A guide to writing an obituary.
The Task of Writing an Obituary
People pass, and friends and relatives are left to the task of placing an obituary in their local newspaper, unless of course they choose to write their own. Although it may be easy to look one up and copy word for word (save changing names and dates), it's best to make it personal and not so much fill-in-the-blank. Here's a guide to writing an obituary with the right touch, with do's and do not's.
First and foremost, decide if you want it to be long and lengthy (recommended for doctors, lawyers, one's with big backgrounds, or someone with a good storyline), or if you want it short and sweet, to the point (use for an old friend, to save a little money, or for an out-of-state newspaper).
The main points for any obituary must have their full name (can include nicknames), date of death, where they currently lived, funeral services, and family members. One issue I need to stress is to not disclude any close family member, NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU HATE THEM (that includes children, mother, father, brother, sister, etc.). Any feud must be set aside for the death of your loved one out of respect, to save yourself bickering and anger (you're already grieving, other emotions will make it worse), and to save the newspaper and funeral home the hastle of getting caught in the middle. Trust me, it doesn't get pretty.
Make a List
Now, the best way to get started is to make a list of what you would like to include in the obit, here's an example:
- Charles "Chuck" Smith
- passed away Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2009
- He was 76 years old, from Topeka
- Chuck married Patricia Ann on April 6, 1943. Together they had three sons, Kevin, Danny and RJ.
Keep adding to the list, this will help you remember what is most important, and it will keep you from forgetting anything. It doesn't matter if it's in order, you can reorganize when you begin the first draft. Don't worry about making it too long, you can always go back and remove what doesn't work. Try not to make it complicated, obituaries are meant to inform others of the death, and to provide important information, they are not novels.
Once your list is complete, begin the process of organizing your list. Always begin with the deceased’s name in the first sentence. There are several ways you can do it:
- Charles “Chuck” Smith, 76, of Topeka passed away Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2009 at a local hospital.
- Memorial services for Charles “Chuck” Smith will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 13 at Davidson Funeral Home.
- Charles “Chuck” Smith was called into heaven on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2009 after a courageous battle with cancer.
These are merely examples, don’t be afraid to be creative, build the sentence on what best fits the person who died. Most obits do not tell the readers how they died, but it is your decision, it is appropriate either way.
Organization and Flow
When writing down important dates, such as when they were married, or when they retired from a job, keep it in chronological order. Always go back and reread what you wrote, it’s okay to make changes and move things around to flow easier. Funeral homes and obituary writers can always make suggestions as well. One thing to avoid is REPITITION. This is one of my pet peeves in any form of writing, try to use different ways to begin a sentence.
An example, below, is what NOT to do:
Charles “Chuck” Smith, 76, of Topeka passed away Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2009 at a local hospital. He was born in Topeka. He was the son of Gary and Isabelle Smith.
He was a TV repairman. He liked to play golf in his spare time. He liked to take his granddaughters fishing.
He was a member of Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church.
Check out this version, it flows better and is more readable:
Charles “Chuck” Smith, 76, of Topeka passed away Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2009 at a local hospital. He was born in Topeka, the son of Gary and Isabelle Smith.
Chuck made a living as a TV repairman most of his life. He enjoyed playing golf in his spare time, and loved taking his granddaughters fishing.
Mr. Smith was a longtime member of Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church.
*Do not use “He/She” repetitively. Think of other ways to give life to the sentences.
It will take several drafts to make perfection; there is always something you might miss. Ask a friend or another family member to proof it. They might have some great ideas, you never know! It is okay to look in your local newspaper to get an idea of what needs to be done, but always try to make it personal to the relative/friend you are writing about. If it looks too long, cut out unnecessary words or additions, making it too complicated might turn readers away.
Adding a photo
If you would like to use a photo for the obituary, please use an updated picture and one of good quality. Do not use photos from a book, the scanners tend to pick up the grain from the paper and will cause it to look fuzzy, and do not use a license picture. Pick one perhaps from a family photo taken in a studio. Sometimes newspapers allow you to use two photos, one from childhood and the present, but know that it might cost extra. In the end, it is your decision. Also, keep in mind that they will crop the photo, so it's always a good thing to check the photo before it prints in the newspaper.
Questions to ask the newspaper:
- Cost to print
- Does it cost extra for a photo
- Do they have any free notices
- What certification you may need (death certificate?)
- How to pay (do they bill or require prepayment?)
- What’s the best day to print (in almost every newspaper, Sunday is the best day to print, as most tend to read that day)
- If they have any special discounts (sometimes they give you discounts if you email, and some print free obituaries for our fallen soldiers)
*Also, have the obituary clerk print a proof for you to read over, they are liable to make mistakes, too.
If you have further questions, or have trouble writing in general (English may not be your forte, math certainly isn’t mine!), ask whoever may be assisting you at the funeral home, the obituary writer at the newspaper, or even a college professor in your area, it never hurts to ask. Obituaries are very important, and once printed, there is no going back. Make sure everything is in its proper place and names and dates are correct.
I hope this helps anyone who needs it!