How to write an obituary

Upon the passing of a loved-one, you may find yourself called upon to write an obituary for the deceased. But what is an obituary, and how do you write one?

What is an obituary?

An obituary is the public announcement of someone’s death. Usually, an obituary is published in a national or local newspaper, or on the publication’s website. The piece will include information about the deceased’s funeral arrangements and their life.

Usually, obituaries are kept brief, largely because of the cost of placing them, and they are generally written by an associate or close friend of the person who has died. Relatives of the deceased do not usually write the departed person’s obituary.

Choose the newspaper in which the obituary is to appear

Before you tackle writing the obituary itself, you’ll need to decide which newspaper you think would be the most appropriate in which to place the tribute.

It’s worth noting that many national UK newspapers only carry the obituaries of notable society people or celebrities, so it may be best to approach a local publication. Remember that newspapers charge per word or column inch, so check what the rate is for publication, and set a budget for your obituary before you begin composing it.

Also, check the deadline by when the newspaper will need the obituary. Ideally, the tribute should be published a day or so before the funeral takes place, so make sure that you allow plenty of time to write the piece and submit it before the deadline. It is important to ask the deceased’s family to read the obituary and approve it before you submit it for publication. The last thing you want is to have something published in the public domain that upsets one of the family members or contains information that is incorrect.

How to write an obituary

1. Announce the death

An obituary should always begin with the following basic information about the deceased:

  • The deceased’s full name
  • The deceased’s age
  • Where the deceased was born
  • The date of the deceased’s death
  • The deceased’s place of death

It’s not necessary to include the cause of death if you would prefer not to do so. However, if you do decide to share that information, you must always ask the family for permission first.

2. Recount details of the deceased’s life

In the next part of the obituary, you should recount all of the most notable achievements and events in the deceased’s life. That might include their education, details of any contributions they made to their local community, their most notable business achievements, any hobbies they enjoyed, etc.

Although this part of the obituary should be kept relatively concise, every person’s life is unique, and you should try to reflect that in their obituary. This is an important part of the obituary, as it helps to bring back memories of the deceased to those who knew them during their life.

3. Mention family members

Traditionally, an obituary includes a mention of the deceased’s closest family members, as well as any immediate family members who predeceased the person who has died.

4. Include a special poem or message

Next, you can choose to include a special message, funeral poem, or a short prayer if you want to. This section typically comes at the end of the obituary and can be a very touching way of remembering the deceased. If the deceased had a particular favourite song or hymn, you might like to include an extract from that, especially if it is appropriate to the circumstances or perhaps typifies the deceased’s outlook on life.

5. Choose an obituary photograph

Finally, you might wish to choose a photograph of the deceased for inclusion with the obituary, provided that the publication accepts them. If you do decide to publish a photograph of the deceased, always choose a clear headshot of them and one that they would have approved of. The deceased’s immediate family should be able to help you to choose a good photograph that they would like to see published with the obituary.

Although composing the obituary of someone who was very close to you in life can be an emotional process, it is an important way of paying your personal tribute to the person who has died, and it should be considered an honour if you are approached by the person’s family and asked to write one.

If you plan on making a memory book as a keepsake, remember to keep a clipping of the obituary. You might also want to keep a copy of the newspaper containing the obituary and gift this to the deceased’s family, it will be greatly appreciated during the time following the funeral service.