How To
6 min read

How To Write The Perfect Obituary

Reem Abouemera
November 20, 2022

Losing a loved one is devastating, but writing an obituary can be a step forward in the healing process. An obituary is a way to honor your loved one's life and let others know about their passing. It isn't intended to be a eulogy, but rather a factual account of the person's life.

That makes it all the more important to get it right. That’s why, in this guide, we'll show you exactly how to write an obituary that’s both touching and accurate.

1. Get the facts

Before you start writing, you'll need to gather some information about the deceased person. You likely already know these things, but it’s good to double-check and fill in any gaps. This includes their full name, date and place of birth and death, parents' names, spouse's name (if applicable), children's names (if applicable), education, employment history, military service (if applicable), and any other important facts.

It always helps to collect that kind of information from other members of the family as well. The more input you have, the more complete the picture will be.

You'll want to use a timeline app, spreadsheet, or notebook to record the facts. This will help you organize your thoughts and make sure you don't let anything slip through the cracks.

Tip: If you can gather a few representative photographs, a scrapbook can be a wonderful way to add another dimension to a person's life.

2. Decide on a style

Next, you'll need to decide on a style for the obituary. Yes, obituaries can be written in different styles depending on the person and the audience. The most common are traditional, newspaper, and military. But there are also religious obituaries, and even ones written in verse.

The style you choose will be determined by the publication you're submitting to and your own personal preference. If you're not sure, ask the publication for guidance. They'll usually have a preferred style.

Below are the differences between the most common styles:

  • Traditional: A traditional obituary is a tribute to the deceased person. It's usually written by a family member or close friend and includes information about the person's life, their accomplishments, and how they will be missed.
  • Newspaper: A newspaper obituary is a brief notice that includes the person's name, date and place of birth and death, and surviving family members. A photo is often included as well.
  • Military: Military obituaries are similar to traditional obituaries, with an added focus on the person's military service. They're usually written by a family member or close friend.
  • Religious: Religious obituaries are written to honor the deceased person and celebrate their life. They often include information about the person's religious beliefs and service to their faith community.

3. Decide what to include

Once you've gathered the facts and decided on a style, it'll be easier to decide what to include in the obituary beyond the basics. Not every fact will be important or relevant, so you'll need to be selective.

Remember, the goal is to write an obituary that’s both accurate and touching. That means including information that will give readers a sense of who the person was and why they'll be missed.

While it's up to you to decide what to include, here are some suggestions:

  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Family information
  • Hobbies
  • Personal interests
  • Religious information
  • Cause of death
  • Funeral service information

These are just guidelines, of course. You'll need to use your best judgment to determine what information will paint the fullest picture of the person's life.

4. Decide on a tone

Apart from the type of obituary you write, the tone is also important. The tone should be respectful, positive, and compassionate, but it doesn't have to be overly sentimental. It's also often best to avoid cliches.

It can be difficult to find the right balance, but it's important to remember that the obituary is meant to be a tribute to the person's life. It should be written with love and care, and allow the personality of the deceased person to shine through.

Another thing to note is that the tone should also be consistent throughout the obituary. That means if you start off with a lighthearted anecdote, don't end with a sob story. Similarly, if you start off with a serious tone, don't try to lighten the mood with a closing joke.

Tip: Remember to use facts to back up any claims made in the obituary. This will help add credibility and prevent the tone from sounding too biased or one-sided.

5. Begin writing

With all the information gathered and the style and tone set, it's finally time to start writing. If you struggle with writing, can help you get through this process of clearing up the tone of the content quickly and easily.

If you're not sure where to start, try beginning with a memorable anecdote or quote that captures the essence of the person's life. This can be something they wrote or said themselves or something said about them by a family member or friend.

From there, begin with the basics and fill in the rest of the details about the person's life. Start with the name, age, and date of death. Then, include the location of death, surviving family members, and any other relevant information pertaining to the death that you want to include.

After that, provide a brief overview of the person's life, noting their work history, military service, clubs or organizations they belonged to, and any hobbies or interests they had. Finally, include any accomplishments or awards they received during their lifetimes, such as scholarships, medals, or professional accolades. Again, remember that you don’t have to touch on every single aspect of their life. Trust your judgment to know what to say.

End with the funeral service information, including the date, time, and location of the service. You can also include any special instructions, such as donations in lieu of flowers.

For example, an obituary for a veteran might look something like this:

"John Doe, age 42, of Chicago, IL, passed away on March 1, 2020, in his home surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife Jane and their two children, John Jr. and Mary. John was a loving husband and father and will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

A veteran of the Iraq War, John served his country with honor and distinction. He was a member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

In his free time, John enjoyed fishing and spending time with his family. He was an avid Chicago Cubs fan and loved to play golf.

John was a talented carpenter and was known for his ability to build anything. He was always willing to help others and will be remembered as a kind and generous man.

A funeral service will be held on March 7 at 10:00 a.m. at St. Mary's Church in Chicago. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project."

As you can see, this obituary includes all the relevant information about the person's life, while also maintaining a respectful and compassionate tone. It captures the essence of who they were as a person and provides a lasting tribute to their memory.

6. Submit for publishing

Once the obituary is written, it's time to send it to the newspapers, or wherever you want it published. In most cases, you can submit the obituary online. However, some newspapers still require hard copy submissions.

If you're submitting it online, be sure to include any relevant links or attachments. These might include a photo of the deceased or a copy of the funeral service information.

When sending in a hard copy, be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE), so the newspaper can return any materials you've included.

You should also make sure the newspaper or publication has your current contact information in case they have any questions.

Once the obituary is submitted, it will generally be published within a few days. However, some newspapers have longer turnaround times, so be sure to check with them in advance.

After it's published, be sure to save a copy of the obituary. This can be done by clipping it out of the newspaper or taking a screenshot of the online version. These copies can be kept as keepsakes and given to family and friends.

Writing an obituary is the final celebration of life and can offer comfort

At first glance, an obituary may seem like a morbid task. Why would anyone want to write about the death of a loved one?

But as anyone who has ever written one will tell you, an obituary is so much more than just a list of dates and accomplishments. It's the final celebration of a life well-lived. And for those left behind, it can be a source of great comfort.

An obituary is essentially a love letter to the deceased. It's a way to remember all the things that made them special and to share those memories with others. Doing so can help with the grieving process.

If you've been tasked with writing an obituary, there's no need to feel intimidated. Just remember to keep it simple, focus on the highlights of the person's life, and write from the heart. With a little bit of care and attention, you can create a lasting tribute to a beloved friend or family member.

And to make sure that it comes out just the way you want it to, be sure to do the following:

  • Use a computer to write the obituary so that you can easily edit it as needed.
  • Use a spell checker to avoid any embarrassing mistakes.
  • Keep it short—an obituary is not a biography. Stick to the essentials.
  • Check the facts for accuracy—you don't want to accidentally include incorrect information.
  • Ask someone to proofread your work—another set of eyes can help catch any mistakes.
  • Check the newspaper's submission guidelines—each paper has different requirements, so be sure to find out what they are in advance before sending in the obituary.
  • Use the correct format—most newspapers have a specific format for obituaries, so be sure to follow it.

With these tips in mind, you're sure to craft an obituary that does justice to the life of your loved one.

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