Monday, October 24, 2022

In Grief: On Writing An Obituary

Obituaries are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives. ~ Charles Wheelan

When is the best time to write an obituary?

It is not necessary to wait until a person has died to begin writing an obituary. People can be interviewed before death about what they want included in their obituary – and each of us can begin right now to write our own life story. The obituary may be the only account that will ever be written about us, and this is our chance to tell others exactly what we want them to know and remember about us.  Once written, it can motivate us to continue living an interesting and meaningful life – and inspire us live up to what we’ve written about ourselves. It certainly is a thoughtful gesture that can spare our family and friends from having yet another task to complete (under a newspaper’s deadline) during what will be a sad and difficult time. And it can be a priceless gift to future generations. If you do decide to write your own obituary, make certain that you keep it updated and readily accessible, and let your next of kin know where to find it.

What is the purpose of an obituary?

An obituary serves to notify others of the death of a loved one. It can be published in a local newspaper or other periodical, and on the Internet in an online registry, guestbook, or virtual memorial. It is usually accompanied by a biographical sketch of the person’s life, which may be brief or extended, depending on in-print or online guidelines, and it may or may not include a photograph. 

Is there a fee to publish an obituary?

Newspapers and online memorial sites have their own individual requirements and guidelines for publishing obituaries, death announcements and photographs of the deceased – including writing style, word limit, and whether or not a fee will be charged. It is best to check with the newspaper or website you’re targeting for any such requirements, before you write or submit anything for publication. Many newspapers charge by the line or by the column inch, with an additional fee to publish a photograph, so the total price easily could exceed hundreds of dollars. (Check with the attending mortuary or crematorium as well, since the cost of submitting obituary information to a newspaper may be included in its fees.)

What information should be included?

 A Death Notice serves as an immediate announcement to inform the community that someone has died and a service is planned. It is concise, shorter than a full obituary, and includes the following basic information:

•Announcement – City, State, Name, Age, Death Day and Date, Location, and Cause of Death (stating the cause of death is optional)

•Arrangements – Schedule and Location for Gatherings (Visitation, Viewing, Vigil, Wake); Ceremonies of Remembrance (Funeral, Memorial Service, Burial or Committal Service, Inurnment, Scattering); and Receptions. (If these details are not yet known, let readers know who is making the arrangements and where they can call for more information.) 

In addition to the information listed in a death announcement, an Obituary includes both public and private facts that celebrate a person’s life and engagement in the community. It can be fairly plain and simple, or it can be a compelling and inspiring summation of a rich and well-lived life. It can be published in the local newspaper to be read now by family, friends and the community, but when saved for a family scrapbook, history or memory box, it can keep the person’s memory alive forever in the hearts and minds of the loved ones who survive, and for generations yet to come.      

Depending upon required or desired length, an Obituary may include some or all of the following:

•Announcement – City, State, Name, Age, Death Day and Date, Location, and Cause of Death 

•Biographical Information – Highlights of the Person’s Life: Date and Place of Birth, Education (degrees and schools attended), Vocation, Places of Work or Employment, Outstanding Accomplishments, Notable Honors and Awards, Publications, Memberships and Offices Held (in national or local Governmental, Civic, Professional, Fraternal, Religious, or Community Organizations), Military Service, Interests and Passions, Important Activities and Hobbies, Rich Anecdotes, Recollections and Descriptive Personality Traits  

•Survivor Information – Family and any Predeceased Relatives: Spouse, Partner or Significant Other, Children (in order of date of birth, and their spouses), Grandchildren, Siblings, Parents, Close Relatives, Special Pets 

•Arrangements – Schedule and Location for Gatherings (Visitation, Viewing, Vigil, Wake); Ceremonies of Remembrance (Funeral, Memorial Service, Burial or Committal Service, Inurnment, Scattering); and Receptions.

•Contribution Information – Charities, Organizations, Memorial Funds where donations and condolences can be directed, if applicable

•Online Memorial Information – An Invitation to sign the family’s Online Guestbook, if desired 

•Arrangement Provider Information – Funeral Home or Mortuary in charge of the arrangements 

•Photograph – A recent photograph of the deceased, in the required size and format

•Placement Information – Newspapers and Online Sites for submission of the announcement 

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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