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How to Write an Obituary That Honors Your Loved One January 13, 2021

how to write an obituary

After losing a loved one, you might want—or be called upon by a family member—to write an obituary to publish in your local newspaper or online. However, writing an obituary that perfectly honors and captures the spirit of your loved one can feel like an overwhelming task in the midst of grieving. You’re not alone. Below are some tips for how to write an obituary that honors your loved one.

What to Include In An Obituary

Coming up with obituary ideas can be challenging, but thankfully, most obituaries have the same format and cover the same information so that all you have to worry about is personalizing it. In its simplest form, an obituary has two purposes:

  1. To let people know that someone has died
  2. To cover the details of the funeral, memorial, and/or burial service(s)

However, an obituary can be so much more if you choose to include more details of your loved one’s life and how you will remember them.

Before you start writing, list and organize all of the information you want to include in obituary format. Below is the recommended obituary format, but feel free to personalize it as much as you want to.

Announce your loved one’s death

To write the death announcement, start with the full name of your loved one followed by the date and location of their birth, the date and location of their, and how old they were when they passed. If you want to include their cause of death, you can, but it’s not required.

Here’s an example: 

On Tuesday, December 15, 2020, Jane Alice Doe, loving spouse and parent of two children, passed away at the age of 85 in San Francisco, California. Jane was born on June 5, 1935 in Seattle, Washington to Bob and Beverly Smith. She received her engineering degree from Stanford University in 1957 and practiced engineering for 37 years in San Francisco. On October 17, 2015 she married Charlotte K. Johnson, her longtime partner since 1965. They raised a son, Mark, and a daughter, JoAnne.

You can include more information in this summary of their life such as awards they received, jobs they held, activities they enjoyed, church(es) they attended, or military branch(es) they served in. After stating the standard information in the paragraph above, you can write a paragraph that explores the things they were passionate about, hobbies they tried, and the personal characteristics that made them unique. 

It’s good to keep in mind that newspapers do charge by line, inch, or word depending on the newspaper, so be sure to check out pricing before you start writing. If you want to include these personalized details in the obituary, try something like this:

Jane had a passion for gardening and was always showing up on friends’ and family’s doorsteps with a fresh bouquet of flowers or basket of homegrown berries. She was also an LGBTQ+ activist and spent much of her time volunteering and at protests. She was known for her dry sense of humor, infectious laugh and generous nature.

List important surviving relatives

List relevant living and deceased relatives. You don’t have to list every person by name, but it’s good to give people a general idea of deceased and surviving family. To make this easier, decide who you will state by name and who you will include by their relationship to the deceased. 

The general rule of thumb is to include full names of immediate family members, such as the deceased’s parents, children, spouse, partner, and siblings. After that, you can usually just state the number of nieces and nephews, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on.

For example:

Jane was preceded in death by her father, Bob, her mother, Beverly, and her spouse, Charlotte. She is survived by her children Mark and JoAnne, sister Lisa, three nieces, and four grandchildren.

what to include in an obituary

Give the funeral or memorial service details

Let people know when you’ll be holding the funeral, memorial, and/or burial service, including the name and address of the funeral provider. You can also give a web address, phone number, or email contact, if applicable.

If you’d like, you can also detail information about where to make donations, where to send flowers, or where to send any other condolences.

Here’s how this might look:

A funeral service will be held on Friday, December 18th, 2020 at the Family Funeral Home on Main Street at 10:30 a.m. Flowers or donations may be sent to 5678 ABC Ave, San Francisco, CA. 

Add extras

If you’d like to add anything extra, you might include thank you’s to any important people, organizations, or groups that meant something to your loved one. You can also include a quote or poem that reflects how you feel about your loss. 

Here’s an example:

Special thanks to the LGBT Center in San Francisco for their donation to the funeral fund. 

“Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realise it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.” —Sai Baba, spiritual leader and philanthropist

Before you publish

Before you publish an obituary, make sure you’ve gotten all names, titles, and specific details correct. After proofreading it a few times, have other friends, co-workers, and family members give it a once-over to correct anything that might be wrong or to make any additions you might not have thought of.

obituary wording

Obituary Example

Putting together all of the examples from above, here is a full obituary example:

On Tuesday, December 15, 2020, Jane Alice Doe, loving spouse and parent of two children, passed away at the age of 85 in San Francisco, California. Jane was born on June 5, 1935 in Seattle, Washington to Bob and Beverly Smith. She received her engineering degree from Stanford University in 1957 and practiced engineering for 37 years in San Francisco. On October 17, 2015 she married Charlotte K. Johnson, her longtime partner since 1965. They raised a son, Mark, and a daughter, JoAnne.

Jane had a passion for gardening and was always showing up on friends’ and family’s doorsteps with a fresh bouquet of flowers or basket of homegrown berries. She was also an LGBTQ+ activist and spent much of her time volunteering and at protests. She was known for her dry sense of humor, infectious laugh and generous nature.

Jane was preceded in death by her father, Bob, her mother, Beverly, and her spouse, Charlotte. She is survived by her children Mark and JoAnne, sister Lisa, three nieces, and four grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held on Friday, December 18th, 2020 at the Family Funeral Home on Main Street at 10:30 a.m. Flowers or donations may be sent to 5678 ABC Ave, San Francisco, CA. 

Special thanks to the LGBT Center in San Francisco for their donation to the funeral fund. 

“Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realise it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.” —Sai Baba, spiritual leader and philanthropist

Where to Publish an Obituary

As mentioned above, remember to check with your local newspaper(s) for any requirements or restrictions for the length of the obituary and how much it will cost to print. Also check current obituary sections to see if they have a certain format you need to follow or a length you need to stick to. Remember to check if adding a photo in the obituary is an additional fee.

If you want to publish the obituary to a website or social media profile, length and format won’t matter. Perhaps you write a full version for online purposes and trim it down for print publication.

You can also write obituaries for funeral programs, prayer cards or a memorial keepsake, such as a bookmark or framed photo.