The obituary can be one of the most difficult tributes to write. Usually, it needs to be written within a few days of the person’s death, which means you won’t have much time to prepare it. It also means you will be composing it while you’re in an emotionally vulnerable state. These are not the best conditions under which to write!
Just remember, an obituary doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. If you are feeling inspired, you can write a few words about the person’s life, but if you would prefer to keep it short and simple, that’s okay, too. Try starting with the very basic information needed for an obituary and take it from there. You can always add more details about the person’s life or other features, such as a poem or quote from the bible, afterward.
At its core, an obituary is a public notice. It is intended to notify the community of a death and give them the information they need to commemorate the death if they choose to, by attending the funeral or memorial, sending flowers or making a donation in the person’s name. Make sure the obituary includes:
Full name of the person (include maiden name or other former names to ensure that people from every stage of their lives will recognize them)
Place and date of birth
Name of spouse or partner, children and any other significant family members the person is survived or predeceased by
Date, time and place of funeral or memorial service
Memorial contributions requested (specify whether flowers, donations in the person’s name or another form or remembrance is preferred)
Once you have ensured that the basic information has been included in the obituary notice, you can choose to send it to the newspaper as-is, or you can choose to add information that personalizes the notice a little further and gives readers further details about the person’s life. These can include:
Cause of death: Some people prefer not to mention the cause of death and instead focus solely on the person’s life. Both options are acceptable, and you should decide what feels right to you.
Names of former spouses or partners: This can be a delicate issue if relations between the deceased and former spouses or partners is strained or estranged. However, if they remained a part of the person’s life, you may want to acknowledge them in the obituary.
Education: Including the year they graduated helps to alert others who were at school with them.
Former homes: If the deceased lived in another city or country for a significant period of time, it can be a good idea to include that information. You might also consider running the obituary in the local newspaper of
Outstanding achievements or awards: List any accomplishments of which the deceased was particularly proud, including volunteer work or contributions to the community.
Passions or pastimes: If the deceased had a special passion in life or something that was important to them, mention it in the obituary. This could include hobbies such as gardening, painting, or performing in amateur productions, traveling, coaching a local sport team, etc.
A photo: Although it costs more than a simple text obituary, adding a photo can help complete the picture of the deceased as they were in life, and will also help to make the obituary stand out on the page. If the person was elderly when they died, you may choose a recent photo or a photo showing how they looked in youth.
Adding a poetic excerpt or bible quote
Once you have assembled all the information about the person who has died, you may choose to add an excerpt from a poem or a quote from the bible to add a note of poignancy or gravity to the obituary. This is not mandatory; it is simply another way to personalize the piece if you so desire. The excerpt usually goes at the end of the obituary. If the deceased had a favorite poet, you may want to include a few lines from one of this poet’s works. Alternately, you can choose from one of the many beautiful poems or bible passages that describe death and loss very eloquently.
You’ll find a selection of well-known and popular excerpts and bible passages in Chapter 3 of this book.
Helpful tips for writing obituaries
Tip #1: If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of writing the obituary, it might help to have someone write the first draft for you. You’ll find it’s much easier to start when you have something to work with, even if it’s only a few sentences or bullet points that assemble the main elements needed.
Tip #2: It’s sometimes hard to focus on the person’s life so soon after their death, but try to avoid describing the immediate past, especially the circumstances of their death, and look back on the happy and meaningful parts in the person’s life.
Tip #3: Have someone review the final draft of the obituary to make sure there are no spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors. You might also want someone close to the family to review the draft and make sure the names of people and places mentioned are spelled correctly, that the dates are all correct and that nothing important has been left out.
Tip #4: An obituary can be as short or as long as you choose, but before you embark on writing a lengthier obituary, find out the costs per column inch and any size limitations in the newspaper you plan to publish it in. Some newspapers publish obituaries for free, but others charge a fee per column inch, and many will impose a word limit.