How to write an obituary

small__3628798841When you lose someone close to you – particularly if he or she was a known figure in your community and/or beyond – you may be asked to write an obituary.

This is not the same as a death announcement. An obituary is a longer piece of writing that summarizes your loved one’s life and achievements, as a tribute to them.

For a list of all 12 articles in this series on how to write well to people dealing with death, bereavement and other life sadness, click here. 

And because the need for an obituary is going to arise very soon after your loved one’s passing, you may find some help on how to write this particularly useful…

In some countries, funeral directors offer clients the option of opening an online memorial to their loved one which includes an obituary and other information, plus a guestbook in which people can sign their names and share their memories of the person. I think this is a lovely idea and wish it would become more common in the UK where I live.

How come famous people’s obits appear as soon as they’ve passed away?

Simple, and sad. Newspapers, their online brethren and other media outlets compile obituaries for famous people – particularly when those people are getting on in age – ready and waiting, so the publication concerned can just click a few things and up the obit goes into the publication concerned.

At one time I worked on an online women’s magazine (of which the owner and some of the contributors were rank amateurs, not professional online journalists/editors) and I got lambasted by some of them because I uploaded some obits for very elderly public figures.

You may also find the following articles helpful:
How to write a death announcement
What to write when someone has died
How to write a letter of sympathy when someone dies
How to write a eulogy

It was hard to explain to the amateurs, in particular, that “banking” obituaries for ageing public figures is not a cynical thing to do, but rather, is a respectful thing to do so that as soon as these people pass away, the magazine’s respect can be established. But I digress.

How should YOU write an obituary?

Having just Googled “how to write an obituary” I found 61.3million results, so you won’t be short on conventional advice wherever you live and in whatever culture you exist. But despite there being, potentially, 61.3million different ways of doing it, I suspect we can narrow all this down to some key issues which may help you.

If your loved one was a well-known public figure, summarize his or her main achievements and be sure to say how those benefited the intended recipients. Don’t just list the achievements by themselves; you want people to know what a positive difference your loved one made.

Don’t let your loved one’s shyness and reserve trouble him or her now. S/he may have been very modest, and although you should respect that to a certain extent, if you’re proud of what s/he achieved – say so. You have every right to be proud.

Try to include everything about your loved one that is “worth mentioning” including things that might mean something even to old friends and associates that you don’t know.

Also don’t be afraid – especially in the case of a public figure – to emphasise what a wonderful human being s/he was to his/her family.

Good luck with your writing of this obituary; be proud of your loved one, and be proud of your writing that shares what a great person s/he was.


While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family – from just $2.50

photo credit: OliBac via photopin cc




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