Writing an Obituary: What to Include and How to Make It Meaningful

Writing an obituary is a way of honoring a loved one that lives on in printed copies and online versions for years. You want it to capture the person’s essence and serve as a meaningful tribute.

The first printed death notices started in the British colonies in the 1500s. Death notices and obituaries evolved over the centuries, starting as short notices when printing was time-consuming.

In the early 20th century, obituaries were written as poems with rhyming lines. Modern obituaries often tell stories and celebrate the life of the deceased. Obituaries come in all types, lengths, and styles, so you can add a personal touch to what you write.

Paid obituaries vary in price, often based on length. They can cost $200 to $600 for a shorter obituary or over $1,000 to print a longer obituary. While you don’t want to cut the tribute short, consider the length of what you write and how it might affect the price if cost is an issue.

Use these steps below to write an obituary fitting for your loved one.

Decide on a Tone

You’ve no doubt seen viral obituaries online laced with humorous stories. Sometimes family members are brutally honest, opening up about drug abuse or suicide that took the life of a loved one. These kinds of obituaries have a very distinct tone that departs from the more formal and traditional tone.

The obituary you write doesn’t have to be wickedly funny, brutally honest, or otherwise viral-worthy, but it’s a good idea to decide on an overall tone for the piece before you start writing.

Do you want to keep it formal and somber, or do you prefer to make it sound more like a celebration of life? Do you want to reflect the constant joking nature your loved one showed throughout life?

Write Notes

Start with a list of facts, details, and stories from the person’s life. Start with the basic facts that you can research if you don’t already know the information. Such information should include the birth date, birth place, full name, marriage date, family members, date of death, and death location.

Include information about careers, retirement, and major life accomplishments. You might include hobbies or volunteer activities the person did.

These notes give you the framework for the obituary, but you shouldn’t simply list them. Just reciting facts skips the personal connection and doesn’t really show who the person was. Use facts to tell stories about the person in a meaningful way while giving the important details.

Start With the Basics

Most obituaries start with the basic biographical information about the person. Include as much or as little detail as you feel the person would want you to share. Some people choose to list the cause of death, while others simply list the death date.

Tell Stories

Making the obituary meaningful comes from sharing personal stories and expressing what made the person unique. Take the details of the person’s life and share them in an engaging way that makes the person’s story interesting.

Instead of just saying your mother worked as a nurse, you might relate a story of a particular patient or talk about how she changed the lives of her patients. You could share how she stumbled into nursing by accident, or you might talk about her accomplishments in the field.

Talk to Other People

If you’re the person writing the obituary, you’re likely very close to the deceased and have plenty of information about the person, but you also have a limited perspective. Talking to other loved ones and close friends gives you different stories about how others viewed your loved one.

Maybe your dad was handy around the house and always fixed things, but what you didn’t realize is that he also helped neighbors fix things in their homes. Other people may think of your dad’s generous spirit always helping a neighbor or family member in need. They may admire the way he was always able to figure out what was wrong with something and fix it.

If you’re writing about a parent, it can help to talk to older family members who may have more insight about the earlier years. Memories from your childhood are probably differently from what others remember from that period of time, and other people will know all the stories from before you were born.

Talking to other family members and friends can give you more details and more stories to share. It can help you get a better sense of how other people think of your loved one to help you capture that sentiment in the obituary.

Point Out What Is Special

If you feel like you’re just listing accomplishments, consider what makes the person special to you. What do you think of most when you remember the person? It’s probably not where they went to school or how long they worked at a certain company.

Your loved one’s personality, traditions you shared together, special trips you took and memories you made together are all what made that person special to you.

Share personal details to show what makes the person special. Remember, the obituary lives on. Think about what you want to reminisce about when you reread the obituary in a few years.

Decide Who to List

Another common part of an obituary is a list of family members and close friends. Who you list depends largely on the relationship with the person and the number of people in the person’s life.

The relatives listed are usually those who are closest, such as parents, grandparents, siblings, and children.

If someone has 35 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, you won’t likely list every one of them. The obituary would become overly long. Instead of listing everyone, you can list the number of each type of relative the person had, such as 5 nephews and 7 nieces, and so on.

Sometimes a close friend should be on the list, if the person was special to the deceased. This might include someone who was in a romantic relationship with the person who passed away, or a platonic friend who was especially close.

Writing an Obituary

Losing a loved one is traumatic, and writing an obituary can be a difficult and sad experience. Knowing what to include and adding personal touches to honor the person will help you write the obituary.

If you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, we’re here to help you make arrangements. We can help you with all of the details of the service.