Monday, October 31, 2022

In Grief: Helpful Tips on Writing an Obituary

May our obituaries someday say--preferably after we're dead, of course--that we lived in peace, in love, and mostly in grace. ~ Jaime Jo Wright

As noted in an earlier post, an obituary includes both public and private facts that celebrate a person’s life and engagement in the community. 

If you're ever faced with the task of writing and submitting an obituary for publication in a newspaper or online, you may find these suggestions helpful:

• Use the local newspaper as a guide. Read other entries in the Obituary section to get a sense of the paper’s specific writing style.

• Check to see if the attending mortuary or funeral home has a guide for writing the obituary. (Some mortuaries include submitting the obituary to the newspaper as part of their funeral package, and some newspapers will accept only obituaries submitted by funeral homes, mortuaries and crematoriums.)

• Make sure you know what costs are involved before you submit an obituary or death notice to any newspaper. Costs will vary because different papers use different formats, column widths and font sizes. Ask about word limit, word count per column inch, the cost of each additional line or inch, the cost of including a photograph, and if there is any restriction on length.

• Know and observe the newspaper’s deadline, so the notice you submit will appear in time to inform the community of when and where important ceremonies will take place. If you don’t know those details yet, simply state that arrangements are being made by [name of funeral home or mortuary] and will be announced at a later date. Those interested can then contact the funeral home to obtain the details, instead of disturbing the family.

• Ask whether the newspaper publishes obituaries online. (Many newspapers now expand their coverage by linking to online partners, such as Find out if the guidelines for online listings differ from the paper’s in-print guidelines. 

• If you plan to submit your obituary to an online memorial website (such as EverLoved, Forever Missed, Kudoboard, Keeper, or Legacy), visit the site first to view a sample memorial, and use that as a guide. Some sites have templates you can use, and some will accept pictures and videos in addition to comments from others.

• Consider where your material will be used, and write accordingly. You might compose both shorter and longer versions of the same material: one to meet the requirements of a newspaper, the other to serve as an online memorial or as a part of your family history. 

• Organize your material by following the outlines provided at the end of this post: Outline for Writing a Death Notice, and Outline for Writing an Obituary. (See below.)    

• Strive for accuracy and completeness. Make certain that names are spelled correctly, dates are accurate, and all important information is included. Consult with other family members to help gather facts and check details for accuracy.  

• Include details about the deceased that are important for family records and future genealogical research: date of birth, middle name, maiden name if a married woman.   

• Write in a style that is tasteful, dignified and respectful.  

• Be discrete in stating the cause of death. This is optional and need not be specific, especially if the family prefers to keep the details private. If you choose to state the reason, you can say, for example, that the person died: suddenly and unexpectedly; from complications related to lung disease [heart disease, cancer]; after a long [brief] illness; or due to a traffic accident. 

• Include details to remind readers how they knew the person who died, especially if most of that life was lived elsewhere: schools attended, organizational memberships, religious affiliations, employers. If the deceased was related to a well-known member of the community who is also deceased, you can identify the person as “son [daughter] of the late Dr. Robert Jones.” 

• Arrange biographical details chronologically, or according to known priorities in the life of the deceased. Either way is acceptable, and no set order is required. 

• Identify family members who survived. Depending on the size of the family, include the names and locations of immediate family members, and those who predeceased the person. If the list is too long, be sure to provide an accurate count (e.g., “five children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.”). If desired and appropriate, you can also include the names of any special pets.

• Do not print house numbers, which can alert burglars to empty homes during funeral times. 

• Include important details about the service, and where to call for further information. Include day, date, time and place of all the services planned, as well as names of the funeral officiant and pallbearers. Identify the funeral home or mortuary in charge of arrangements. Even if no service is planned, it is helpful to give readers a number to call for further information, to relieve the family of the burden of taking endless phone calls. 

• Provide suggestions for memorial donations, including addresses.

• Once your composition is written, proofread it several times, and polish as you go. Read it aloud and revise as necessary. Make sure you haven’t excluded any important family members or omitted significant information about the one who died. Ask someone you trust to read your final draft, check for spelling and grammatical errors you may have overlooked, and give you honest feedback. Revise and edit accordingly, before you submit it for publication.

• Submit (or ask if the funeral home will submit) an electronic copy of the obituary to the newspaper (or website) via e-mail or compact disk. Faxing a typed or handwritten copy increases the likelihood of errors, especially if the copy must be scanned or retyped by someone at the newspaper.

• Ask to fax the final copy of the obituary to you for review, before it is printed by the newspaper. Not all papers will say yes, but some will.

• Once the obituary appears in print, check it for errors. If necessary, with just a phone call from the family to request it, many papers are willing to reprint a corrected version of an obituary the very next day, at no additional charge.

Outline for Writing a Death Notice

• City, State:

• Full Name:

• Age:

• City, State of Residence:

• Date and Place of Death:

• Arrangements:

Outline for Writing an Obituary

• City, State:

• Full Name:

• Age:

• City, State of Residence:

• Date and Place of Death:

• Cause of Death (optional):

• Place, Date of Birth, Parents:

• Education:

• Spouse’s Name:

•Wedding Date (optional):

• Employment History:

• Military Service:

• Religious Affiliations:

• Outstanding Accomplishments:

• Notable Honors and Awards:

• Publications:

• Organizational Memberships, Professional Affiliations:

• Offices Held:

• Interests and Passions:

• Important Activities and Hobbies:

• Significant Life Events, Representative Anecdotes, Recollections:

• Cherished Values and Beliefs:

• Children (and their spouses) and Cities of Residence:

• Grandchildren and Cities of Residence:

• Siblings (and their spouses) and Cities of Residence:

• Other Significant Relatives and Cities of Residence:

• Predeceased Relatives:

• Special Pets (optional):

• Funeral / Memorial Service Information

• Time, Date, Place:

• Clergy or Officiant:

• Names of Pallbearers:

• Direct Memorial Contributions to:

• Online Location for Sharing Thoughts, Memories:

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.

Image by Simon from Pixabay

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