If you've lost a friend or loved one, then you may be in the position of having to write an obituary. This can be a difficult job, not least because you're emotionally fragile. However, obituaries do tend to follow a particular obituary format, meaning that the actual writing may not be as difficult as you think. We'll guide you through the process of writing an obituary below.
What is an Obituary?
An obituary is a written text that has two purposes. The first of these is as a death announcement, and an obituary will inform other people about the loss of their friend or family member. However, it's also an opportunity to memorialise someone, to list their achievements, and to let others know why they will be missed. Writing an obituary can seem like a big responsibility, but with some careful thought and planning you can write the obituary that your loved one deserves. Some people think that the process of obituary writing is cathartic, and it may make you feel a little better to write things down.
What is an Obituary Used For?
As we mentioned above, an obituary is usually a death announcement. In many places an obituary will be placed in a local newspaper, or online to let others know of your loss, particularly people who may not be close friends of the family and therefore may not already know about a death. An obituary may also be printed in the funeral programme as a reminder of the person that has passed away.
Do I Have to Write an Obituary?
Obituaries are traditional, but they're by no means a legal requirement. You do not have to write one if you don't want to. However, if your loved one knew many people then it's unlikely that you'll be able to contact all these people before a funeral happens, in which case printing an obituary in a newspaper is more convenient.
As for who writes the obituary, the choice is yours. Generally a close family member writes the obituary (though not usually a parent or spouse, maybe a sibling). Occasionally, a person may write their own obituary. But if you choose to write the obituary yourself, you can get help.
It might be helpful to get an obituary template online, for example. In some cases your funeral director may help you write an obituary, though since he probably didn't know the deceased very well he will still need your input. If your loved one had funeral insurance, then check the policy, since some policies will include helplines or contacts for help with planning a funeral, and these resources can be invaluable.
What You'll Need
Many elements of an obituary are personal, meaning that you'll need to use your experiences and memories to write it. However, there are some things that you may want to find out before writing that will help you write a traditional form of obituary. These things may be useful to you:
The date, time and cause of death;
The date and time of the funeral and/or memorial service;
Photos of the deceased;
A list of surviving family members (particularly the full name of the spouse and children);
Any special messages that the deceased or family wish to add (in some cases, the deceased's will may specify a message, or the family may wish to thank the staff of a hospital or nursing home);
Any special instructions, such as flower delivery addresses or requests for donations to charity (which some families prefer rather than flowers).
How to Write a Traditional Obituary
It might be helpful to look at an obituary example before beginning to write. However, a traditional obituary follows a certain format. Usually an obituary is structured like this:
Announcement of death (giving date, time and maybe also cause);
A brief biographical sketch of the deceased (short is fine, see below for more information on this section);
A list of surviving family members, particularly spouse(s), and children;
The time and date of the funeral and/or memorial service;
Any special messages or requests.
A photo of the deceased is usually also included.
Writing the Biographical Sketch
For most people the biographical sketch is the trickiest part of writing an obituary. This section is usually the longest, and it's best to work chronologically. Certain pieces of information are nearly always included, such as:
The date and place of birth (if the deceased was a woman who married her maiden (birth) name may be included here too);
The full names of parents;
The date and place of marriage, if applicable;
Any education, work or military experience that is important.
You do not need to write a full biography! Keep things short and simple. Once these achievements have been mentioned (and usually 4-5 sentences is enough), you may also want to mention some of the personal characteristics of the deceased. Where they particularly funny? Did they give to charity often? Were they helpful to others? Concentrate on the impact the deceased had on other people in this section.
The Finished Obituary
Once you have finished writing the obituary, you will need to make sure that other people read it. If you wish to use the obituary in the funeral programme you will need to give a copy to your funeral director. If you want the obituary printed in a local newspaper you will need to call the newspaper and arrange for publication (though your funeral director may be willing to arrange this if asked). For online publication you will need to check the relevant website where you want the obituary posted.
Writing an obituary is an important job that comes at a stressful time. But by following the outline above and downloading an obituary template, or looking at an obituary example, you can make that job a little easier. Memorialising your lost loved one in this way is not required, but for many an obituary is a chance to tell the world how much the deceased meant to them and the people around them.
* Disclaimer: We do not represent any of the companies, products and/or services reviewed, published or advertised on this website. Nor are we financial, health or insurance professionals or services provider. If you request a quote or purchase a product/service, it will not necessarily be given by the company reviewed on any specific page. Any decisions you make based on the information presented is at your own discretion and we advise that before doing so, you consult with the relevant professional.
Main subject: Obituary