How do I write an obituary?

An obituary is a published notice (announcement) of the death and life of a person. For famous people, they are written by the publication. For most of us, they are written by a family member and published by the funeral home.

There used to be rules about obituaries, and by “rules” I mean generally accepted formats. There is greater flexibility in writing these days. A helpful guideline is to ask, “Who do we want to know what about this person?”

The obituary can be very basic.

  • Name___, age __, resident of ___, died on month, date, year. “Jeremiah Jones, 98, resident of Allen, Michigan, died at home on March 31, 2021.”
  • Name was born on __ to ___ and ___.
    “He was born March 1, 1923, to the late Ezekial and Esther (Smith) Jones, in Portland, Maine.”
  • Milestones in life: “He built his own house and those of many neighbors. He was a good and faithful husband, father, and friend.”
  • People who survive: “Jeremiah is survived by Hepzibah (Yoder) Jones, his wife of 70 years, and daughter 1 (spouse), daughter 2 (spouse), twelve grandchildren, siblings Hazel and Helen, and many other relatives.”
  • People who have already died: “Jeremiah was preceded in death by his parents, one child, Grace, and brothers Ed and Dave.”
  • Funeral details: “Viewing will be on 3/24/22 from 2-4 at the funeral home. The funeral will be on 3/25/22 at 10 am, followed by a private burial.”
  • Memorial gifts: “Memorial gifts can be made to the ___ or to ___.”

Because newspapers charge money for running obituaries, and you pay by the word, printed obituaries are often even briefer.

However, allowing the funeral home to share the obituary online is built into the services they provide and accomplishes what you and your loved one want. And it can allow you to add more information.

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Things to consider:

  1. You can list special friends as special friends.
  2. You can write about the person’s education, lodge memberships, hobbies, special interests. If it matters that other people know about these things, they can be included. But you don’t have to.
  3. You can talk about places the person lived. But you don’t have to.
  4. You don’t have to indicate the cause of death.
  5. You don’t have to have public services or visitation.

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Resources

How to write an obituary
“An obituary should be more about how someone lived versus the fact that they died,” says Victoria Chang, a Los Angeles-based poet and writer who wrote 70 obituary poems in the two weeks after her mother died of pulmonary fibrosis in 2015″ This short article is a conversation with Victoria Chang about how and why to write. 2/2/2021

I write obituaries for a living.” Glenn Rifkin writes about his work writing obituaries for people during the pandemic. 2/4/2021

Ken Fuson was a sports writer in Des Moines. He wrote his own obituary, which is a remarkable story of the challenges and redemption of his life.

A poem from Maya Angelou – When Great Trees Fall

And as samples, here is my dad’s obituary – Arnold C. Swanson

And here is my mom’s obituary – Ardis Swanson

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