How To Write An Obituary – 6 Things You Need To Include (2019 Edition)
Writing an obituary can be a daunting process, especially after an unexpected loss of a close loved one. But even when a death is expected, it’s not an easy task.
A funeral may be an intimate gathering (even the large ones), it’s usually a one-time event, unlike a published obituary, which is available via the Internet and around the world for a limitless time. A person’s obituary is the last gift you can give someone. It’s a way to honor them and share a brief biography of who they were and the legacy they leave behind.
How to Write an Obituary – 6 Things You Need To Include
Obituaries can be as in-depth or concise as you want them. The length and content of an obituary may vary. Some obituaries merely share the person’s name, date of death, and which funeral home is handling the arrangements.
When in doubt, ask the funeral director for help.
More like This: What’s A Funeral Director, A Mortician, And An Undertaker?
There are 6 things you need to include in an obituary.
- Announcement of death
- Condensed life story
- Family members to list
- Funeral/memorial/visitation information
- Preference of flowers sent to the funeral home or donations made to a charity instead
What Is the Right Format for an Obituary?
1. Announcement of Death
This is as simple as it sounds. You’ll include: the deceased’s name (may include middle and maiden names), age, location of residence, location of death, and date of death. Some may choose to include the cause of death.
2. Share Their Life Story
Everyone has a story (actually many), even if they think it’s boring. Often, when we read other people’s obituaries, we’re surprised by all of their accomplishments we never knew about. Share the highlights of his or her life and focus on the positive.
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
You may also include a place of worship and membership in organizations. These are recommended when they were very important to the deceased in life.
Suggested Read: What Will People Say at My Funeral?
3. Family Members to List
This can be a tricky part. You can’t name everyone, so who do you list? Start with the parents, who are usually noted with the date of birth. The spouse is listed with the marriage date. You also may list those who predeceased the deceased as well. Next come the children, step-children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, etc. Close friends may also be listed. It’s easy to get carried away listing these names, so keep any word limits in mind. Plus, it’s important to remember that the obituary is about the deceased, not about the people they knew.
4. Include Funeral/Memorial Information
A must for every obituary is information on the forthcoming services – What, When, and Where. 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? Make sure to include the dates, times, and locations.
If your family has decided to make the services private or hold no services at all, make note of that in the obituary. It will alleviate confusion and cut down on phone calls to the family.
5. Add Charity or Flower Information
If a charity is suggested rather than flowers, it’s meaningful to either the family members or the deceased. Sometimes the family will ask that people make donations to a charity of your choice. In this case, you can donate to a cause you find important or one you know the deceased would appreciate.
6. Select a Photo
In the days when obits could only be found in newspapers, photos were pretty much limited to headshots. Even if a portrait was not available, a photo that contained the deceased (maybe on vacation or with a group) would be cropped down into a forced headshot.
Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that anymore. Since obituaries are posted online, there’s usually an option to add a photo gallery or videos. There’s much more freedom regarding the types of photos you can include.
How to List Families in an Obituary
For the order of family members, start with the person’s next of kin (spouse/partner, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc.).
When adult siblings or others who are married are listed, include their spouse’s first name in parenthesis right after.
He leaves behind two sisters, Jillian Evans (Daniel), Casey Yow (Tony) …
If there are multiple names in one category (often grandchildren), you may list each one individually or merely state the total number of them.
She is survived by three sons, Stephen (Miranda), Marco (Jennifer), and Alan; six grandchildren; and 1 great-grandchild.
What Not to Include in an Obituary
- An obituary is not the place to air grievances – regarding family or otherwise.
- It may or may not be the right place to post the cause of death. Sharing the cause of death is not necessary; it’s a personal decision.
- Don’t include things that are negative about or towards the deceased.
- Avoid things that may upset or embarrass the family.
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 will make suggestions or revisions if necessary.
7 Tips for Getting Started
Here are some quick tips for you as you begin writing an obituary.
- Include the date, day of the week, time, and location of each service.
- 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).
- Take your time. When you rush, that’s when mistakes happen.
- To inspire your writing, think of five words which sum up the life of your loved one.
- Include any accomplishments that were meaningful to your loved one.
- 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.
- Some publications will charge you by line or word for an obituary. Keep this in mind while writing, if this is of concern.
Writing a Parent’s Obituary
Writing the obituary for a parent can be difficult and sometimes complicated. Emotions run high, and a person can easily become overwhelmed. An obituary can vary in length, a short one can still be a “lovely tribute to a life well-lived,” and a long one can “tell stories about your mom or dad and really try to capture their personality.”
Crowther suggests the following:
- Talk about their favorite things
- Tell family stories
- Quote your parent
- Share their accomplishments
- Talk about the ways they showed their love
- Remember how frequently you saw them
- Paint a picture of days gone
- Tell a love story
- Enlist help
- Get creative
Tips for Writing an Obituary for a Mother or Father
To write an obituary for a father or mother, follow the guidelines above. Aside from the general guidelines, there’s no right or wrong way to write about a parent. For some it may seem more difficult because it’s their parent, but others may find it easier for the same reason.
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 memorials, 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). In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to (specific or general charity).
Creating an Everdays Funeral Invitation — A Contemporary Solution
Whether you’re planning a funeral and a reception, scattering of ashes, or a memorial service — the free Everdays platform makes a difficult time more manageable by quickly creating a space to privately message condolences, share photo and video memories, participate in events and build your community of support. This ensures that you reach everyone that was touched by your loved one during their lifetime – giving them an opportunity to grieve and celebrate their life.
Everdays is a single-tap app that’s quick and easy for everyone to use. With Everdays you can share memories of your loved ones, the obituary, and funeral event details without spending the money on costly obituaries in newspapers, or sending and responding to countless messages during an already stressful time.
Suggested Read: Funeral Invitation – Should I Send One?
Writing an obituary doesn’t have to be a sad or overwhelming experience. If you take your time and think of it as a way to express who your loved one was, it can offer you some closure as you go through the grieving process. While asking family members questions or looking up details, you may discover things you didn’t realize. Consider these things as gifts of insight into the person you love. And think of the obituary as a way to share the memory and legacy of your loved one’s life.
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