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What to Include When Writing an Obituary

If you’re expecting or already grieving the loss of a loved one, let us be the first to share our sincere condolences. Writing an obituary after losing your loved one can feel incredibly daunting, but most of our clients share that with our support and guidance, writing the obituary ended up being therapeutic and a welcome task during an otherwise challenging time. We hope this guide helps.

The purpose of the obituary

First, let’s talk about the purpose of the obituary. In it’s simplest form, an obituary serves to inform others of the death and share important details surrounding the viewing and funeral service. However, most obituaries also serve to provide a meaningful biography of sorts, summarizing the life and legacy of the decedent for loved ones now and in the future.

Before you get started

Whether you’re writing the obituary yourself or working with the funeral home to write it, the first step is gathering important information to include. Things you might want to know include:

  • full name, date of birth and death, place of birth and death, age at the time of death, cause of death (if the family chooses to include it), and where he or she lived when they passed away
  • a summary of their life: where they grew up and went to school, the full names of their parents (including mother’s maiden name), who they married and when, the names of their children, where they lived throughout different stages of their lives, their education, religion, and their career history
  • any significant contributions he or she made during the course of life, such as volunteerism, major donations, or community projects
  • his or her interests and hobbies; how they passed their free time and made memories with loved ones
  • favorite memories or stories about your loved one
  • a list of both living and deceased relatives, including parents, grandparents, spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and step-family members (as well as the first name of any partners of these relatives)
  • date, time, and location of the viewing, funeral, and burial services
  • organizations the family has agreed upon for donations in lieu of flowers

Be sure to reach out to other family members who may remember different stories or facts to include.

Writing the obituary

The first paragraph of an obituary is the announcement of death. Here’s an example: “With great sadness, we announce the peaceful passing of Aaron James Johnson, 82, on Monday, August 24th, 2020, at Jamestown General Hospital.”

The body of the obituary includes details of the decedent’s life, generally in chronological order: when, where, and to whom they were born; details about their childhood and teen years; post-secondary history like where they went to college, when they met their spouse, where they worked, and details surrounding their children, if they had any; career details and information about where they lived and what they did; and then the details of their passing if you choose to share.

Many families elect to use the obituary to further an important cause that contributed to the death of their loved one: cancer research, a religious message, or the need for better mental health or addiction services. Other families choose to keep sensitive subjects private and don’t include them in the obituary. There is no right or wrong approach; whatever feels the most right for you and your loved ones and brings you the most peace as you grieve and celebrate the life of the decent is the approach you should take.

The paragraph following the life story should summarize family: first those your loved one was survived by and then those your loved one was predeceased by. List children, grandchildren, and siblings in order of date of birth and list any spouses’ first names in parentheses immediately following the family member’s name, like this: Jane (Eric) Biel. It is okay to include or exclude pets depending on their role in the life of the decedent.

Next, share the details of the memorial. When and where is the memorial service? When and where is the reception? Share the place of internment and provide a phone number to call for more information, even if there isn’t a service planned.

The final paragraph is the closing and usually includes any memorial funds that have been established in the decedent’s honor, suggestions for memorial donations, and acknowledgment to those who have been most helpful during and after the passing (like ambulance, hospital, or long-term care staff), if applicable.

Checking for errors and omissions

Writing the obituary is often considered an honor and supports the healing process after the loss of a loved one. Although not everyone can write the obituary, involving family members in any way possible can help them feel as if they contributed and support their healing, too. One way to include more people is to ask a few family members to proofread the obituary, not only for grammatical or spelling errors but also for errors and omissions surrounding your loved one’s life story and family.

Be sure to have at least one family member, in addition to the team at Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery, proofread the obituary. While your team at the funeral home should catch grammatical errors or misspellings, they’re less likely to catch a great story that you missed telling or an affiliation with a charity that meant a lot and isn’t mentioned. You need family for that.

The short obituary

Newspapers typically charge per word when publishing obituaries. For this reason, some families choose a short obituary to reduce word count and manage funeral expenses. All of the guidelines above apply in this case, but the life story is left out, leaving the obituary to look like this:

  • announcement of death
  • family, both survived by and predeceased by
  • details of the memorial service
  • memorial funds and donation suggestions

To learn more about preparing for or planning funeral services or to explore your options, visit us at San Tan Mountain View Funeral Home today. Our compassionate team of experts is here to help, guide, and support you.

Social Sharing:

  1. mp3 says:

    Written beautifully, Doug. You made me cry. Love all of you. Congratulations and never forget what you have so eloquently written. Conni Vergil Nafis

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