How to Write an Obituary
Writing an obituary is an act of love that can accomplish many things. At its core, an obituary is a declaration of loss, an acknowledgement of grief, and an expression of joy all-in-one. It celebrates the life of a loved one in a way that few other ways can.
Beyond what an obituary can accomplish emotionally, an obituary also has logistic importance, as it acts as an official notice of death that lets the community know of a loss. Historically, this communication of a death would happen via newspaper, where a family member would pay a newspaper several hundred dollars to publish an obituary and obituaries would be listed on an obituary section of the paper. However, on Wonderful Life, you can write and publish an obituary online when you create a free online memorial website for a loved one. In addition to acting as a death announcement, an obituary can also be used to communicate service, burial, and memorial information and prescribe ways to donate to a cause, send flowers, volunteer, and help the bereaved.
An obituary is also a final tribute to a life well-lived, as it briefly recounts a loved one’s life as a short biography. It can be used to portray the arch of a loved ones life – from birth, through life, and arriving at death – and provide a symbolic closure to a person’s story.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to write an obituary. We've also written a few obituary templates for you in case you need to write your own. We hope this obituary writing help can provide you with the tools you need to honor a loved one while also following traditional practices.
1. Announce the death
Writing a death announcement in the first paragraph serves the purpose of letting the community know the details surrounding the loss of a loved one. Typically included in a death announcement are a loved one’s name, age, and place of residence, along with the time and place of death.
When writing a death announcement, it is common to use any of the following phrases:
- Beloved mother, sister, and friend
- Peacefully passed away
- Died after a long struggle with
- Passed after a hard fought battle with
- Entered fully into the presence of his Lord and Savior on August 13, 2017
- Returned to his heavenly home on January 29, 2014
As you write a death announcement, be sure to think about how the message will be perceived by friends, family, and the bereaved. For example, when you consider if you will write that a loved one “died” or “peacefully passed away,” what tone do you feel would be most appropriate for the context in which your loved one passed? Some may think that “died” is too strong, while others may prefer to state the facts as they are rather than use softer words like “pass.”
Another example would be the difference between “long struggle with” or “hard fought battle with.” Depending on the appropriate tone and context, there may be an argument for choosing one way of wording a phrase over another.
2. Tell their story as a brief biography
The biography section of an obituary is an impactful way of honoring the life of a loved one in a few paragraphs. There isn’t a defined maximum or minimum requirement for writing a biography, so don’t feel discouraged to write more if you feel like adding personal stories or emotions. But typically a brief biography will include important life events and milestones such as:
- Date and place of birth
- Parent’s names including mother’s maiden name in parentheses e.g. William and Jane (Maiden name) Johnson
- Date and place of marriage, including birth name of spouse
- Military Service
- Passions and hobbies
Tip: Before you begin writing an obituary, make sure to interview friends and family to gather notes about their life. While not every memory will be able to make it into the brief biography, your time interviewing family members can help you place a loved one’s life events in chronological order and discover passions and hobbies you may not have known about a loved one–not to mention also being a therapeutic exercise when grieving the loss of a loved one.
As you write a biography, be sure to consider how you might bring a loved one’s story to life with a few anecdotes, memories, and even inside jokes that readers might appreciate. Remember: this is an opportunity to commemorate a loved one in a way that they would want to be remembered. If they loved music, why not list a few of their favorite songs! Of course it’s all up to you.
3. Name their family members
Naming a loved one’s family members when writing an obituary has a lot of value. For one, it gives community members a way to know who is a part of the family and therefore who might be grieving and need attention. Additionally, naming family members can serve the purpose of honoring those who have previously passed while making a tribute to the bereaved.
There are two key phrases that you need to be able to differentiate to avoid confusion and possibly even embarrassing family members:
- When listing family members who are still living, it is common to use phrases such as “survived by”.
- When listing family members who have previously passed away, it is common to use the phrase “preceded in death by” or “predeceased by.”
Remember: when listing family members, it's best practice to include close family such as parents, siblings, a spouse, children, and grandchildren. It’s common to name parents, siblings, a spouse, and children while it is less common to name all grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
Once you’ve identified the list of family members who you will want to include when writing an obituary, its common to use a semicolon (;) to indicate a pause between two statements. See an example of how to mention family members:
Bob is survived by his wife, three children and eight grandchildren as well as his sisters, Nila (Gigi), Nina, Norri, Dede and Carrie; his brothers, Danny and Mike (Toot); Son-in-Law Eric Jahnke; Daughter-in-Law Maia Conkey and numerous nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his parents.
4. Outline service times, locations, and details
It is common for obituaries to list out funeral events, locations, times, and details so that community members know when and how to attend any events taking place. See an example of how to list funeral events:
A Memorial Service will be held at the American Legion Post 398 in Mound, MN on Thursday November 16 at 12pm (noon) followed by a banquet to celebrate Bobby's life; all are welcome.
Tip: On Wonderful Life, it’s easy to list out funeral events with rich information such as maps in an elegant design. In addition, you can collect RSVPs to funeral events to make it easier to plan for the number of people who will attend the funeral events.
5. Special messages
Special messages are optional, but can add a touching finish to an already emotional obituary. Common special messages that are included at the end of an obituary include:
- Thanks given to the staff of a certain hospital including doctors and nurses
- “Flowers can be sent to” is a phrase commonly used to help instruct community members on ways in which they can send flowers. You can specify that “flowers can be purchased on Wonderful Life here” if it makes it easier. Of course if you prefer to deter community members from donating flowers, you can use the phrase “in lieu of flowers” to instruct community members on other ways they can contribute.
- A short prayer or poem can also add a nice touch
Photos can typically be added to obituaries published on newspapers for an additional fee. If you’re planning on publishing your obituary on Wonderful Life, it’s free to create a page where you can share memories and collect pictures, memories, and condolences as part of creating an online memorial.
It’s important to get obituary writing help since an obituary can help express what’s at times hard to say, especially while grieving. An obituary can help acknowledge and announce the death so that a community may come together, commemorate a life well lived, and be provided with ways that they can participate in celebrating the life of a loved one. The best obituaries aren’t ones that are the most expensive to publish in a newspaper, rather obituaries that are well-written and are written from the heart are ones that stand out and stay with people forever.
Interested in publishing an obituary for free? Create a memorial website for a loved one on Wonderful Life to get started and add an obituary, funeral events, track RSVPs, add photos, and more.