can one sum up a person’s life in just a few lines?
Before I dive into our 5 tips, I want to be clear about the difference between an obituary and a death notice.
Obituaries Versus Death Notices
Death notices, or funeral notices, are generally brief announcements of a person’s death. They often include the individual’s name, age, and funeral service information. Obituaries, on the other hand, are longer. Often, they include more details about the individual’s life and accomplishments. Many tell stories. And all of them are written to honor the life of a deceased loved one.
While many funeral directors offer to write obituaries on behalf of grieving families, more and more people are choosing to write obituaries themselves. So how do you go about writing an obituary that sums up the life of your loved one?
5 Tips to Help You Write an Obituary
Look at templates
Many newspapers require that obituaries be written in a certain style, so start by taking a look at your paper for a guideline on how you might write your loved one’s obituary. You may also ask your funeral director for a template to help you get started. If you’re planning to post the obituary online on memorial sites like tributes.com or legacy.com, peruse through some of the posted obituaries and memorials.
Be sensitive to the words you choose. Look at the terminology I suggest below for some guidance on how to select the appropriate words surrounding your loved one’s death.
- Funerals are scheduled, not held
- If appropriate, people die unexpectedly, not suddenly since all deaths are sudden
- People die after surgery, not as a result of surgery
- People die from cancer, they don’t lose their battle with cancer
- A man is survived by his wife, not his widow
If you’d like to include more information, pictures, or even videos, you can also create and share online memorials. What I like best about online memorials is that you have complete control over the page and can update them as often as you’d like. And, family members and friends can share their memories of your loved one all in one spot.
Begin with the facts
Start by writing down facts about the deceased, like his or her date of birth, date of death, residence, immediate family members, education, military service, employment, affiliations, and hobbies. While you may decide not to include all of this information, it’s an easy place to begin and also an easy place to make mistakes or omissions. And don’t forget to write down the day, date, time, and location of the funeral service along with visitation or reception information if applicable and a phone number to call for more information.
A basic obituary includes:
- The full name of the deceased
- A phrase that describes the deceased, like “Tom Smith, father of four and author of crime novels”
- The day, city and state of residence at the time of passing
- Birth date and birthplace
- Background information
- Funeral information
But then focus on your loved one’s life and legacy, not the facts
While obituaries are meant to be informative, they are also an opportunity to make a statement, even if brief, about your loved one’s life, values, and accomplishments. So after compiling the facts, push them aside for a while and concentrate on anecdotes and recollections that illustrate the type of person your loved one was. For some, the obituary may be the only opportunity a person has to be written about publicly, so try to write at least one line that personifies your loved one. It can be as simple as, “Mom loved gardening – lilies were her favorite. We could always tell when she had just been out planting … her cheeks would turn a soft shade of pink and her forehead would glisten just a bit.”
Consider writing multiple versions
As you write your loved one’s obituary, you may find it difficult to cut out information, stories, or descriptions in order to meet your word limit. So why not consider writing multiple versions? You could then use one for the paid obituary, another as a base for a eulogy, and another for an online memorial website or scrapbook.
Proofread, proofread, proofread
It seems obvious, but before submitting and approving an obituary for publication, triple check the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and facts. Read each word carefully, and perhaps even ask a couple of others to do the same.
Have you written an obituary? Share some of your tips below.
Leah Yomtovian Roush is the Senior Manager of Strategic Development for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, a comprehensive and free online resource that enables those thinking about end-of-life to research, plan, and arrange a wide variety of funeral-related services. Leah is the editor of eFuneral's Online Resource Center, and she manages the company's marketing efforts and develops strategies for company growth. Leah also serves on the Boards of multiple non-profit organizations, helping them expand their reaches and increase their impacts.