A Guide to Crafting a Meaningful Memorial
When you write an obituary, it’s so that you can announce the news that a loved one has died. Family, friends, former colleagues, and the community will want to know details about the viewing, memorial service, or funeral, and any plans for a burial.
You also may wish to add a summary that personalizes the life and legacy of your loved one, and acknowledges the surviving family members. In some cases, a cause of death and preference for any donations to a health-related or community organization may be included.
This article offers ideas on how to honor a loved one or even write an obituary for yourself ahead of time. Even if you’ve never written an “obit” before, you’ll learn how by following a step-by-step approach.
Planning the Obituary
As you plan your loved one’s obituary (or your own), first check with the funeral home or similar service that’s handling end-of-life arrangements.
These agencies will often help people who need to write an obituary. They may have a guide for obituary writing that’s part of a planning overview. They also may have an online platform where you can place a digital obituary, and invite people to share memories, images, and video.
Some are free, so check with the service provider. With newspapers, call ahead to check on the rates. Expect a charge of $200 to $500 for a “short” obit (often up to 300 words) and up to $1,000 for a “long” one with a photo.
That way, you’ll know how to plan the length of the obituary ahead of time, or make adjustments that align with your loved one’s and family wishes in the space that you’ll have.1
Writing an Obituary, Step by Step
First, you’ll want to collect the information you need. You also can decide on a family member or friend who will help in the process of writing an obituary.
It may help to ask people who knew your loved one from teams, clubs, or faith-based and community groups to contribute information, alongside those who may have worked with them.
Select your preferred tool, whether you’re writing with pen and paper or on a computer. Many people will want to use a template for an obituary that’s easy to use in digital form, but you can follow this step-by-step approach on paper too.
Basic Obituary Facts
An obituary needs to include key details about your loved one. These basic facts include:
- The full name of the deceased
- Their age
- Where the deceased lived
- Their date and place of birth
- The date and place of death
- The date and cause of death (which the family may wish to withhold)
You’ll start with a basic announcement of the death that clearly states your loved one (name, age, hometown) died. You might add that the death was suddenly, or expected after a long illness, with the time and place of death.
The place can be specific or, if you prefer, you might simply say they were surrounded by family.
Summary of Life
When writing an obituary, you’ll want to include a brief summary of the deceased’s life. This is a way to honor them and the meaning their life held, but also to help other people remember them.
You can be straightforward, moving from one fact to another. You can be more heartfelt, or even humorous. You also may already know what your loved one wanted to include and plan to stay faithful to their ideas.
There really is no “right way” to write an obituary. But most obituaries will next include the person’s birth information, including the place and their parents. It’s common to include their job and career information, if it applies. You may want to add any educational achievements.
A detail or two about their community activities, favorite hobbies, or their faith-community membership would be included here, too. Choose the things that reflect the identity of your loved one and how their life was shared with family and friends.
It’s better to gather “too much” information early on. You can always edit and/or shorten your obituary later.
Family Names in an Obituary
An obituary also focuses on family, both those who died before your loved one and the survivors who are honoring your loss. So you’ll include both living and deceased family members.
If you’ve included the full names of the deceased’s parents earlier, you don’t need to repeat them here. What you’ll want to do is describe the family members in order of the closest relationships.
A spouse or partner, and any children, are typically listed first. The spouses or partners of children also are listed but set off with parenthesis so that it looks like Child (Partner’s First Name). Then siblings, also listed with their partners if preferred
Any grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-family members, or cherished and special friends should be included. Be sure to write the total number of grandchildren or great-grandchildren, even if you do list them by name.
It’s not unusual for people who died before your loved one to be listed separately. A “preceding them in death” paragraph can include those who have not already been mentioned.
Funeral or Memorial Details
An obituary is meant to share details about any funeral and memorial services. If you plan to invite the public, be clear that this is the case. If your ceremony is private, be clear about that, too.
For a public memorial, simply invite “family and friends” to the service. When you write the obituary, make sure people have information that includes:
Be sure to include any other information that may be helpful to those attending the service. That includes the name of the funeral home, and any memorial website to honor your loved one’s life.
It’s common to ask people who might otherwise have sent flowers or a gift to make a donation instead. There’s a good chance that your loved one may have already told you their wishes about donations to a charity or memorial fund.
If not, then the choice is up to the family. Just be sure to name the charity or memorial fund to which donations should be sent. An address helps, too.
Checking the Facts
Obituaries are more than a matter of public record. They can become lifelong keepsakes for the people left behind. You’ll want to be sure it’s right, both now and in the future.
You can work with another family member or a friend to proofread your obituary writing and make sure all the facts are correct and that no one was missed in the family list.
Be sure that the spellings of names and places are right. That’s especially important if titles like “Dr.” or abbreviations like “Jr.” are needed to differentiate between people.< Sometimes, the ears are better than the eyes when it comes to improving the tone of a story. So, always give it one last read aloud, so that you can "hear" the tone, the facts, and any changes you'll want to make before publishing it.
Edit the obit first, then proofread it. Editing involves revising, reorganizing, and rewriting sentences for clarity. Proofreading is checking details like spelling and punctuation. You’re bound to catch more when you focus on one task at a time.
Structuring an obituary is largely a matter of choice; no two are alike. But readers expect to learn some generic information about the deceased, including basic facts, a life summary, list of relatives, and details about the final service.
Before you get too carried away with writing, check current rates that newspaper and online platforms charge to run an obit. The difference in price may influence your preferred word count.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What should be included in an obituary?
- The full name of the deceased, including nicknames
- The age of the deceased at the time of death
- The city or town of residence at the time of death
- A list of immediate surviving family members
- A brief summary of the deceased’s life
- Memorial or funeral details with the address and date
- Details about charities or memorial funds to send a donation
- Should the cause of death be in a obituary?
Check with the deceased’s spouse or family members before publishing the cause of death. In some cases, the family may prefer to keep this detail private. In such cases, you can use a euphemism like “passed after a long illness” or “passed suddenly.” Or you can sidestep the subject entirely and not mention it at all.
- What should be excluded from an obituary?
Obituaries should not be written in the first person. This means you should not use the word “I”. Remember that an obituary is not a personal tribute. You should also exclude personal addresses and phone numbers.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
An obituary should be informative. Be sure to include: