Tips for Writing an Obituary
How to find the right words.
When a loved one passes, writing an obituary can be daunting task. How do you portray a person’s life in just a handful of words? Obituaries have a common structure to help put the pieces together.
Know the difference between obituaries and eulogies.
It’s common to use “obituary” and “eulogy” interchangeably, but they are two different things. An obituary is a short biography published on paper and/or online. It often includes details about the person’s passing. A eulogy is a speech in praise or memory of the person who has passed, usually read or spoken publicly at their funeral. While the two can be written similarly, it’s prudent to prepare the obituary and eulogy separately.
Make the announcement.
Start by announcing the person’s passing with their full name, age, and the date of their death. Sharing the cause of someone’s death is optional, but not necessary if you’re uncomfortable doing so. You may also wish to include their birthdate, place of birth, or their place of death.
Include surviving relatives.
Many obituaries include family members survived by the person who has passed, such as siblings, children, or a significant other.
After the announcement details, you may wish to add personal touches such as fond memories you had with your loved one; their quirks, hobbies, or accomplishments; or stories to share with readers. It helps to ask friends and family for things they recall. Sometimes it’s difficult to describe how much someone meant to you, and so sharing these details is a great way to demonstrate how you remember them. When personalizing an obituary, consider these questions:
How would this person want to be honored? Were they more serious, or were they the type to find humor in everything? What do you think they would want shared or kept private?
Where are you publishing this obituary? It’s common to write different versions, such as an announcement for the newspaper and something personalized for social media.
Is there a poem, prayer, song, or other special message that you’d wish to include?
Which photo would you want to include, if you choose to use one?
End with service announcements and donation information.
End your obituary with the day, time, and location of upcoming services. You may also include information for sending flowers or donations. If you feel donations to the bereaved are unnecessary, you might consider mentioning a charitable organization that your loved one would have supported instead.
Let it sit, then read it over.
After you finish writing the obituary, leave it alone for a day or two, and then come back to proofread for any grammar or spelling mistakes and double check that all of the dates, times, and locations are correct. You can also enlist the help of friends and family to look it over before sending it off for publishing.
Example 1 (Formal)
It is with great sadness that the family of Mrs. Jane Doe announces her passing on June 2, 2021, at the age of 81.
Jane passed away peacefully in her home in Seattle. She will be fondly remembered by her son, William, two daughters, Helen and Maisie, and her husband, John.
A funeral service will be held on Saturday, June 5, 2021, at Seattle Community Church on 46th Avenue NE at 1pm. Flowers or donations may be sent to 1234 Main Street.
Example 2 (Personalized)
It is with great sadness that the family of Mrs. Jane Doe announces her passing on June 2, 2021, at the age of 81. Jane passed away peacefully in her home in Seattle.
Jane was born on March 15, 1940 in Tacoma to Bill and Wanda (Samson) Smith, and grew up with her little brother, Frank. She married John Doe in 1961 and together they raised a son, William, and two daughters, Helen and Maisie.
Growing up, Jane enjoyed going on family camping trips and baking with her mother. Her love for nature and baking inspired her to open a bakery, The Bee’s Kneads, in 1982. Residents of the building above her shop lovingly recall the smell of fresh-baked bread every morning over the years.
Jane was an avid music lover and never quite got over her crush on Elvis. She was known for her unbridled love of life, kindness, and compassion. She also made the undisputed best cup of coffee in town.
A funeral service will be held on Saturday, June 5, 2021, at Seattle Community Church on 46th Avenue NE at 1pm. Donations in her honor may be sent to Conservation Northwest.
Need further advice?
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by writing an obituary, consult with your funeral director or ask a friend or family member for help or inspiration. Though it can be a difficult and painful task, writing an obituary can also help process your grief.