When you lose a loved one someone will need to write their obituary. An obituary is a piece of writing that announces someone’s passing. It typically documents the highlights of their life, their surviving loved ones, and provides details about their upcoming memorial. After a death, it might be unclear who writes the obituary, what information to include, and where it will be shared. Below we’ve included information about obituaries and how you can get started writing one.
What is an obituary?
An obituary is an announcement of someone’s death. Obituaries can vary in length and the amount of detail they go into. Typically, however, they’ll include a few words about who the person was, their achievements, and the people they’re leaving behind. It will note when the person was born and died and include details of the funeral or memorial service. Traditionally, people publish obituaries in a local newspaper, but now you can also publish them online.
Who writes the obituary?
While there are no rules when it comes to who writes the obituary, they’re typically written by family members or close friends. When a loved one passes, the family usually decides who will write it based on their relationship to the deceased or writing ability. Sometimes people choose to write their own obituary or delegate someone to write it in advance while making their end-of-life plans.
Here are some different options to consider when determining who should write the obituary
1. A family member or close friend
Most commonly a family member or close friends will write the obituary. Being close to the person who passed allows the writer to share personal details without having to do much research. Writing an obituary also allows the writer to begin processing their grief.
2. Funeral home
Sometimes family members or friends might not feel comfortable writing the obituary. In this case, most funeral homes can assist with obituary writing. Because these individuals don’t know the deceased, they’ll either interview family members or do their own research to create a picture of the person who passed. This can be a nice option, as it’s one less thing to have to think about.
3. Commission an obituary
Although most reporters only focus on writing obituaries for well-known individuals in the community, they might be available to write an obituary on commission. You could always find out who does obituaries at your local newspaper to see if they’d write one for you as a commission. Another option for the family who wants a professionally written obituary is to seek out a writer who can help paint a picture of your loved one’s life.
Both of these options will require a little more time to complete as you’ll need to locate the writer, share all about your loved one’s life, and allow them time to put the obituary together. If you want to go this route, make sure you allow extra time in your planning process.
4. Write it yourself
If you are completing end-of-life plans for yourself, writing your own obituary in advance means you can decide exactly what it says. It also means your family won’t have to think about it. You can write the most important aspects of your life that you want people to remember. You can also include your values, your achievements, the people who are important to you, and any hobbies or quirks that make you who you are. When you are done with your obituary, store it with your other end-of-life documents and let people know how to access it when the time comes.
How to write an obituary
If you’ve been tasked with writing an obituary, it can feel like a daunting assignment, especially when you are overwhelmed with grief and all the other decisions you might need to make. But don’t worry, we’ve provided some important tips on writing an obituary that’ll help you through the process.
Before you start writing the obituary, it’s a good idea to consider where you want to publish it. If there’s a newspaper you have in mind, find out their requirements in advance. They may have guidelines on the length and format of the obituary, as well as when and how you should submit it.
These are a few elements that are customary to include in an obituary:
1. Details about the person’s life and death
Start with the key information about the person and their death. Include:
- Their full name
- Their age when they died
- When and where they were born
- The place they died
- The date of their death
You can choose whether you’d like to include the cause of death, but this isn’t necessary. If you’re writing your own obituary, you can leave a space for your family to add the details of your death.
2. Write about the person’s life
An obituary should reflect the main things that characterized someone’s life — whether that’s their achievements, their interests, what they did for the community or even their favorite food. Everyone’s obituary will be unique and should reflect the individual who is being remembered.
While it can feel difficult to sum up someone’s life in just a few paragraphs, remember that there may be a limit on the length if you are publishing it in a newspaper. If you are having trouble narrowing it down, a funeral home or newspaper editor may be able to help you decide what to include.
3. Mention family members
It’s customary to include surviving family members in the obituary and loved ones who passed away before them. Many people’s lives are defined by their family and relationships, so it’s nice to mention these people in their obituary.
4. Select a photo
Obituaries often include a photo of the person who passed away. It should be a clear headshot and ideally a picture that the person liked. Newspapers usually require you to send a digital photo via email.
5. Provide details about the funeral or memorial
An obituary usually ends with information about when and where the funeral or memorial service is being held. But just because you might not be holding one of the events doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write an obituary.
If you’re hosting a funeral or memorial service, include any special information for guests, for example, if you’d like them to wear a particular color or donate to a chosen charity.
Honoring life with an obituary
As you can see, there are no rules when it comes to obituary writing — only a framework you can choose to follow. Keep in mind that the aim is to honor someone’s life after they’ve passed. It’s important for whoever’s writing the obituary to communicate the person’s life and character while also including all the key information. Remember that if you’re struggling with writing the obituary, the funeral home may be able to offer guidance.