Advice and Suggestions

How to Write an Obituary

  • 01-14-2019

Writing the obituary

We think we'll be able to practically write a book about someone we love—but when the time comes, we're usually so stunned and grief-stricken that the task feels impossible. How can we cover all that he or she meant to us in a few paragraphs? Even writing a memorial for this Memorial Diaries site may seem tough—especially if it's the first time you've attempted to crystalize your feelings in writing since the loss. Whether it was last month or many decades ago doesn't matter.

Because the obituary or memorial is going to be published—in a paper or online, you may even have a touch of writer's block at the prospect. The best approach is just to put one step after another and follow a simple model. 

Start with the full name of the deceased. Include nicknames, if you wish, and details on the death in the opening paragraph. It's conventional to include the date but you don't have to mention the cause if you don't wish to—although friends and colleagues/acquaintances who may not have an immeidate opportunity to talk to you or do not wish to intrude may be anxious to know a little of the circumstances. However, if a criminal occurrence or sudden disasters were involved and you don't feel ready to discuss, you don't have to feel obliged to do this

Where did death take place

People often include a statement as to where the death took place—at a certain hospice, or at home surrounded by loved ones—and this is often comforting to know for the circle of acquaintances who will read your loved one's obituary. It's traditional to include the date of birth or simply give the age at the time of death.

Life story

The obituary is an opportunity to remember and commemorate this individual and talk about who they were and what they did. Some people cover their career and working life, professional affiliations or community involvement, mentioning achievements and successes that the deceased was most proud of. Tell a little about his or her loves—what did they love to do? Paint, take the dog for a walk, drink endless cups of tea, read books to the grandchildren, knit scarves for charity or make bookshelves or fix cars... 

Tell their life story and how much people liked them and what for—mention their support and kindness or their leadership or how lovely their front garden was. You may wish to use a paragraph or two for this.

Relatives and friends

It's also typical to include lists of relatives who miss them, family members who predeceased them in death, as well as those survivors (as in survived by) who are now left behind—and to include friends and others who were central to this person's life. Normally you would include spouse/partner, children, siblings and their children, friends and extended family—it's fine to be as comprehensive or as brief as you wish. It's also fine to mention beloved pets.

Thank yous

Sometimes we include special thanks to medical or hospital/hospice staff, mentioning how helpful they may have been or special services that helped your or the deceased. Also include guidance of whether floral or charitable tributes are welcome. If you're dealing with a funeral home, they will be able to provide guidance in writing the obituary if you're stuck and also where/when and the costs of a listing in the paper and on their online funeral site. 

You're also welcome to duplicate all this information on andi include service details—for something that is current or even for a death that occurred some time ago.* 

For information and examples, please see this link: Stevenson and Sons funeral home offers a handy downloadable PDF, which provides examples and will serve as an easy-to-follow guide.

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