Writing an Obituary

What is an Obituary?

An obituary is an opportunity to remember and celebrate the life of a loved one, to express your sadness at their death and celebrate the joy that they brought to those who knew them. It may also provide practical details about the funeral or memorial service. 

Traditionally, obituaries have been placed in local or national newspapers. In recent years, however, on-line obituaries have become increasingly popular as a way to inform family and friends. Photos and memories can be posted of the person who has died, creating a unique and lasting memory of their life.

How to Write an Obituary

It can be very hard to write an obituary when you have lost someone you love. The following information may help you with this difficult task.

Publishing the Obituary

First, decide where you wish to publish the obituary as this may influence the number of words you write.

Traditionally, obituaries were written for free by newspapers and magazines on the lives of selected individuals. These days, most publications accept paid-for obituaries.

If you are placing one in a local or national newspaper, you will probably be charged per word (although most newspapers allow a short obituary with a link to a website for more detailed information). Remember to check the deadline for publication.

On-line obituaries have become increasingly popular as a way to inform family and friends. Photos and memories can be posted, creating a lasting commemoration of their life. This can be a less expensive way to inform a greater number of people in a short amount of time. To find companies that provide this service, see Digital Memorials in the Providers section of whiteballoon.

To help you write the obituary, it may help to create a timeline of their life which you can add to as you gather information from family and friends.

Announcing a Death

Start the obituary by announcing the death of your loved one. Provide their name, together with a brief description, their age, and the date of their death. Some people choose to also include the cause of their death, for example ‘after a short illness’.

Provide a Short Biography of Their Life

This may include the following information:

  • place and date of birth
  • places they have lived and loved
  • details of close family and friends
  • education and employment history
  • favourite hobbies
  • any notable skillsaccomplishments or achievements
  • their character, capturing the essence of who they were and how they touched people’s lives

Try and bring as much warmth and feeling in to it as possible, maybe including funny stories, a favourite poem or a meaningful quote.

Family Members and Close Friends

While you do not have to mention every relative, it’s important to include close family members and maybe special friends, including those who have already passed away.

Funeral Information

If the obituary is also an announcement of death, you will need to provide the date, time, and location of the funeral and whether it is a private or public service. If there is to be a post-funeral gathering or memorial service at a later date you may wish to include details of this too. Let people know if flowers are welcome or if charitable donations are preferred.

How to End an Obituary

Some people like to end an obituary with an appreciation of the life of their loved one, what they meant to their family and friends, and any particular values or lessons that they have passed on. Finally, a short prayer, an inspirational quote or a line from a favourite poem or reading – and maybe a little message saying thank you to the staff at a particular hospital or hospice.

Every obituary is unique. There are no set rules; the length, structure and content of an obituary will depend on personal choice, where it is being published, and possibly your budget.

A Traditional Obituary

To guide you, here is an example of a short obituary:

James Donald died peacefully on 20th October 2019, aged 85, after a short illness. Beloved husband of Sarah and much loved and loving father of Alice and Oliver. An adored son, brother, uncle and son-in-law.

James attended Bristol University where he studied Geography and was an active and enthusiastic member of the University’s rugby team. He went on to become Head of Geography at Stamford College. James was an avid football fan, supporting Chelsea from a very young age. His real passion in life, however, were his family and close friends. Nothing gave James greater pleasure than a family gathering, a glass of wine in hand.

His funeral service will be held at St. James’s Church, Church Street, Bristol BS2 6GU at 2pm on Sunday 27th October 2019. All family and friends are welcome. No flowers. Please make any charitable donations to Macmillan Cancer Research.

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