Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How to Write an Obituary

Have you ever thought about who would write your obituary? We have shared several interesting and fun obituaries on this blog that were written by the deceased themselves, (HERE & HERE) but have you ever thought about the kind of pressure you would have, having to write one for someone else? If you are being asked to write an obituary for someone else, odds are they were someone very near and dear to your heart, which could pose even more difficulties for you in writing something with a clear mind. Below are some key steps to take while drafting an obituary for your loved one that should help make this processes easier and help you not feel so overwhelmed.  

1. Get in touch with your local newspaper and/or Funeral Home. 

You need to make arrangements to print the obituary. By contacting your local newspaper, and your Funeral Home, you can learn what it will cost to have the obituary printed, the deadline for when it will need to be submitted, and when it will be printed. Plan to publish the obituary at least 1-2 days prior to services so that friends and family can make arrangements to attend. Also make sure to ask if they have specific guidelines for the obituary. Some Funeral Homes might even provide you with a form to help you with the drafting of the obituary. 

2. Biographical Sketch.

It is called a sketch because you are not supposed to include an entire live's biography in the obituary, but more of a broader picture of the person's life and important information. While there are things that make each person's life unique, we all have some common threads when it comes to milestones, and so here is a list of some important factors to include:
  • Full name of the deceased (including maiden name, nickname, or any other name by which your loved one might be identified)
  • Dates and locations of birth, marriage, and death
  • Cause of death
  • Predeceased and surviving loved ones’ names
  • Schools attended
  • Military service
  • Place of employment and position held
  • Membership in organizations (for example, civic, fraternal, church)
  • Hobbies or special interests

3. Family

The obituary is for the living too, and one of the most important parts is the listing of survivors and those who preceded your loved one in death (remember that preceded means to come before, while proceeded means moved through). In the confusion and preoccupation of grief, important relatives can be forgotten. It’s unfortunate if we forget to mention a hobby or interest, but it can be painful if we forget to mention a step-child or sister.

Typically you list survivors first, starting with the closest relations: spouse, children, grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren, parents, and siblings. If any of these relations are nonexistent or have died, skip and move to the next relation. Nieces, nephews in-laws, and cousins are usually left out, or simply numbered unless they were close to the deceased. Grandchildren and greats are often numbered too, and if you not sure you have all the names, use a number or say ‘many grandchildren’ to avoid leaving anyone out. List relatives with their first name, spouse’s first name in parenthesis, then surname. If the spouse’s surname is different, or the couple is not married, include the partner’s surname in the parenthesis along with their first name.

4. Service Times

If services are public, include full funeral service information: location, day, and time of visitation, memorial or funeral service, and burial.  If services are private, indicate so (for example, "Burial will be private" or "Private services will be held").

5. Be Unique

With all the standard and important information that is included, your obituary can easily become stale and uniform. Make your loved ones obituary unique by showing how they stood out as an individual. Using specific examples that made them unique or stand out will help illustrate and bring to life the person you are honoring and remembering. What was a quirky habit they had? Did her sense of humor brighten your life, did he always make time for the kid’s games? Did she make guests feel welcome? Paint her picture in the obituary with these details. Ask loved one's for their input here as well. Ask for details they recall, or loved about the person. How did they look or dress? What made them happy? Try and be creative with these details because this is what really highlights the individual! Try to remember specific instances where she made a difference in the lives of others. Such information inspires people and helps them connect with the deceased.

6. Special Messages

At the end of an obituary a special message is sometimes found, such as ‘in lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to..’ or ‘Special Thanks to the staff at General Hospital for..’ or ‘We will always carry your memory in our hearts’. Sometimes a short prayer or a line from a poem is placed at the end. These messages are optional, but can be a way of communicating something that did not fit into the body of the obituary.

7. Photos

Photos add to the cost of an obituary, but can be a pleasant reminder of the person we miss, and a useful way for readers to recognize our loved one among all the other obituaries. It’s a great treat to see old photos and to be reminded of all the living that happened before old age and death, but friends may not recognize the person in the photo, so if you are wanting to use a dated photo it would be smart to include a recent shot as well.

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