Writing an Obituary
What is An Obituary?
More than merely a ‘good-bye’ to the deceased, this is a farewell which can, in chronological order, detail the
life of the deceased. An obituary also serves as notification that an individual has passed away and details of the
services that are to take place. An obituary’s length may be somewhat dictated by the space available in the
newspaper it is to appear in. Therefore it’s best to check how much room you have before you begin your
composition. Remember that the obituary needs to appear in print a few days prior to the memorial service.
There are some cases where this may not be possible, therefore give some consideration to the guidelines below
when composing the obituary.
What to Include?
Naturally, it is vital that the full name, along with the location and date of passing is included so that there is no
confusion over whom has died. You may wish to consider placing a photograph (which can appear as black &
white or in color depending on the newspaper's layout) with the text. There are usually extra charges applied if
you are thinking of using a photograph. If you wish, mention where the deceased resided. This will normally
only include the street, city and region/state/province/county. The street number is not normally included for
reasons of security.
In a concise manner, write about the significant events in the life of the deceased. This may include the schools
he or she attended and any degrees attained; you may also include any vocations or interests that the deceased
was involved with.
It is common to include a list of those who have survived the deceased. The list should include (where
Spouse and children
Adopted children, half & step children
Half & step siblings
The surviving relatives listed above may be listed by name. Other relatives will not be mentioned by name but
may be included in terms of their relationship to the deceased. In other words, the obituary may mention that the
deceased had 5 grandchildren; 7 nieces etc. However, exceptions to the above rule can be made if, for example,
the deceased only had one grandchild or a nephew who was the only person living in the newspaper’s
distribution area. These exceptions are obviously made based on each individual case.
Also, anyone listed as a special friend or companion is not normally included amongst the list of survivors
unless the deceased’s blood relatives request that it be so. The obituary’s traditional purpose is to list survivors
either related through the bloodline or marriage.
Additional information such as where the deceased will be laid to rest and any pallbearer’s names or names of
honorary pallbearer’s may be mentioned. At this point list the details of the time and location of any services
for the deceased: these may include the funeral, burial, wake and memorial service where appropriate.
Begin with the announcement. It should include who the person is, the date they died, and how they
died. Be short and concise. All this can be typically included in one sentence.
Write a short biographical piece about the person's life, including where and when the person was born,
where they lived throughout their life, notable awards and times in their life, important hobbies, where
they went to school.
Include who the person is survived by. Include, in this order, immediate family members (spouse &
children or parents & siblings) and secondary family members (aunts, uncles, grandchildren, close
Note where and when important ceremonies will take place, i.e. memorial services, grave-side burials.
Tell people where they can make donations in remembrance of the person who has died. This is a very
common practice in the United States and should always be noted, to avoid an influx of calls to the
When noting a person's education, take into consideration where the obituary will be placed and how old
the person was when they died. For younger people, indicate the elementary, junior, and high school
they attended as well as college. Older people can have just high school and college.
Some people are very close to their pets. Include this in their "survived by" section at the end. This
should be tasteful and only included if the person is known for their love of their pet.
Some newspapers now charge for obituaries but offer free death notices. The funeral home will make
that information available to family members.
Use discretion when announcing the reason of death. If it is too gruesome, such as impalement in a car
crash, simply mention that death occurred due to a traffic accident.
Be tactful. Do not include where the body is going. Nobody will want to view a cremation, for example.
When a loved one dies, the family often leaves the writing of the obituary up to the funeral director. When the
obituary is left up to someone outside of the family, it often contains mistakes and doesn’t really say what the
family would like it to. This causes added pain when an incorrect obituary is placed in the paper and it feels like
your loved ones’ memory has been tainted somehow. It is best to write the obituary yourself because you are the
one that knew the person the best and what is important to include and what is not. Some newspapers will not
allow you to write the obituary as they have someone who does this job and the obituaries must follow a certain
format. If this is the case, ask if you can collaborate with the newspaper instead of letting them deal exclusively
with the funeral home. In any case, be sure to ask to see a final proof before the obituary goes into print. When
you are writing your obituary there are several important things to remember to include. Mention what your
loved one did for a living. Even if they have been retired for many years, it is important to list their occupation.
List any associations the person may have had such as Lion’s Club, volunteer fire department, or any clubs they
may have participated in. List volunteer work or hobbies.
When listing surviving relatives, it is important to keep the list short and limited to the immediate family as
there is not much space given to obituaries. Save the room for something personal about the person that you
would want them to be remembered by. Remember, many acquaintances are going to learn about the death of
your loved one by reading the obituary, leave something touching there for them to keep.
Check over the obituary with a fine-toothed comb, making sure there are no typos or grammatical mistakes, be
sure to include the person’s age, or birthday and date of death and send your obituary to more than one paper. If
your loved one had lived in another town or state for a portion of his life, send a copy to the newspapers in the
other towns to notify people who may have knew him there.
People often save obituaries as remembrances of someone they loved, keep the obituary short but make sure it
is something worthy of a scrap book and worthy of your loved ones’ memory.