Write An Obituary

At the intersection of life and its inevitable end, memories flourish. An obituary, a document laden with the weight of these memories, becomes a guiding light into someone’s journey— their struggles, triumphs, dreams, and legacy. In a world that often races forward, we sometimes underestimate the profound impact of these written tributes. In this guide, we will delve deeply into the art of crafting not merely an obituary but a tribute that resonates, comforts, and celebrates.

Key Takeaways

  • Collaborative Effort: Engaging with family and friends during the writing process ensures a richer, more holistic portrayal, drawing from diverse memories and experiences.
  • Embrace the Process: Taking the time to reflect and not rushing the obituary results in a genuine, heartfelt tribute that truly captures the essence of the departed.
  • Genuine Emotion: Allow the true character and spirit of the deceased to shine through in the obituary, whether that be through humor, respect, or poignant memories.
  • Quality Over Quantity: The genuine reflection and celebration of a life lived are more pivotal than word count. It’s about capturing the essence rather than filling space.

The Purpose of an Obituary

At the core of every obituary lies a narrative, one that encapsulates the essence of an entire lifetime. But why do we put pen to paper for obituaries? While many may view them as a simple announcement of someone’s passing, they are, in reality, so much more. Obituaries serve as a window into the soul of an individual, showcasing their passions, beliefs, struggles, and victories. They provide a platform for the grieving to express their emotions, to recount anecdotes, and to paint a vivid picture of the departed for all to witness. Consider them as enduring legacies, stories that inspire generations, etching names into the annals of time. As human beings, we have always possessed the innate desire to be remembered, and obituaries serve as our bridge to immortality. They stand as a testament to our existence, a narrative woven from memories, ensuring that our stories are heard, even in the silence that follows.

The Balance: Celebrating Life While Mourning Loss

Crafting an obituary requires striking a delicate balance. On one hand, it serves as a poignant reminder of the void left behind by the departed. On the other, it stands as a jubilant celebration of their existence. Achieving this equilibrium can be challenging. After all, grief is an overwhelming emotion, and it’s only natural to focus on the loss. However, an obituary is an opportunity, a canvas upon which to paint a life well-lived. Instead of dwelling solely on the end, we should embrace the journey leading up to it. Every shared laugh, every conquered challenge, every pursued dream – these are the moments that define a life. By focusing on these aspects, we not only offer solace to the bereaved but also inspire others with stories of resilience, love, and hope. Essentially, while an obituary marks an end, it simultaneously heralds the beginning of a narrative that continues to touch lives long after the final farewell.

Understanding the Essence of an Obituary

Beyond Just Dates and Details

An obituary is not merely a résumé; it is a sonnet, a ballad, a tale that reaches deep into the hearts of readers, evoking emotions, painting vivid mental images, and immortalizing the essence of someone’s existence. While the basics – birth and death dates, family connections, and significant milestones – serve as the foundation of the obituary, it is the subtleties that give it life.

The true enchantment lies in capturing the spirit of the departed. Were they someone who found joy in life’s simple pleasures, like the rustling of leaves or the laughter of a child? Perhaps they possessed an infectious sense of humor that could brighten even the dullest of rooms. Or maybe their unwavering resilience in the face of adversity served as a beacon of hope for many. It is these intangible qualities – their zest for life, quirks, dreams, beliefs, and idiosyncrasies – that breathe life into the written word. By focusing on these facets, an obituary transforms from a mere recitation of facts into a soulful narrative that resonates with readers and paints a comprehensive portrait of the departed.

Conversations with Friends and Family for Anecdotes

The pursuit of authenticity in an obituary often leads us to the treasure troves of memories held by those who were closest to the deceased. Friends, family, colleagues, and even acquaintances can offer gems of anecdotes and insights that might otherwise be overlooked. Engaging in heartfelt conversations can reveal stories of adventures, shared secrets, forged bonds, lessons learned, and much more.

Childhood Friends: They can provide stories of innocent misadventures, dreams conceived under starry skies, and promises made in the sandbox.

Colleagues and Professional Acquaintances: These individuals might share tales of dedication, professional achievements, or the little moments of joy during coffee breaks.

Family: From stories of celebrated festivals together to quiet moments of introspection, families often hold memories that span the entire spectrum of emotions.

Getting Started: Preparation and Research

Gathering Vital Information

Embarking on the journey of crafting an obituary, it is essential to first equip oneself with the foundational details. While the heart of the obituary revolves around the individual’s spirit and stories, these key details serve as the sturdy backbone of your narrative. Begin by collecting:

  • Birth and Death Dates: These define the timeframe of the story you are about to narrate.
  • Family Ties: Understanding immediate family connections, the bonds they shared, and even extended family relations can add depth to the obituary.
  • Major Life Events: From educational achievements to significant turning points, these events provide readers with a glimpse into the journey of the departed.

Creating a Timeline

Imagine reading a book with chapters in disarray. Confusing, isn’t it? Similarly, an obituary requires a logical flow. Constructing a chronological timeline helps ensure that the obituary feels cohesive. By mapping out life events, from early childhood to later years, you provide readers with a clear picture of the individual’s life journey, making it easier for them to follow and understand.

Structuring Your Obituary

Starting with a Strong Opening: Grabbing the Reader’s Attention

A compelling introduction isn’t merely about presenting facts; it’s about igniting curiosity and evoking emotion. The initial lines set the tone for the entire piece, so choose your words with care. Begin by leading with a memorable quote they lived by or a brief anecdote that encapsulates their essence. Make it gripping and heartfelt.

The Body

Chronology: Navigating through Life Milestones

Now, dive into the heart of the obituary. Utilizing the timeline you’ve thoughtfully crafted, narrate the significant events and turning points, interweaving them with emotions, values, and personal growth. It’s not about simply listing events but connecting them in a way that paints a vivid picture of the journey.

Achievements: Celebrating Personal and Professional Victories

Life is adorned with moments of glory, both big and small. Celebrate these by delving into academic accolades, professional milestones, or even personal achievements. Perhaps they ran a marathon, authored a book, or championed a social cause. Highlight these accomplishments not as a mere laundry list but as testaments to their passion and perseverance.

Personal Stories: The Importance of Intimate Moments and Memories

While milestones and achievements are commendable, it is often the quieter moments, the personal tales, and cherished memories that truly resonate. Recount that summer trip where they got lost but found a hidden gem of a café. Or perhaps the times spent nights stargazing, weaving dreams. These anecdotes, though seemingly small, make the narrative deeply personal and relatable.

Concluding: How to Wrap Up the Narrative

A fitting conclusion brings closure. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the life lived, the legacy left behind, and the void felt. Perhaps reiterate their philosophy, the values they upheld, or the dreams they inspired. A gentle reminder of the indelible mark they’ve left in the hearts of many ensures their memory remains alive and cherished.

Simplified structure for an obituary

  1. Introduction: Full Name, Age, Residence, Date of Passing
  2. Life Summary: Birth Date, Birth Place, Education, Career, Hobbies, Values
  3. Family: Surviving Members, Predeceased by
  4. Service Details: Date, Time, Location
  5. Special Requests: Donations, Flowers, Messages
  6. Closing: Personal Message or Quote

Obituary Example

Jane Doe, aged 74, of Springfield, passed away peacefully on March 10, 2024, surrounded by her loving family. Born on February 2, 1950, in Cape Town, Jane was known for her passion for gardening, dedication to her career in nursing, and unwavering support for her children’s endeavors. She leaves behind a legacy of love and kindness, survived by her children, John and Emily Doe, and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at Cape Town Community Church on March 20, 2024, at 2 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Cape Town Nature Conservancy.

In her memory, we hold close to her values and the warm memories she created. Jane’s legacy of love, kindness, and care for her community will forever live in the hearts of those who knew her.

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Writing Tips for an Engaging Obituary

Maintaining Authenticity

A genuine, heartfelt tone can be the differentiating factor between a standard obituary and a memorable tribute. By maintaining authenticity, you offer readers a sincere glimpse into the individual’s life, passions, and legacy. Focus on the nuances that made them unique. Whether they had an undying love for jazz, an unmatched skill in the kitchen, or a penchant for poetry, highlighting these quirks crafts a genuine portrayal.

Varying Sentence Length

Just as in music, rhythm in writing can evoke a range of emotions. Varying your sentence length injects dynamism into the narrative. Short, crisp sentences can underscore significant points or moments, while longer, flowing sentences can paint a detailed, vivid picture. This balance not only keeps the reader engaged but also allows for an emotional cadence that resonates deeply.

Staying Original and Personal

While phrases like “passed away peacefully” or “left this mortal coil” are commonly used, they can sometimes dilute the personal touch. Opt for descriptions and narratives that are unique to the individual, steering clear of overused phrases. Remember, originality and personalization make your tribute stand out and touch hearts.

Ensuring Clarity and Avoiding Mistakes

In the emotionally charged task of writing an obituary, it’s easy to overlook typos or inconsistencies. However, meticulous editing and proofreading not only uphold the dignity of your piece but also ensure that the narrative flows seamlessly. Consider having a trusted friend or family member review it, offering a fresh perspective and possibly catching oversights.

Special Considerations

Handling Sensitive Topics

Life, in all its complexity, sometimes presents challenges, controversies, or subjects that are delicate to address. When these need to be included in the obituary, approach them with tact and sensitivity. Instead of dwelling on the controversy, perhaps focus on the lessons learned, the resilience shown, or the positive changes that followed.

Respecting Privacy: Drawing the Line on What to Share

While it’s essential to paint a detailed picture, it’s equally crucial to respect the boundaries of privacy. Some family matters, personal struggles, or events might be too intimate to share publicly. Always consult with close family members to ensure you’re not inadvertently crossing any lines. Remember, discretion and respect are paramount.

Making It Public

Traditional Newspapers

Despite the digital age we live in, many families find solace in the tactile experience of seeing their loved one’s tribute in print. Newspapers, especially local ones, remain a go-to medium for obituaries. They offer a sense of permanence and allow the community to come together in remembrance.

Online Platforms

The digital realm has expanded the avenues through which we can share and celebrate lives. Dedicated obituary websites, memorial pages on social platforms, or even personal blogs can be avenues to share the tribute. The advantage? Extended families, friends across continents, or old acquaintances can easily access, share, and contribute their memories.

Sharing Obituaries on Social Media

When posting an obituary on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or X, it’s important to consider the privacy and feelings of all family members involved. Before posting, consult with close family members and agree on the content. Use the platform’s privacy settings to control who can see the post, opting for a more private or friends-only setting if needed. Respectfully inform your social network, providing details on memorial services or ways to honor the deceased, while avoiding overly personal information unless explicitly permitted by the family.

Memorial Services

Sometimes, an obituary is best shared in an intimate setting, amidst loved ones, in a space filled with shared memories. Reading it out during a memorial service allows for a collective moment of reflection, grief, and celebration of the life that was.

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Seeking Feedback: Ensuring Perfection

Consulting Family and Friends

Family and friends hold a treasure trove of memories, anecdotes, and perspectives that can enrich an obituary. Before finalizing, seek feedback from them. They might recollect a forgotten memory, offer a different viewpoint, or even correct an unintentional error. This collaborative effort not only ensures a holistic portrayal but also strengthens the bond among loved ones during a time of grief.

Taking Your Time

In the hustle of funeral arrangements and ceremonies, there might be a pull to finish the obituary quickly. However, allow yourself the grace of time. Let the memories simmer, let the words marinate, and let the emotions flow naturally. A well-thought-out piece is a testament to the respect and love you hold for the departed.


As the ink dries and the words are shared, an obituary becomes more than just a record. It’s a beacon for future generations, a reference for long-lost friends, and a source of solace for those who grieve. A well-crafted obituary can evoke laughter, tears, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the time spent with the departed. By paying attention to detail, seeking feedback, and pouring in genuine emotions, the obituary evolves into a lasting tribute that beautifully encapsulates the essence of a life lived.


How long should an obituary be?

Length is subjective and depends on the medium chosen. Newspaper obituaries might be concise due to space constraints, while online platforms or memorial services might allow for a more detailed tribute. Prioritize capturing the essence over word count.

Is it appropriate to include humor in an obituary?

Absolutely. If humor was a defining trait of the deceased, or if there’s a light-hearted memory that encapsulates their spirit, it’s fitting to include. Always ensure it’s respectful and in good taste.

What if I miss out on important details or events?

It’s natural to be anxious about missing details. This is where consulting with family and friends proves invaluable. If an essential detail is missed post-publication, consider sharing it during memorial services or gatherings.

How do I handle disagreements within the family about the content?

Crafting an obituary is an emotional process, and disagreements might arise. Open dialogue, understanding, and sometimes even mediation can help arrive at a consensus. Remember, it’s about honoring the deceased in the best possible way.

Are there professional writers I can hire for this task?

Yes, there are writers who specialize in crafting obituaries. They can provide guidance, structure, and polish to your tribute. However, personal anecdotes and memories from loved ones will always be the heart of the piece.

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