How to Write a Good Obituary
Give your loved ones the final tributes they deserve.
First things first, sorry you are going through such a difficult time.
Losing a loved one stinks. It’s terrible. There’s no quick or easy way to get through this. So go ahead and cry, scream, yell, curse, curl up in a ball, eat ice cream, do whatever you need to do to grieve the loss of this person you loved.
Second, thank you.
Thank you for agreeing to write your loved one’s obituary. This is a big job and it’s an important job. This is the last story the world will read about this person. It documents accomplishments, interests, greatest loves, family members, and all the other facts about his or her life. It’s a lot to summarize in a few paragraphs.
Don’t worry if you’re feeling overwhelmed
about writing an obituary.
We can help!
If you’re new to obituary writing or don’t consider yourself a writer, go to our Kits Shop and purchase the How to Write a Good Obituary Kit. You can download the kit immediately and follow the step-by-step instructions to collect information, fill out the obituary template, and take most of the stress out of this important task.
Writing an Obituary Refresher
If you just need a refresher on how to summarize someone’s life or you need an obituary outline, we’ve got you covered. A good obituary can be broken down into three sections:
Introduction: How to Start an Obituary
This is your chance to get the reader’s attention and draw them into the story of your loved one’s life. The best stories start with an interesting and unusual hook – something that pulls you in and makes you want to read more.
Write about the unique characteristics, quirky traits, and/or endearing behaviors that best describe your loved one and made him/her special.
Now that you have the reader’s attention, announce that your loved one has passed away. Share the date and place of death, and age at death. The place of death can be as specific or vague as you choose – some people list “at home” or the name of a hospital or hospice center. Others list a city and state.
Decide if you want to share the cause of death. People are curious and want to know, but that doesn’t mean you have to share it. You’re the writer and get to make the rules. If you share this information, keep it brief and general, such as “died after a long battle with breast cancer” or “died of a heart attack” or “died of injuries from a car wreck.”
Middle Section of an Obituary
The bulk of your obituary will recap the significant events of your loved one’s life. It’s nice to take the reader on a chronological journey.
Start with childhood. Whether it was good or bad, this period helped define your loved one’s life so share when and where he/she was born, parents and siblings, schools attended, and a favorite story or memory from that time. Look for opportunities to weave in interesting details. You’re sharing facts but sprinkling in the essence of your loved one.
Next, list significant events that occurred in adulthood. Depending on the path your loved one took, this could be education, career, civic duties, favorite hobbies, or interests. You can’t talk about everything he or she did so prioritize based on what you believe was important, and what he or she would want included.
Finally, add information about who and what he or she loved. If your loved one had a spouse or partner, children, a dear group of friends, or a beloved pet, acknowledge those relationships here. Add a few memories or stories to illustrate the love.
Ending: How to finish an Obituary
Now you define your loved one’s legacy. Pour everything you feel into this section. Tell the world why you’re going to miss this person and how you will continue to remember and keep his or her legacy alive. Get personal and share the details and characteristics you most admired and loved. Make the reader feel your loss.
Now list the names of your loved one’s immediate family. Be inclusive. This section is for the living – anyone who loved this person should be listed so their friends and coworkers can acknowledge their loss and offer condolences.
Finally, list the funeral home handling the arrangements and the date, time, and place of the visitation, wake, funeral, burial, etc. Only list dates and times of services that are open to the public. If no public services are planned, simply state the family will gather at a later date for a private service. You also can list charitable organizations where people can contribute in your loved one’s name.
That’s it. You did it! You’ve just written a beautiful tribute to a very special person. Now go take a break and don’t worry about the obituary for an hour or two. Return with a clear head and reread it. Where can you shorten it? You probably need to delete at least a couple memories or stories. Stay focused on the legacy you’re defining for your loved one. Once you’re happy with the story, ask someone to read it and check for accuracy and correct dates and name spellings.
Once you and your family are happy with the obituary, send it to the funeral home director. He/she will often send it to local newspapers and others you want to share it with. You’ll need to include a good photograph of your loved one as well.
Help to get you started
If you’re having trouble getting started, check out the example obituary or purchase our How to Write a Good Obituary kit for step-by-step instruction, more examples, a fact gathering worksheet, and an obituary template.