How to Write an Obituary

How to Write an Obituary

Writing an obituary offers a chance to notify others of your loved one’s passing, and is also an opportunity to celebrate life and share what made that person special to those who loved them. Because of this dual purpose, obituary writing often feels challenging, due to the great responsibility that the obituary writer carries both to the person who is gone, as well as to those left behind.

Samantha Maiden, Service Manager at National Cremation’s Tigard, Oregon office advised, “The most important thing to remember is, make it personal. The best obituaries are those that truly reflect and celebrate the life of your loved one. They tell a story about was really important to and special about them. Although we at National Cremation do not write obituaries, we are always happy to provide guidance and feedback if our families wish.”

Here are some general tips to keep in mind as you are writing and remembering your loved one.

  • If your goal is to have the obituary printed in the newspaper, check with their editor or obituary section manager first to determine if there is a maximum length or charge for going over a certain number of words. Review a few obituaries to see if there is a standard style, or whether and how a picture can be included. Find out the submission deadline, and determine if or how you will be charged. Most newspapers charge by the word to print an obituary that is over a certain number of words, so set your budget and word count accordingly.
  • Gather your information. Information that is usually found in an obituary includes:
    1. Full name, plus maiden name if applicable.
    2. Age and place of residence at time of death.
    3. Date and place of birth.
    4. Date or years of marriage and name of spouse or partner, as applicable.
    5. Date, time and place of memorial or funeral service if the information is available. If it is not yet available, you may provide the name of the funeral home or memorial location and direct inquiries to them.
  • Additional information that may also be appropriate for the obituary might include:
    1. Locations of any past residences, in particular those where the deceased may have lived for a long time or accomplished something noteworthy. You may also want to consider running the obituary in the newspaper in these locations as well.
    2. Names and residence of parents, especially if they are still living.
    3. Names and residences of children and grandchildren. If the list gets too long, these may simply be included in the obituary as “5 children and 10 grandchildren.”
    4. Vocation and place(s) of employment, especially if the person worked in one job for many years, or attained a high level of seniority/rank.
    5. Notable accomplishments, including higher education attained, degrees earned, offices held, or any military service.
    6. Community service or activities enjoyed, such as clubs, church, volunteer groups, hobbies or other activities that were important to your loved one.
    7. Personality traits or anecdotes that reflect what was special about your loved one.

Although deciding what to include in the obituary is up to each writer or family, one thing that most people do not include is details about the loved one’s manner of death. The exception is if it was a person who died in extraordinary or heroic circumstances, such as a military member killed in action.

Make arrangements to have someone else proofread the obituary, as they may think of something you might have missed, and can also help to ensure that the obituary is as complete and mistake free as possible. Obituaries that contain mistakes or which do not meet the newspaper’s style requirements may need to be edited or rewritten, and may not turn out as you intended.

Once you’ve gathered information, you are ready to write your loved one’s obituary. Allow yourself some time to reflect as you write and do not be afraid to be a bit creative.

The good news is, there is no right or wrong way to write an obituary. Certain information is usually included, but nothing is set in stone. Just remember that the purpose of an obituary is to focus on celebrating and honoring the life of the loved one.

If you have questions or need help writing an obituary, please contact National Cremation by filling the form out on this page.

Special thanks to Samantha Maiden, location manager of National Cremation Portland, OR for her support and contributions to this post.