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Obituaries: How Do I Write An Obituary? 10 Step Obituary Checklist

Obituaries: 10 Step Obituary Checklist

If your loved one just passed away, you may be wondering, “How do I write an obituary?”

In your time of grief, you may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of writing an obituary.

You may not be sure what to say or that you’ll forget important facts and information, or that the obit won’t fully communicate the depth and meaning of your loved one’s life.

Here is a step-by-step guide to preparing all of the essential elements in an obituary:

1. Obituary Guidelines

Always check with the newspaper and/or funeral home first. Funeral homes are experienced in this process and can provide the forms for basic information. Often, as part of their fee, the funeral home will write the full obituary for you based off an obituary checklist. Your local newspaper will have specific style guidelines or restrictions on length. Some newspapers will only accept obituaries directly from your funeral home while other newspapers only publish obituaries written by newspaper staff members.

2. Overview Of The Death Announcement

First, begin with the name, age, and place of residence of your loved one, along with the time and place of death.

Here is a checklist of the biographical information you can include, at your discretion. Provide as much, or as little, as you feel comfortable sharing. That information can include:

  • Full name of the deceased (including maiden name, nickname(s), previous names, aliases or any other name by which your loved one might be identified)
  • Dates and locations of birth, marriage, and death
  • List of predeceased and surviving loved ones’ names
  • Schools attended or certifications received or trades mastered
  • Military service and awards
  • Places of employment and positions held
  • Notable memberships in organizations (civic, fraternal, place of worship)
  • Hobbies or special interests

3. Using The Word ‘Died’

It is hard to say the word ‘died’ when speaking about a loved one. Many people choose to communicate their sadness with softer words such as:

  • Passed away or their passing
  • Their death
  • Went to be with his Lord
  • After a long struggle with
  • Surrounded by their family and loved ones
    Use the phrasing that you feel most comfortable with.

4. Sharing The Cause Of Death

Should you share the cause of death in an obituary? Many obit readers will be wonder how your loved one passed. You may elect to share this information, but many people don’t. Ultimately, the cause of death is the prerogative of your immediate family only. If you are uncomfortable sharing the cause of death, you don’t have to give this information.

5. Biographical Sketch

A ‘sketch’ is the what you should focus upon. While you may want to share all of your loved one’s accomplishments, an obituary is not a biography. The obituary you write should be a summary, a recounting, of the most important events, significant qualities, notable contributions and connections from your loved one’s life. You have to be aware of newspaper word count limitations and also that a long list of honors and accomplishments is not often of interest to many beyond your immediate family.

Elements of a biographical sketch can include:

  • Date and place of birth
  • Parent’s names including mother’s maiden name
  • Date and place of marriage
  • Birth name of spouse
  • Educational history
  • Work history
  • Military service

Other similar elements can include, at your discretion:

  • Naming of step parent(s)
  • Divorce(s)
    and similar events.

When you are deciding on how to list the order of events, note that for most cases, a chronological listing works best. In many cases, you may choose to share the more important information first, such as marriage before education.

6. A Unique Personalization

Sometimes a short message, a short prayer or a meaningful line from a poem is placed at the end. These messages are optional, but can be a way of communicating something that did not fit into the body of the obituary. Besides a list of accomplishments and history, often your loved one had a phrase or passion that can be included as a meaningful example. Here are a few ideas:

  • “You are the family rock.”
  • Finally will get to catch the ‘big one.’
  • Will now dance forever in heaven.
  • A football fan might have something like, “Forever a Jets fan. ‘Go Jets Go!'” Or, “Beat Michigan!”
  • Heaven will love her sweet Georgia peach pies.
  • We will miss, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”

7. Funeral Service Times And Location

If your funeral services are public, then be sure to include all of the full funeral service information: time, full date and place of service along with the name of the officiant; time, full date and place of burial or interment if applicable; and finally, time, full date and place of visitation(s). If services are private, simply state so (“Private services will be held”). Your local newspapers will have guidelines on how to list the service times and location. Your funeral director can also advise you on the proper ways to communicate.

Plan to publish the obituary at least two or three days prior to services so that friends and family can make the necessary arrangements to attend.

8. Special Messages To The Public

Frequently, at the end of an obituary, a special message can be included. These special messages can offer statements such as:

  • In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to
  • Special thanks to the nursing home staff at
  • In lieu of flowers, please consider the needs of the family
  • Contributions suggested to the family
  • The family is requesting financial assistance for the services

If you list a charity for donations, be sure to include the address or URL for the charity.

9. Photos

Photos often can be included at an extra cost in the newspaper. But a photo can also be a visual reminder of your loved one. Some people elect to share an old photo, but if friends don’t recognize the person in the photo, they may not read the obituary. If you feel that you must use a dated photo be sure to include a recent snapshot as well.

10. Additional Assistance

If you find it too difficult to prepare an obituary for your loved one, ask a family member, a close friend or even consider hiring an obituary writing service to complete this challenging task.

You can use the proceeds from any burial or funeral insurance plan to cover the costs listed above.

Obituary Checklist

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Obituary Checklist

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