Writing Down a Life... Crafting the Obituary

An obituary serves as notification that an individual has passed away and details of the services that are to take place. But it can, and should be be far more meaningful than that. A well-crafted obituary can detail the life of the deceased, with style and grace.

An obituary's length may be somewhat dictated by the space available (and the related costs) in the newspaper it is to appear in. Therefore it's best to check how much room you have before you begin your composition. Remember that the obituary needs to appear in print a day or two prior to the selected services. There are some cases where this may not be possible, therefore give some consideration to the guidelines below when composing the obituary.

What Should You Include?

Naturally, it is vital that the full name, along with the location and date of passing is included so that there is no confusion over who has died.

You may wish to consider placing a photograph (which can appear as black & white or in color depending on the newspaper's layout) with the text. There are usually extra charges applied if you are thinking of using a photograph.

If you wish, mention where the deceased resided. Do not include the street address, for security reasons; just mention the city and region/state/province/county.
In a concise manner, write about the significant events in the life of the deceased. This may include biographical information first, the schools he or she attended and any degrees attained; employments history, clubs or affiliations,you may also include any vocations or interests, that the deceased was involved with.

Add the Names of Those Left Behind…as Well as Those Who Went Ahead

It is common to include a list of those who have survived the deceased, in addition to those who passed away prior to the death of your loved one. The list should include (where applicable):

  • Parents
  • Spouse and children
  • Adopted children
  • Half & step children
  • Siblings
  • Half- & step-siblings
  • Grandparents

The relatives listed above may be listed by name. Other relatives will not be mentioned by name but may be included in terms of their relationship to the deceased. In other words, the obituary may mention that the deceased had 5 grandchildren, or 7 great-grandchildren.  

Also, anyone listed as a special friend or companion is not normally included amongst the list of survivors unless the deceased's blood relatives request that it be so. The obituary's traditional purpose is to list survivors either related through the bloodline or marriage.

Additional information such as where the body will be laid to rest and any pallbearer's names or names of honorary pallbearers may be mentioned.

At this point list the details of the time and location of any services for the deceased: these may include the funeral, burial, wake and memorial service where appropriate.

Tips for Crafting a Complete Obituary

If you don't know where to start, do read other obituaries to gain an idea of how personal and touching an obituary may be.

Do use such terms as "visitation will be from" or "friends may call from". The term "lie in state" used to only apply to a head of state such as the prime minister or president but is now commonly used for people whose visitations are held just prior to services in church.

Give careful consideration to using the phrase "in lieu of flowers" when memorial donations are to be requested, as this limits how readers can express their sympathy. Perhaps they want to send flowers to the family – and unless you are adamant that flowers are not wanted, the phrase is decidedly “off-putting”.  Instead merely start the final paragraph of the obituary with the words "Memorial donations may be made to" and then state the charity’s name.

If you wish, we will send the obituary to newspapers in other cities or towns where the deceased may have resided previously.

Obtain copies of the obituary to send to distant relatives and friends.

Final Considerations

Any and all information to be included in the obituary should be verified with another family member. A newspaper will have to verify with the funeral home being utilized that the deceased is in fact being taken care of by that funeral home. In fact, most newspapers will only allow an obituary notice to be submitted by a funeral home.

Seeing as most newspapers charge by the word, the line or the block when placing an obituary, it may not always be feasible to mention everything that we have stated in our guidelines. Use your own discretion and do not put yourself under any financial hardship. Your loved one would understand. Many families write a newspaper obituary because it is the most common way to let people know, what has happened, who it has happened too and what service plans are. Newspaper charges can be costly, but effective, that is why a thoughtful and complete obituary notice should be written and published. However, funeral service technology has far surpassed that of the value enhanced options that a newspaper can provide. Any value enhanced product that you may participate in with a print publication generally will expire, have a cost component to it, or both. With expanded media services at Fred C. Dames you can add to that print publication online and truly tell a story. Online condolences are not only preserved, but printed an given directly to the surviving family. Finally, these are services that enhance our client families experience by creating a three dimensional, interactive view of a simple print obituary. Next time you read an obituary in the paper sign on to our website, go to the Memory Tribute Video to feel and participate in the ever evolving story. If this sounds like a good option for your family, contact us to learn more.