How to Write an Obituary

How to Write an Obituary – Obituary writing is a practice as old as the printing press, and writing obituaries for parents or other family members can be a rewarding way to pass down stories and preserve memories for generations to come. Whether your interest in the practice of obituary writing is professional or personal, there are some key things you need to know.

Losing a loved one is a difficult process to go through, but taking the time to write an obituary can help honor their life. At a minimum, an obituary informs people of the fact that a death has occurred and of the details concerning the funeral, memorial service and/or interment arrangements. At its best, however, an obituary can also provide a meaningful summary of a person’s life and legacy. After taking the time to write and revise your obituary, you can submit it to local papers or post on social media so people know about how important your loved one was to you. This article offers a step-by-step guide to help you write a meaningful, comprehensive obituary for your loved one.

Preparing an obituary for someone you love is an exercise best approached with care and thought. Like the funeral service itself, an obituary acknowledges the loss of our loved one, expresses the pain of their loss and the joy that their presence among us brought.

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It enlists the aid of our community, whose support we will need in the coming days weeks and months. Most immediately, the obituary serves to identify and communicate to the community the passing of our loved one, and to announce visitation, service, burial and memorial information.

In the obituary we also want to present the significant events and attributes of the deceased, to note that person’s impact on their family and the world around them, and acknowledge the family members they held dear. Unfortunately, many of the obituaries we see in the newspaper and on the web fail to convey the personality or contributions of the deceased in a meaningful way. They are prepared in haste, in fog of grief, and the stress of meeting a newspaper deadline. Instead of a meaningful tribute, they often become a string of hackneyed phrases punctuated by fill-in-the-blanks of personal information.

We hope that this step-by-step guide to preparing an obituary will help you craft an obituary that conveys the personality of your loved one, and clearly communicates service times and other vital information.

Conventionality in formatting allows for readers to find the service times, and quickly determine whether the deceased is someone they know. In different areas of the country there are different conventions and standard formats for obituaries. The larger the population served by a newspaper, the more likely it is that a very abbreviated notice, giving only the barest of information, will be the norm. In more rural areas, the newspapers may not even charge for running obituaries, leading to more flowery phrases and the inclusion of more biographic information. Today, many obituaries are published in two versions; an abbreviated form for the newspaper, and a more detailed version that is read online at the funeral home website, or on other memorial sites. When preparing an obituary it is wise to look over the conventional form used in your local paper and organize yours similarly; facilitating the clear communication of service times and survivors.

A funeral home or cemetery can provide you with all the relevant information that is recognized in your specific locale, and will help assist you in preparing and placing the obituary for your loved one in a timely and proper manner.

Table of Contents

How to Write an Obituary

Part 1 Structuring the Obituary

  1. Announce the name and time of death in the first sentence. In your opening sentence, start with their name, where they lived, and when they passed away. You don’t need to provide the cause of death if you don’t want to. Keep the sentence brief and to the point so you can expand the obituary in other places.
    • For example, you may write, “On the morning of June 10, 2019, John Smith of Atlanta died at the age of 80.”
  2. Include a short summary of their life as the next paragraph. List the city where they were born, their parents, and important events that happened in your loved one’s life. You can either list events chronologically or you can put them in order of what you feel is the most important. Try to use as few words as possible so the obituary is concise.
    • For example, you may write, “John was born to Tom and Jill Smith in 1950. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1976 and managed John’s Restaurant in Atlanta for 22 years. In July 1980, he married Jane Doe, and together raised two children, Anna and Benjamin.”
    • Create a list of major points in your loved one’s life on a separate sheet of paper so you have options to choose from.
    • Avoid listing their mother’s maiden name or your loved one’s birthdate in the biography since identity thieves could steal the information and commit fraud.
  3. Add a short paragraph about hobbies, passions, or personal characteristics. Including personal details will capture the spirit of your loved one so others understand what their life was like. Create a list of hobbies or activities they actively participated in and how it affected other people.
    • For example, you may say, “John was an avid car collector in spare time. When he wasn’t working at his restaurant, he would restore classic cars and show them at car shows. He was known for his good sense of humor and his contagious laughter among his friends.”
    • You don’t need to include this section if you don’t have the space for it in your obituary.
  4. List close family members in the third paragraph. Mention close family members, such as immediate family and parents, by name. When you want to list extended family, use a collective phrase or list the specific number. For others that have passed away before your loved one, use the phrase “preceded in death by,” and use “survived by” before listing any relatives still living.
    • For example, you may write, “John is preceded in death by his father, Tom, and his mother, Jill. He is survived by his wife, Jane, his 2 children, Anna and Benjamin, and several cousins, nieces, and nephews.”
  5. Provide details about the funeral service if it’s public. If you’re holding a public service, list the time and date along with the name of the funeral home. Make sure to list the specific details so others who were close to your loved one know where to go.
    • For example, you could write, “A public memorial service will be held at 11:30 AM on June 13th, 2019 at the Church of Christ.”
    • You do not have to provide any information if there is not a public service.
    • Tip: If you would rather have monetary donations at the service rather than flowers at the funeral, include a statement that says, “In lieu of flowers…” followed by the donation location.

Part 2 Revising the Obituary

  1. Read the obituary out loud to catch any errors. Carefully read the obituary after you’ve written it to see if there are any sentence or spelling errors. Talk through the entire obituary slowly to catch any phrases that are worded incorrectly or read awkwardly. Note your changes with a pen or pencil so you know to go back and change them.
    • If you wrote your paper on a computer, print it out so you can easily mark up the page with what you need to change.
  2. Have a friend or family member read it to check for missed information. Give the obituary you’ve written to a close relative so they can see if they have anything to add or would like to remove. Write down any suggestions they have and try to work them into a new copy of the obituary.
    • Talk to multiple people that were close to your loved one to see if they have any stories or details they think should be included.
  3. Compare your obituary to other obituaries in the paper. Read through the current obituaries for the paper you’re planning on submitting to. Look at their structure to see if you need to change anything about the obituary you’ve written.
    • Obituaries don’t need to look exactly the same, but they should contain all the important information necessary.

Part 3 Submitting the Obituary

  1. Look on your local paper’s website to see how to submit an obituary. Many papers accept obituaries through a web portal or by email. Look up the website for your local paper to see how they accept their submissions and what files you need to include. Plan on submitting the obituary 2-3 days before the service is held so others can make travel arrangements to get there.
    • Tip: Many funeral packages offer obituaries with their services. If you’re using one, check with the package you have to see when you need to submit the obituary through them.
  2. Provide a photo of the deceased if you want. Choose a happy photo of your loved one so other people recognize that they lived a good life. Check with the newspaper where you plan on submitting to see if they have any size requirements for the photo you plan on submitting.
    • Some newspapers charge an additional fee to publish pictures. Check with the paper’s obituary requirements to see.
  3. Submit your obituary before the print deadline if you want it in the paper. Many newspapers have a print deadline of about 5:30 PM. Check with the paper you’re submitting to so you know the exact deadline for when you need the obituary finished.
    • Even if you don’t make the print deadline, the obituary will still be published on the newspaper’s website.

Conclusion

Preparing an obituary for a relative or a friend is often a very difficult task. Some people find writing an obituary to be the hardest thing they will ever have to do. It can bring up a lot of painful memories and it may feel as though you should grieve for a second time. One thing that will help you immensely, is having a lot of information about your loved one. This will make the writing process much easier

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