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. However, writing an obit often feels challenging due to the writer’s responsibility for the person who has passed and those left behind.

Samantha Maiden, Service Manager at National Cremation’s Tigard, Oregon office, provided some advice on how to write an obit:

“The most important thing to remember is, make it personal. The best obituary is one that truly reflects and celebrates the life of your loved one. They tell a story about what was important to them and their legacy. Although we at National Cremation do not write obituaries, we are always happy to provide guidance and feedback if our families wish.”

So, how do you write an obituary? Here are some obit tips to keep in mind as you are writing and remembering your loved one:

Obit Writing Tip #1: Keep Track of Your Word Count

If your goal is to have a newspaper obituary, 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 obits to see if there is a standard style and how a picture can be included. Next, find out the submission deadline, and determine if or how you will be charged. Most newspapers charge by the word and have word count limits, so set your budget and word count accordingly.

 Obit Writing Tip #2: Provide General Information

Gather your information. Information that is generally found in an obit includes:

  • Full name, plus maiden name if applicable
  • Age and place of residence at time of death
  • Date and place of birth
  • Date or years of marriage and name of spouse or partner, as applicable
  • 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.

 Obit Writing Tip #3: Make it Personal

Additional information that may also be appropriate for the obituary might include:

  • Locations of past residences, particularly 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.
  • Names and residence of parents, especially if they are still living.
  • Names and residences of children and grandchildren. If the list gets too long, these may be included in the obituary as “Five children and ten grandchildren.”
  • 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.
  • Notable accomplishments, including higher education, attained, degrees earned, offices held, or any military service.
  • Community service or activities enjoyed, such as clubs, church, volunteer groups, hobbies, or other activities that were important to your loved one.
  • Personality traits or anecdotes that reflect what was special about your loved one.

Although deciding what to include in the obit is up to each writer or family, most people do not include 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.

 Obit Writing Tip #4: Take Steps to Avoid Errors

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. An obit that contains mistakes or does not meet the newspaper’s style requirements may need to be edited or rewritten and may not turn out as intended.

 There is No Right or Wrong Way to Write an Obituary

Once you’ve gathered information, you are ready to write your loved one’s obit. Allow yourself some time to reflect as you write, and do not be afraid to be a bit creative. If you’re still unsure of how to structure the obituary, take a look at these examples to help you get started.

If you would like to view some real-life examples, National Cremation also provides a section for obituaries on our website.

Besides the standards for word count and other rules from the publisher, when it comes to writing obituaries, there really are no rules. Certain information is usually included, but nothing is set in stone. Remember that the purpose of an obituary is to focus on celebrating and honoring the life of the loved one.

National Cremation is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of simple and affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan your cremation services in advance, we’re always available to assist you and your family. Contact us online or call (855)-469-9474 today.

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