How to Write an Obituary

Written by Kimberly Back in Society
Viewed by 126 readers since 06-15-2009

An obituary, whether written for a family member or a friend, gives an account of a person’s life and work. It is a tribute to the decedent’s life, and provides comfort and hope to the families and friends left behind. Obituaries give notice of the person’s death, list family members and funeral information, and can provide instructions for those who wish to send flowers or make donations for memorial funds. If you are ever faced with writing an obituary, these tips will help you write an accurate and memorable one.

Research: After accepting the task of writing an obituary it is important to research all relevant information about the deceased. Talk to family members and friends to find out accurate information including, but not limited to: full name (including maiden name, if applicable), birth date, date of death, city of residence, family members to be listed, etc. The section of the obituary containing family members can be quite the laundry list, so it is important to determine how far to extend the list of family members. One must consider those who are already deceased, step family, aunts and uncles, cousins, and many others.

Focus on life: It is easy to become consumed by grief when facing the loss of a loved one. However, when writing an obituary one should focus on the life, not death, of the deceased. Talk about the decedent’s character, personality, family, and career. Don’t simply list that the person was nice, funny, and charismatic, actually give examples and anecdotes illustrating these characteristics. It could also be a nice touch to thank those who were influential in the deceased’s life, as well as thank those who helped in the final stages of life.

Proofread, proofread, proofread: An obituary can be the only thing ever written about a person, so making sure that it is properly proofread and edited is of the utmost importance. It can be helpful to write several versions and then choose the best one for the final copy. Reading the obituary aloud, or setting it aside for a few hours and then looking at it again are both great tips for catching most errors.

Multiple versions: It may be necessary to write a few versions of the obituary. In addition to the extended version that is read during the funeral or memorial service, often newspapers, radio stations, or other media that list obituaries may need a condensed version that focuses on the basic information (name, birth date, date of death, funeral arrangements, etc.). Some funeral homes will actually create a condensed version for you to send to media outlets. Take advantage of this service if it is available. It will be one less thing that you and your family have to worry about.

On an additional note, in recent years there has been great concern over the identities of the deceased being stolen, especially using information provided in obituaries. It is important to keep in mind that an obituary usually includes a date of birth, full name, maiden name, etc., but it is also important to monitor what additional personal information is provided in the obituary. As a preventative measure, family members should notify institutions like banks and credit card companies that someone has passed.


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