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.
In a concise manner, write about the significant events in the life of the deceased. This may include the schools he or she attended and any degrees attained; you may also include any vocations or interests that the deceased was involved with.
Additional information such as where the body will be laid to rest may be mentioned. At this point list the details of the time and location of any services for the deceased: these may include the visitation, rosary, funeral, memorial service, interment, or inurnment where appropriate.
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
siblings, half- and step-siblings
grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren
The relatives listed above may be listed by name. Some relatives might not be mentioned by name but could be included in terms of their relationship to the deceased. In other words, the obituary may mention that the deceased had 5 grandchildren, or 7 great-grandchildren.
Tips for Crafting a Complete Obituary
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 online memorials on our website, through "Book of Memories", 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, light a memorial candle, or share photographs and videos.
(Name), age (years), passed away on (date). He/She was a resident of (city) for (number) years and was formerly a resident of (former city). He/She was a (occupation title).
(Name) was born on (date) to (father’s name) and (mother’s first name) (_(maiden last name in parenthesis)_) (married last name) in (city, state). On (date) he/she married (spouse’s name) in (city, state).
(Name or nickname) was fond of (hobby). He/She also enjoyed (other hobby), and had an appreciation for (another hobby). He/She was a member of (church or organization name) and attended (high school or college name) school, and graduated in (year). He/She served in the United States (branch of service), for (number) years.
He/She is survived by his/her loving wife/husband, (name); his/her children: (names); his/her parents: (names); his/her siblings: (names); his/her grandchildren: (names); and his/her great-grandchildren: (names). He/She was preceded in death by (names).
A visitation will be held from (start time) to (end time) on (day), (date) at (location). A (funeral, memorial, Mass, etc.) service will be held at (time) on (day), (date) at (name of location), (address of location). (entombment / interment / inurnment / scattering) will be at the (name of Mausoleum / Columbarium / Rose Gardens / Cemetery). A reception will be held following the (type of service) at (name of location), (address of location).
Memorials in (name or nickname)’s name may be made to the (name of charitable organization), (mailing address or website address of charitable organization).