How to write an Obituary or Tribute

Bereaved family members might seem overwhelmed by the prospect of writing an obituary for their deceased loved one at first, but the hospice team can support them through this process. Many people find it difficult to begin the obituary since these words are often the first public acknowledgement that a loved one has died. Additionally, submitting this information to a newspaper or publication openly shares grief which may seem overwhelming. An obituary, however, is a positive and thoughtful way to process the grief experience and can be a therapeutic and cathartic exercise. The obituary is not only a way to inform others of our loss, but also to share the meaning of a loved one’s life and gently express how others might offer their support to the family during this difficult time.

Before sitting down to write an obituary, we can assist the bereaved with the information they might like to include. The following outline is intended as a guide through the content.

How much to write?

For many, a brief, factual statement is well-suited for an obituary primarily due to cost and space limitations. Local newspapers generally provide information on pricing per word or line. If a picture is to be included, inquire about the best size and file type for doing so. Newspapers might also offer options such as a “standard death notice” or an “personalized death notice” with a specific format that might simplify the process. The submission process is typically completed in print or online. If the obituary is to be published in multiple places such as college newsletters or church bulletins, note that the process might vary from publication to publication. Additionally, the funeral home director might be a resource to support the bereaved family with the preparation and placement of the obituary.

What to write?

A simple obituary might include the following details:

  • Full legal name, including nickname (if desired)
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Age of Death
  • Causes or circumstances of death
  • Family/Surviving relatives
  • Funeral arrangements including religious services and burial information

Common phrases used in this statement may include: “died peacefully at home”; “passed away”; or “was surrounded by loving family”. We can assure family members that they can include what is most comfortable for their family and situation. It might also be helpful to carefully consider whether to include the circumstances around the death given that it may be a private matter, particularly if the loss was sudden or unexpected.

While the content above is rather concise, a more detailed obituary can be a thoughtful tribute. Additional information might include:

A Life Review: An account of the individual’s attributes as well as significant relationships, milestones and contributions.

  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Maiden Name
  • Marriage: Date, Place, Spouse
  • Family Members (see below)
  • Education: school, college/university, fraternity/sorority
  • Achievements: Awards, and other significant contributions
  • Employment: Employer, position titles, union activities
  • Military service: Appointment and where and when he/she served
  • Interests: Hobbies, sports, activities and travel
  • Affiliations: Charitable, religious, political, professional; positions held
  • Short Anecdotes

Family: The obituary might include family members that are still living and/or those predeceased

Survived by (and place of residence):

  • Spouse
  • Children (in birth order, and their spouses)
  • Grandchildren; Great-grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings (in birth order)
  • Others, such as nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws
  • Friends
  • Pets (if appropriate)

Predeceased by (Optional: date of death):

  • Spouse
  • Children (in birth order)
  • Grandchildren
  • Siblings (in birth order)
  • Others, such as nephews, nieces or godchildren

Note: During times of grief, it is important to validate that it is natural for family members to experience exhaustion and confusion which might make it difficult to remember everyone’s names. If there are several relatives, it is appropriate to write “many or number of grandchildren” or “several nieces and nephews” to thoughtfully include everyone while remaining concise. It might also be helpful to engage another family member’s review of this information.

Funeral/Memorial Service Information:

  • Day, Date, Time, Place
  • Name of officiant or pallbearers
  • Visitation information (if applicable)
  • Reception information (if applicable)
  • Other memorial, vigil, or graveside services (if applicable)
  • Place of interment and whether it is public/private (interment is the placement of remains in the final resting place)
  • Name, address, and contact information for funeral home
  • Where/who to call for more information (even if no service planned)

Closing

  • Memorial donation suggestions, including addresses I.e. “in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to…”
  • Thank you to particular individuals, groups, or institutions
  • A favorite quotation, prayer, song lyric or poem
  • Excerpt from a personal memoir or journal
  • Simple words that sum up their life or an adage that they lived by

When to write it?

There is no rule of thumb for this timeline. It is not surprising if some people wish to write their own obituary or ask their loved ones to assist them in writing it prior to their death. We can provide some psychosocial support around this to validate the “why” behind our clients taking this initiative and explain that this process might refer to what psychologist Erik Erikson called “generativity.” Erikson’s developmental theory of generativity described an adult’s hope to guide and mentor their children and grandchildren. Writing the obituary in their own words is a way to conduct a life review, reflect on their legacy, and how they would like to be remembered and what for. For others, however, the obituary might be written by a family member(s) while their loved one is transitioning to end-of-life or shortly after the death. Families might reflect on the theme of generativity to share the impact of their loved one’s life on others and the community.

Whether the obituary is short or long, written personally or by a family member, encourage the individual/bereaved family member to reach out for assistance and support. The obituary is a meaningful task in the grief experience and asking others to contribute and or review the content can be both helpful and healing.

References

How to Write an Obituary (2018). https://healgrief.org/how-to-write-an-obituary/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIos2KsrPq5AIVT8DICh3LSQW4EAAYASAAEgJ1qfD_BwE

How to Write an Obituary: A Step-by-Step Guide. (2018). Retrieved from www.remembranceprocess.com/capturing-a-life-in-words/guide-to-writing-an-obituary/

Obituary Template and Obituary Sample Format. (2019). Retrieved from https:// www.obituaryguide.com/template.php