How to Write an Obituary

Like most pieces of good writing, an obituary should tell a story. The author of the obituary is free to compose an obituary in any style that honors the deceased person and respects the sensitivities of survivors. The tone could be very serious or even a bit humorous, depending upon the subject and survivors. Like a memorial service or funeral, an obituary should communicate important facts about a departed loved one and help to celebrate a life.

While there might not be a right or wrong way to compose an obituary, these are some guidelines for things that should be considered:

Identifying information: Include the individual’s legal name and common nicknames. For example, a man named Gerald might have been called Jerry most of the time, so that’s important to mention to make sure readers recognize the person. Mention the last place of residence, the date of death, and the date and place of birth. It should also include the parents’ names. The cause of death may or may not be mentioned, depending upon the wishes of survivors.

Important biographical information: This part should offer a compelling glimpse into the person’s life. It could include notable hobbies, facts about a career, military or public service, and recognition for achievements. It should also include places the deceased person has lived in for an extended period of time.

Surviving family members: List close family members with the spouse and a surviving spouse’s current city or residence mentioned first. Then, it’s typical to list surviving parents, children, grandchildren, siblings, and other relatives in birth order. You may also want to mention close friends and even beloved pets.

Deceased family members: Obituaries usually make a note of close family members, friends, or spouses who passed away before the subject of the obituary.

Memorial service or funeral information: Certainly, many people who read the obituary will want to know about the memorial or funeral service. Besides the place, time, and date, you may also want to list the person who will officiate, pallbearers, and other people who might contribute.

Memorial donations: Some families may honor their loved one by requesting donations to a good cause in lieu of flowers. It’s usually most effective to conclude with a statement or two about this charity and instructions for donors.

Certainly, the most important things are to include the basic facts about the departed person and the memorial service. In some cases, space may be limited, so you’ll want to focus on the most important things and leave other things out. It’s also important to be sensitive to the feelings of survivors. For instance, you might not want to include the name of a favorite uncle and omit the names of other aunts and uncles. If you’re not sure what to include or omit, you may want to consult with other friends or members of the family for their opinions.

Tips to Write a Great Obituary if You’re Not a Practiced Writer

If you’re not a practiced writer, this task might seem a little overwhelming. Start with a draft that just includes the basic information. Then try to make a second version that pulls out some tidbits with information that will make the story a bit more compelling. Finally, get a friend or family member to proofread it for omissions or simple typographical errors. Once the obituary has been printed, it may serve as an important document for future generations. While there isn’t one perfect way to compose an obituary, it’s important to make it as accurate as possible.

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