Writing Down a Life: Crafting the Obituary
An obituary serves as notification that an individual has passed away and details of the services that are to take place. But it can be far more than that. A well-crafted obituary can detail the life of the deceased, with style.
An obituary’s length may be somewhat dictated by the space available (and the related costs) in the newspaper it is to appear in. Therefore it’s best to check how much room you have before you begin your composition. An obituary typically appears in print a few days prior to the memorial service. There are some cases where this may not be possible, therefore give some consideration to the guidelines below when composing the obituary.What Should You Include?
Naturally, it is reasonable to have the full name, along with the location and date of passing included so that there is no confusion over who has died.
You may wish to consider placing a photograph (which may appear in black & white or in color depending on the newspaper’s format) with the text. There are usually extra charges applied if you are thinking of using a photograph.
If you wish, mention where the deceased resided. Do not include the street address, for security reasons; just mention the city and region/state/province/county.
Add the Names of Those Left Behind…as Well as Those Who Went Ahead
It is common to include a list of those who have survived the deceased, in addition to those who passed away prior to the death of your loved one. The list might include (where applicable):
- spouse, partner, or companion
- children, adopted children, and step-children
- parents, step-parents
- siblings, half- and step-siblings
- grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren
If you don’t know where to start, do read other obituaries to gain an idea of how personal and touching an obituary may be. There is a blank sample obituary at the bottom of this page which you may also find useful.
Do use such terms as “visitation will be from” or “friends may call from”. Do not say the deceased will “lie in state” as that only applies to a head of state such as the prime minister or president.
Use of the phrase “in lieu of flowers” when memorial donations are to be requested limits how readers can express their sympathy. Perhaps they want to send flowers to the family. Unless you are adamant that flowers are not wanted, you may want to start the final paragraph of the obituary with the words “Memorial donations may be made to” and then state the charity’s name.
If you wish, send the obituary to newspapers in other cities or towns where the deceased may have resided previously.
Obtain copies of the obituary to send to distant relatives and friends.
Any and all information to be included in the obituary should be verified with another family member. A newspaper will have to verify with the funeral home being utilized that the deceased is in fact being taken care of by that funeral home.
Seeing as most newspapers charge by the word when placing an obituary, it may not always be feasible to mention everything that we have stated in our guidelines. Use your own discretion and do not put yourself under any financial hardship. Your loved one would understand.
We provide free on our website, where the obituary can be available for anyone with access to the internet to view. It is also a place where friends and family can leave messages of condolence.