How to Write an Obituary

The Obituary Should Focus on the Life

Man at computer writing an obituaryObituaries help spread the word that someone has died. They commemorate the life and let others know when and where services will be held.

Writing the obituary can be challenging. Few people can be objective enough to write their own. And, when writing an obituary for a deceased family member or friend, it’s difficult to be accurate and thorough — especially when grieving.

Whether an obituary is for you or a loved one, make it interesting. Let the obituary reflect the personality and events that made your loved one’s life unique. Give the world a glimpse of how the person touched the lives of others.

Jim Nicholson, an award-winning obituary writer, said that what his obits were doing was “celebrating life, not death. Death is incidental to the story. If you took the phrase ‘died on Tuesday’ out of the story, it would be a feature. It would not be an obituary. It would be a human-interest feature about a hell of a nice guy or girl.”

Consider including:

  • Family members including spouse, children and grandchildren
  • Special people in the life of the deceased
  • Significant events and dates
  • Important activities
  • Accomplishments
  • Favorite hobbies, beliefs, or things that were important to the deceased.
  • You may also want to include a photo.

Obituaries As Historical and Genealogical Records

Obituaries can serve as a historical record for purposes of genealogy and tracing family history. For this purpose, consider including a mother’s maiden name, and biological parents as well as step parents. Nieces and nephews might also be listed. Whether to list a divorced spouse’s name is a matter to be determined by the surviving family. Some families choose to recognize a divorced spouse by listing her/him as the mother/father of the deceased’s children.

Obituaries are usually sent to the deceased’s local newspapers, but you may want the notice to appear in other publications as well. You may consider the local papers in towns where the deceased once lived, or his or her hometown. Trade journals or association newsletters may also have an interest in publishing the obituary.

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