Writing an Obituary

When faced with the death of a loved one and given the opportunity to write an obituary, the best approach is with the utmost care and thought. The obituary, like the funeral service, notifies the public of your loved one's passing.

The purpose of an obituary is to notify the public of an individual’s passing and relay the details of the services. It can also detail the life of the deceased. The length of an obituary may vary, but the length may be limited by budgetary constraints or the space available in the newspaper. If you choose to publish your loved one’s obituary in the newspaper, as is traditional, it would be best to check how much space is available and the pricing options available. However, there are newer options available when it comes to obituaries, due to the advent and popularity of the internet. Funeral home websites can often offer a larger space on which to publish your loved one’s obituary. Obituaries should be published a few days before the viewing, funeral, or memorial service. Sometimes this isn’t possible, so following the guidelines below can help when composing an obituary.

 

Questions to Ask

These questions should get you thinking...

  • How did you and the deceased become close?
  • Is there a humorous or touching event that represents the essence of your passed loved one?
  • What did you and others love and admire about the deceased?
  • What will you miss most about him or her?
  • Some of the simplest thoughts are deeply touching and easy for those congregated to identify with. For example, "I'll miss her smile," or "I'll never forget the way he crinkled his nose when he laughed," are just as good as "I admired her selflessness."

 

What should I include?

The most important details to include are the full name of the deceased, and the location and date of their passing. This helps to eliminate any confusion over who has died. You might want to consider adding a photograph, though it may cost extra to do so. Other details you might want to mention is where the deceased lived, though you shouldn’t include the full address - for security reasons. This information should be followed with information about important events that occurred in the deceased’s life - education, career, interests, etc.

 

Tips

  • Be honest and focus on the person's positive qualities.
  • Humor is acceptable if it fits the personality of the deceased.
  • "If you are inclined to be a perfectionist, lower your expectations and just do what you can given the short time-frame and your emotional state," writes Schaeffer in "Labor of Love."
  • Keep it brief. Five to ten minutes is the norm, but it's a good idea to verify that with the minister or funeral director.
  • Interviewing family and friends will give you more ideas.
  • Put the eulogy on paper - at least in outline form.

 

Finally...

Any information placed in an obituary should be verified with a family member - regardless of whether the obituary is placed in a newspaper or on a website or both. The newspaper has a responsibility to verify with the funeral home that the deceased is, in fact, being taken care of there.

When placing an obituary in a newspaper, please be aware that most newspapers charge by the word. Due to budgetary reasons, you may not be able to include everything you want to - and that’s okay. Do you think that your loved one would want you to endure a financial hardship on top of the grief you may already be feeling?

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