Dwayne was a sweet and interesting father-in-law.  The very first time I met him, he spray painted the side of my car.

It was my first Sunday dinner with my now husband’s entire family.  I was driving a cute, little, white Geo Metro convertible at the time.  A tow truck had recently damaged the side panel, taking out a chunk of paint.  Somewhere between chicken and noodles and the fresh strawberry pie for dessert, Dwayne spotted the damage, found a half-empty can of spray paint in the garage, and painted over the damaged area.Dwayne Hanson of Nevada, Iowa, sitting in a recliner.

That’s the kind of guy he was.  Dwayne saw something that needed fixed and fixed it.  He rarely asked for permission and never expected a thank you or payment.  Dwayne did it because it needed doing.  He was extremely generous.

I knew I needed to capture his generosity in his obituary.

How to write an obituary

It sounds morbid when I admit this, but I mentally start writing people’s obituaries years before they are needed.  I take note of good characteristics others recognize in them, study the values they live their lives by, remember their favorite stories and memories, and watch the impact they make on others.

Writing an obituary is a big job.  You must define an entire life in a few short paragraphs.  You need the facts and dates, but more importantly, you need the stories to keep this person alive for future generations.  A good obituary will make your readers get a lump in their throat as they half cry, half laugh their way through it.

5 key areas in an obituary

When I write an obituary, I include five key areas to tell this person’s story.  I came up with an obituary template many years ago when I was asked to write my first obituary.  It’s worked surprisingly well for all the others that came after it.  Here are some examples from Dwayne’s obituary:

1. Defining characteristics and quirky traits.

First, sum up their best qualities and throw in a few unique characteristics to make people smile.

“Dwayne will be remembered for his generous nature, incredible work ethic, playful personality, and fondness for Diet Pepsi.

2. References to their most valued relationships.

Obituaries are about the dead but you write them for the living.  So, look for opportunities to recognize people and let them feel like they were an important part of this person’s life.


“The one person who could keep him out of trouble was wife Belinda.”

“They made lifelong friends and were active members of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, volunteering their time and resources for decades.”

“One of Dwayne’s favorite roles was being a grandpa.  He loved spoiling his 13 grandchildren — Dwayne Hanson of Nevada, Iowa with two of his grandchildren. reading them books, sharing his M&Ms and cashews, and slipping them extra gas money from his wallet.”

3. Surprising and unknown stories. 

Next, don’t focus only on the facts, i.e., degrees, company names, graduation dates, etc.  Instead, choose one or two defining stories you want the world to remember them by.


“Dwayne was a hardworking farm boy with a bit of an ornery streak.  His favorite stories involved playing pranks and outrunning the police when he was a teenager.  He once modified a car so the brake lights could be flipped off with a switch in the door, allowing him to disappear from sight while driving on dark country roads.”

Dwayne Hanson and Belinda Hanson of Nevada, Iowa, standing together. “Dwayne met Belinda while working on her dad’s farm.  He asked her on a date.  She said no.  He asked again.  And again.  In fact, he asked so many times Belinda’s dad took pity on him.  He encouraged her to say yes so Dwayne would stop asking.  His persistence paid off.  They were married June 6, 1959, and enjoyed almost 60 years together before Belinda’s death in January 2018.”

4. Accomplishments. 

Now it’s time to sum up the whole of their career with some specific jobs to chronicle achievements and skills.  Above all, don’t focus too much on long titles and proper names, just keep it short and informative.

“Dwayne devoted his career to agriculture — as a farmhand, a truck driver hauling milk for dairies, a welder building tractors for Allis-Chalmers, and owner of his own grain bin company.”

5. Lasting visual image. 

Finally, we come to the tear-jerker section of the obituary.  As the writer, you get to paint the final picture of this person.  Dig deep to capture the most meaningful and emotional qualities.  In summary, give the reader one last image of this person to carry with them in their memories.

Dwayne Hanson of Nevada, Iowa, in his recliner. “Dwayne was a good man.  He helped anyone in need.  He loved and supported his family.  Dwayne was happiest in his recliner with an old Western playing on the TV, and a houseful of family and friends around him.”

You can write an obituary

In conclusion, writing an obituary for a loved one is a big job, but a super important one.  You can do it.  Write a good obituary for your mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, mother-in-law, father-in-law, best friend, spouse, etc.  You don’t have to be a professional writer; just be a person who loved and admired them.

We have a lot of obituary resources to help.  Check out our How to Write a Good Obituary Kit if you’d like a template and step-by-step instructions.

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