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How to Write an Obituary

An obituary serves as notification that an individual has passed away and provides details of a memorial if one is to take place. It can also be far more than that; a well-crafted obituary can detail, with style, the life of the deceased.

An obituary's length may be somewhat dictated by the space available (and the related costs) in the newspaper. Therefore, it's best to check how much room you have before you begin your composition. Remember that the obituary needs to appear in print a few days prior to the memorial service. There are some cases where this may not be possible so consider the guidelines below when composing the obituary.

What Should You Include

Naturally, it is vital that the full name along with the location and date of passing is included so that there is no confusion over who has died.

You may wish to consider placing a photograph (which can appear as black & white or in color depending on the newspaper's layout) with the text. There are usually extra charges applied if you are thinking of using a photograph.

If you wish, mention where the deceased resided. Just mention the city and region/state/province/county.

In a concise manner, write about the significant events in the life of the deceased. This may include the schools he or she attended and any degrees attained; you may also include any vocations or interests.

Add the Names of Those Left Behind…as Well as Those Who Went Ahead

It is common to include a list of those who have survived the deceased in addition to those who passed away prior to the death of your loved one. The list should include (where applicable):

  • Parents
  • Spouse and children
  • Adopted children
  • Half & step children
  • Siblings
  • Half- & step-siblings
  • Grandparents

The relatives listed above may be listed by name. Other relatives will not be mentioned by name but may be included in terms of their relationship to the deceased. In other words, the obituary may mention that the deceased had 5 grandchildren or 7 great-grandchildren.  

Also, anyone listed as a special friend or companion is not normally included among the list of survivors unless the deceased's blood relatives request it. The obituary's traditional purpose is to list survivors related through bloodline or marriage.

List the details of the time and location of a memorial service, if applicable.

Tips for Crafting a Complete Obituary

If you don't know where to start, read other obituaries to gain an idea of how personal and touching an obituary can be.

Don't use the phrase 'in lieu of flowers' when memorial donations are requested as this limits how readers can express their sympathy. Perhaps they want to send flowers to the family and unless you are adamant that flowers are not wanted, the phrase is decidedly off-putting.  Instead, merely start the final paragraph of the obituary with the words "Memorial donations may be made to" and state the charity’s name.

If you wish, send the obituary to newspapers in other cities or towns where the deceased may have resided previously.

Obtain copies of the obituary to send to distant relatives and friends.

Final Considerations

Any and all information to be included in the obituary should be verified with another family member. A newspaper will verify with the funeral home that the deceased is in fact being taken care of by that funeral home.

Since most newspapers charge by the word, it may not always be feasible to mention everything that we have stated in our guidelines. Use your own discretion and do not put yourself under any financial hardship.

Today, there are online memorials such as Memories Forever™, where the obituary can be available for the cyber-community to view. It is also a place where friends and family can leave messages of condolence, light a memorial candle, or share photographs and stories. If this sounds like a good option for your family, contact us to learn more.