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Writing an Obituary

When I was in college, a portion of my final exam in Freshman English was to write my own obituary.  I could be as creative and fanciful as I chose to be, after all, it wasn’t real.  But even given those parameters I froze and couldn’t think of a thing to write under such stress! If you’re having difficulty writing a beautiful obituary for someone that you love don’t let the stress overwhelm you!  Words may not come as quickly as you wish them to and you may be tempted to fall back on basic facts and figures, but you can find the words if you follow these suggestions.

An obituary can serve many purposes beyond the notice of death and the announcement of services.  A well written obituary is a portrayal of a loved one that will not only memorialize them for generations to come but allow others the opportunity to discover the uniqueness of their individual life.  It can be composed of both traditional and unique elements that celebrate your loved one.   As you begin writing, decide what elements you would like to use in your obituary and organize them in outline form.   A good outline might go as follows:  life story, family record, service information, appreciation for caregivers, request of memorial contributions, final words.  Once you have decided on the the outline it’s time to fill in the particulars.

Life Story

The most important sentence is the first one written and can set the tone for the entire obituary.  Imagine you are introducing your loved one to someone they have never met before.  Use their entire name and any nicknames that they used, then continue to let their life story unfold in a natural progression.

  1. State the date and place of death. You may also include the manner of death if you wish.
  2. State the date and place of birth along with the names of parents.
  3. Describe educational achievements, military service, and employment. Remember, an obituary isn’t a resume so keep this section brief.  Only describe the highlights and unique aspects of your loved one’s life.
  4. Describe your loved one’s values, talents, passions, and interests. Use these questions to help you determine what you would like to say:
  5. How would you describe your loved one in three to six words?
  6. What were your loved one’s favorite activities?
  7. What are your favorite memories of your loved one?
  8. What aspect of your loved one’s life would they want the world to know about?

Family Record

  1. List the names of living family members: spouse, children (you may include their spouses if you wish), grandchildren, parents, brothers and sisters.  You may also list the city relatives live in if desired.  Resist the urge to list every name of every family member and in-law.  It is acceptable to list family members in groups, for instance “she is survived by many loving nieces, nephews and cousins.”
  2. List the names of deceased family members. Keep this list down to close relatives such as parents, spouse, children, brother, sisters or grandchildren.

Service Information

Describe what kind of service you will be having:  funeral, memorial service, rosary, mass, celebration of life, or graveside service. Include the day, date, time and place (including the address) of each separate portion of the service.

Appreciation for Caregivers

You may feel gratitude for the caregivers that have provided service to your loved one.  Even if you have already privately thanked them, it is always nice to be openly acknowledged.

Memorial Contributions

Many people wish to make contributions to charities instead of sending flowers.  Include the name and address (URL or physical) of the charity or organization you would like to receive contributions in your loved one’s name.

Final Wisdom

This may sound like an unusual inclusion, but remembering a loved one through their words can be extremely comforting!  Does your loved one have a favorite saying that you wish to be remembered?  Did they have a favorite scripture?  What is the most important thing that they taught you? What would they like their last words to be?

Finalizing the Obituary

Ending an obituary is as important as beginning one.  Follow these steps to ensure that your obituary is concise and ready for publication.

  1. Edit for length, especially if you are wanting to publish the obituary in a newspaper. The cost of an obituary can be very high so consider having a short obituary for the newspaper and a longer obituary on a funeral home website.  Feel free to omit any element that doesn’t apply to your loved one’s situation.  You may also add an element that is unique, however, make sure that you’re not overwhelming the reader with so much information that they will stop reading.
  2. Proof your work, then get someone else to proof your work paying special attention to names, dates, spelling and grammatical errors!

Once you have finished the obituary have it published online and in print if you wish.  Make sure that you share it with family and friends.  The poet, Thomas Campbell wrote, “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”  An obituary allows your loved one to be remembered in the heart of a reader for generations to come.

By, Judy Bulsiewicz

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