How To Write An Authentic Obituary

“Authenticity starts in the heart.” Brian D’Angelo.

The obituary is designed to acknowledge the passing and to share about the deceased person’s life; the noteworthy events, special relationships and unique qualities of the individual. The obituary can include as much or as little information as the family wishes.

7 Tips for Getting Started

  1. Include the date, day of the week, time, and location of each service. 
  2. It doesn’t have to be solemn and serious. You can still be respectful with tasteful and kind humor (Mary Stocks’ obituary is a great example).
  3. Take your time. When you rush, that’s when mistakes happen.
  4. To inspire your writing, think of five words that sum up the life of your loved one.
  5. Include any accomplishments that were meaningful to your loved one.
  6. Are there people you’d like to thank or that perhaps the deceased would? It could be a caretaker or someone else that went the extra mile to help your loved one.
  7. Some print publications will charge you by line or word for an obituary. Keep this in mind while writing, if this is of concern.

What Is the Right Format for an Obituary?

1. Announcement of Death 

You’ll include:

  • The deceased’s full name (may include middle, maiden or nickname), 
  • Age 
  • Location of residence
  • Location of death, 
  • Date of death 
  • Optional – Some may choose to include the cause of death.

2. Important Details and Life Events

General information to include:

  • Date and place of birth 
  • Date of marriage and spouse’s name (if applicable)
  • Hometown and other locations lived 
  • Schools and degrees earned
  • Employer names (positions held may be listed, too)
  • Military service and rank
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Place of worship
  • Memberships or organizations they were a part of

An idea to consider: If you are interested in writing more, consider sharing their life story. Include the characteristics you appreciated about them, life experiences they had, or other things you admired about them. Your words may be funny, serious, or a mixture of both.

3. Family Members to List

Family members can be listed as those who are survivors and also those who have preceded the deceased in death. You can list key family members in the following order: spouse, children and their spouses, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, and siblings. Grandparents, cousins, in-laws, and nephews or nieces may also be listed. You may wish to include pets if the person was very fond of their animals. 

If there are multiple names in one category (often grandchildren), you may list each one individually or merely state the total number of them.

Example: She is survived by three sons, Stephen (Miranda), Marco (Jennifer), and Alan; six grandchildren; and 1 great-grandchild.

4. Include Funeral/Memorial Information

Make sure to add the what, when, and where for the events. Will the visitation and funeral service both be held at the funeral home? Or will the visitation take place at the funeral home but the service will be held at a church? 

If your family has decided to make the services private or hold no services at all, make note of that in the obituary to alleviate confusion.

5. Add Charity or Flower Information

Sometimes the family will ask that people make donations to a charity instead of sending flowers. In this case,  consider choosing a cause that your deceased loved one would have found meaningful.

6. Select a Photo 

If you’d like, you can choose a favorite photo of your loved one to include.  

What Not to Include in an Obituary

  • House addresses, as these can be a clue to  empty homes at the time of a funeral
  • You may wish not to include the deceased person’s date of birth to help avoid potential identity theft

Who Should Write the Obituary?

Often, a family member or small group of family members will write the first draft of the obituary. They will then send it to their funeral director, who can help with suggestions or revisions if necessary.

Writing a Traditional Obituary

Basic Key Facts

Start with the basic key facts and details about the person’s life and death. You’ll want to include their full name, birth place, age, date of death, location, and cause of death (optional).

Summary of Life

Next, it’s time to provide a brief biographical sketch of the deceased’s life. Recount the most important events of their life, their unique qualities, and their contributions to the world. Popular milestones to mention typically include: the parent’s names, date and place of marriage, birth name of spouse, education, work, and military service. Remember: An obituary is neither biography nor legal document. If you feel that some details are best omitted, follow your judgment. There is no “wrong way” to write an obituary — some might be quite straightforward, others might be heartfelt, and some may even be humorous.

List of Relatives

Include a list of relatives, both living and deceased. Use the full names of parents, siblings, children, as well as spouse/partner. Also mention grandparents, aunts, uncles, and any step-family members. If the deceased has grandchildren or great-grandchildren, you can list them in number — most obituaries don’t list each name of the surviving grandchildren.

Funeral Details

Whether your loved one has opted for a traditional funeral, a celebration of life, or a non-traditional send-off, share the information in the obituary. We recommend organizing this information by time, day, date, place, and location. If the event has a specific theme, mention it here. The obituary should also include the name and phone number of the funeral home or a website dedicated to the deceased’s life so guests can find more information.

Tips On How To Write An Authentic Obituary

Lately, more and more obituaries are appearing that step outside traditional norms. These obituaries are personal, written from the heart, and tell a story. There is nothing wrong with traditional obituaries. Not everyone is comfortable with writing, so it’s perfectly okay to use a template or prescribed format. For those who wish to make a loved one’s obituary more personal, here are a few tips:

Use Real Language

In traditional obituaries, words are stiff and formal. To write with authenticity, write as you speak. Imagine that you are speaking to a friend about your loved one. How would you describe them? What would you most want your friend to know about this significant person in your life? Use your words, and be yourself.

Open your Heart

To write from the heart requires vulnerability, that is, the courage to speak one’s truth. It is the ultimate tribute we can give another human being. We are conveying our love for that individual with honest words that tell the world about how this individual’s life made a difference. Writing an obituary from the heart can be uncomfortable because it requires feeling pain and loss, but it is also very cathartic. As you compose your thoughts and words, breathe into the pain. Feeling emotional as you write is a sign that you are writing from your heart space. When you are in this space, the words, and sometimes the tears, flow easily.

How To Write An Authentic Obituary

Tell a Story

Tahir Shah, the author of In Arabian Nights, writes “Stories are a communal currency of humanity.”

Begin your obituary by considering the following:

  • What characteristics did you appreciate about your loved one?
  • How did he or she reflect those qualities?
  • What life experiences formed that individual?
  • Why did you and others appreciate this person?

As you reflect on your loved one, your words may be humorous, serious, or a little of both. The goal is to define this person’s life as genuinely as possible.

Writing a Parent’s Obituary

Follow the format: announcement of death, important details and life events, family members, service & event times, flower or memorial info, and a photo.

Samples of Great Obituaries

The easiest way to learn how to write an obituary is by seeing what other people have written.

Free Obituary Template

If you would like help writing an obituary for your loved one, here is a basic template you may use as a starting point for writing an obituary. You may edit it to fit your needs. 

Please note that you do not have to mention the cause of death if you don’t want to. You may add things such as, “she passed away April 9, 2019, surrounded by her family” or “with her husband by her side.”

(Person’s full name, plus nickname is appropriate), (age), of (residence), passed away (date), after/with/due to (context about death – natural causes, a long/short illness, etc.). He/she was born (date and year) to parents (names) in (birth location). (Person’s first name) graduated from (high school, location) in (year) and received his/her (degree) from (college/university). He/she married (spouse’s name) in (year of marriage). (Person’s first name) is survived by (list of living family members and close loved ones, as appropriate). He/she was predeceased by (list of close family members who have previously passed on). 

You may then add the person’s former employer, personal accomplishments, hobbies, or other personal mentions. Up to three is a good rule of thumb.

(Person’s first name) was a member of the (local/national club, etc.), enjoyed volunteering at (the local animal shelter, etc.), and was a (life-long Green Bay Packers fan). 

Now add the funeral arrangements. If there’s more than one service, list them in order of occurrence. If services will be private or not held at all, make note of that. If the family has a preference regarding donations, note that here.(Type of event – visitation, viewing) will be held on (date) at (time) at (location). The (type of event – funeral, memorial service, funeral mass) will be held on (date) at (time) at (location). The (type of event – burial, interment) will be held on (date) at (time) at (location). Instead of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to (specific or general charity).

More like This: How To Plan A Funeral: Checklist & Worklist Included (2020 Edition)

Writing an obituary for someone you love can be a difficult task and we hope the format and examples provided will help as you get started. Remember to be patient and kind with yourself during this difficult time.

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