How to write an obituary
The idea of writing an obituary for a loved one who has recently passed away can be daunting. This step-by-step guide will explain how to write an obituary, helping you to commemorate your loved one’s life and share details about their funeral.
What is an obituary?
An obituary is a written public announcement that someone has died, published in a newspaper or online, often providing an account of their life and details about the forthcoming funeral.
An obituary does not have to be sombre; it can be uplifting or even funny if you wish. The important thing is that it's heartfelt and true to the character of the person who has passed.
If you are unsure what the order of an obituary should look like or what information you should include, this guide will break down the process of writing an obituary in simple steps.
How to write an obituary for a loved one
1. Decide where to publish the obituary
If you would like the obituary to be published in a newspaper, you will likely have to pay a fee. If you write an online obituary, the guidelines are normally more relaxed, and you might not have to pay a fee.
Before writing the obituary for a newspaper, you could contact them and check:
o How much it will cost
o What the maximum word count is
o What their deadline is
2. Announce the death
The opening lines of an obituary should tell the reader basic information about your loved one:
o Full name
o Place of birth
o Date of death
o Place of death
You do not need to include the cause of death in the obituary if you are uncomfortable doing so. If you do plan on including this information, you should check with other family members that they are happy for you to do so.
Here are a few examples of an obituary introduction:
o ‘Dorothy Brown, 80, died peacefully at home on September 15th, surrounded by friends and family. She was born…’
o ‘It is with great sadness that the family of Dorothy Brown shares the news of her passing on September 15th, at the age of 80. Her great kindness and witty sense of humour will be sorely missed.’
o ‘Dorothy Brown, known to friends as Dot, passed away peacefully on September 15th, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Brighton at the age of 80.
o ‘On Wednesday, September 15th, Dorothy Brown, devoted mother, wife, granny and sister died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 80.
3. Recount details about their life
Most obituaries will describe the life led by the person who has died. You don’t have to include everything they’ve ever done in their obituary, in a concise manner, you should recount the most significant events and achievements in the deceased’s life (those that the deceased would have considered their biggest achievements. You don’t have to do this in chronological order, although that may help.
You may want to mention:
o Their parents’ names
o Where they went to school, college university and what they studied
o Awards they received
o Their hobbies and pastimes
o Sports teams they supported
o Any voluntary work they did or causes they cared about
o Who their partner was, how they met and how long they were together
o Their career (notable places they worked and their achievements there)
For some people, starting a family is their greatest joy and accomplishment in life, whereas for others their job may have been their biggest achievement. Everyone person is unique, as will their obituary be.
An example of this part of the obituary may read as follows:
‘She was born to Norman and Brenda 21st June 1940. After secondary school, Mary chased her dreams going on to study further to become a teacher at the local primary school, where she met her husband, William.
She loved to cook, kept an immaculate house, was highly skilled with knitting needles and crochet hooks, and enjoyed her weekly outings to play lawn bowls.’
4. Include surviving family members
Its customary to include family members and loved ones who have survived the deceased, as well as immediate family members who predeceased your loved one if you haven’t already done so within the details of their life. You might want to include something like:
‘Dorothy will be lovingly remembered by her husband of 50 years, William, and their two children, Robert and Rebecca. She will also be sorely missed by her grandchildren, Holly, James and Alex. Her elder brother, Alf, died just a few years earlier.’
5. Share details about the funeral
When writing an obituary, it is traditional to finish with information about the funeral service:
o When and where it will be held
o When and where the wake or reception will be
o Where mourners can send flowers and/or charitable donations
If you want to keep the funeral private, you do not have to mention the time and date of the funeral service or wake.
You may want to include a statement similar to the below:
‘The funeral service will be held at The Downs Crematorium, Rowan Road at 12pm on Thursday 30th September. All are welcome to attend. Please make any charitable donations to Marie Curie.’
6. Add a special message or poem
Some families choose to include a special message, short prayer or funeral poem at the end of an obituary. This may be a piece of writing that had significance to your loved one, or it may be a piece about bereavement and remembrance.
The choice to include a message or poem is completely personal to you and your family but can be a thoughtful way of remembering a loved one.
7. Choose an obituary photo, if you want to
You may want to include a photo of your loved one if your chosen publication accepts them. If you do want to include an obituary photo, you should choose a clear headshot of the deceased and one which they would have been happy with.
Once you’ve finished writing the obituary, read it back and make any changes that occur to you and check for any typing or grammar errors. You may also want to give the draft to a few other close family members or friends of the deceased to read and fact-check.