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Writing an Obituary

What is an obituary?

More than merely a "good-bye" to the deceased, this is a farewell which can, in chronological order, detail the life of the deceased. An obituary also serves as notification that an individual has passed away and details of the services that are to take place. Remember that the obituary needs to appear in print a few days prior to any visitation or service.

What to include?

Naturally, the full name, along with the location and date of passing is included. If you wish, mention where the deceased resided. This will normally only include the city, state. The street is not normally included for reasons of security.

In a concise manner, write about the significant events in the life of the deceased. This may include the schools he or she attended and any degrees attained; you may also include any vocations or interests that the deceased was involved with.

You may wish to also publish a photograph with the obituary. Usually, the newspaper will apply extra charges to include if a photograph.

Survivors

It is common to include a list of those who have survived the deceased. The list should include (where applicable):

  • Parents
  • Spouse and children
  • Adopted children
  • Half & step children
  • Siblings
  • Half- & step-siblings
  • Grandparents

The surviving relatives listed above may be listed by name. City and state may also be included. Other relatives are not usually mentioned by name, but may be included in terms of their relationship to the deceased. For example, the obituary may mention that the deceased had 5 grandchildren; 7 nieces etc.  However, let's say that the deceased had only one grandchild, or a nephew who was the only person living in the newspaper's distribution area, including the full name, relationship and city would be perfectly acceptable.

Also, anyone listed as a special friend or companion is not normally included amongst the list of survivors unless the deceased's blood relatives request that it be so. (The obituary's traditional purpose is to list survivors either related through the bloodline or marriage.)

At this point list the details of the time and location of any services for the deceased: these may include the funeral, burial, wake and memorial service where appropriate.

Suggestions:

If you don't know where to start, read other obituaries to gain an idea of how personal and touching an obituary can be.

Don't use the phrase "in lieu of flowers" when memorial donations are to be requested. Instead merely start the final paragraph of the obituary with the words "Memorial donations may be made to"

Do consider if you wish to send the obituary to newspapers in other cities e.g. to a town where the deceased may have resided previously. Obtain copies of the obituary to send to distant relatives and friends.

Final Considerations

Any and all information to be included in the obituary should be verified with another family member. A newspaper will verify with the funeral home that the deceased is in fact being taken care of by that funeral home.

Most newspapers charge by the word or line when placing an obituary, so it may not always be feasible to include everything we have mentioned in our guidelines. Use your own discretion and do not put yourself under any financial hardship. Your loved one would understand.

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