If you want to write an obituary for one of your loved ones, you need to understand first what an obituary is. You might have come across one in the newspaper.
An obituary, in short, is an overview of a deceased person. It tells about the person’s life, personality, achievements, and the value he/she had while living.
An obituary is mainly printed in a newspaper or published online. Obituaries also include a list of familial survivors and information regarding visitation, a memorial service, or a funeral service.
How to write an Obituary?
Whether writing an obituary for your father, mother, child, sibling, or any other relative, or a pre-written obituary for oneself, there are conventional formats that must be kept in mind.
Conventionally, the format used to write an obituary allows the readers to identify the deceased person quickly and find out if it is someone they know. However, different areas of the country have different conventions and standard formats for obituaries. The way is also based on the area’s population; the more significant the people served by a newspaper, the more likely it is to have an abbreviated obituary format, conveying only the bare minimum information. Some newspapers in rural parts of the country do not even charge for publishing obituaries, making the obituary more detailed and opening up chances for the inclusion of more biographic information.
In the present day, obituaries are published in two versions: an abbreviated version for the newspaper and a more detailed version published online, maybe at the funeral home website or any other memorial sites. So, while preparing an obituary, find out the conventional format used in your local paper and proceed accordingly.
Here is a step-by-step obituary format that you may want to follow. This will help you to craft a loving and clear obituary for your loved ones with vital information.
The announcement of the death
Begin with mentioning the deceased person’s full name, along with their dates of birth and death (e.g., 1956-2020). You may also consider placing a photograph (maybe in black and white) along with the text or short quote by the person for an additional charge.
Then continue the body of the writing mentioning the age and place of residence of the deceased, along with the time and place of death. The identifying statement and announcement of death can be stated in many ways, for example, ‘Passed away’, ‘died’, ‘went to be with his Lord’, ‘after a long struggle with cancer’, ‘surrounded by her family’, are some of the common variations that can be used in this statement. Some people feel that ‘died’ is too direct and raspy, so they prefer using flowery phrases and euphemisms to get in the way of accepting the fact of death. Use can use whichever form you are comfortable with.
Some even doubt if or not to give out the cause of death in an obituary. Indeed, this is something everyone is curious about. But, the fact is the cause of death is the business of the immediate family. So, if you are not comfortable sharing the cause of death, there is no obligation to list it in the obituary.
But also do consider, if the circumstances of death were sudden, announcing the cause of death, either in the obituary or in some other manner can keep you away from having to explain it to everyone over and over again.
The biographical sketch
Remember, an obituary is not a biography but the unfolding of some of the deceased’s most memorable events, qualities, and contributions. In short, it is an outline of a person’s life.
Each life is unique, so in part, you can mention the date and place of birth, parent’s names, including the mother’s maiden name, date and place of marriage, birth name of spouse, education, work, and military service. An obituary is not an official document so there is no compulsion of maintaining some word limit, so if you feel that, the step-parent should be listed as a parent, that a divorce need not be mentioned, or that some experience should be omitted, you can follow your heart, there will be no questions asked.
To maintain order, you can list the events chronologically, but do not be afraid to put important information in the right order, such as marriage before education, even if it looks eccentric. Do mention important milestones, contributions, and recognitions, but choose carefully and try to select the most important ones if there are too many on the list. A person involved in many social services and social organizations, this section is the place to glorify them.
About the Family
As Roelof Coe Brinkerhoff was famously quoted as saying,
“Funerals are for the living.”
This carries over to obituaries as well, as the survivors and other late loved ones need to be mentioned obligatorily in sharing their grief. Forethought posts a crucial role in this situation as the confusion and preoccupation of hopelessness can result in many important things being overlooked. Important relatives may be forgotten, hobbies or interests could escape your attention, and step-children or relatives could be omitted, which could result in a world of pain aside from the already heavy grief.
City News publications tend to work relatives into the announcement in a very stereotypical clichéd format: Roger, beloved son of… loving father of… attentive grandfather of…
And there are no special sections for survivors or late loved ones. A variation of this format is used in memorial websites and some other papers where the survivors are listed first, starting with the closest relations such as Spouse, children, grandchildren, great and great-great-grandchildren, parents, and siblings. If any are non-existent or have died within these relations, feel free to skip and move on to the next of kin. Nieces, nephews, cousins, and in-laws are usually left out or numbered unless they were close to the deceased. If you’re unsure how many grandchildren or great-grandchildren there are, or you don’t know their names, adding a number in the list avoids leaving anyone out by mistake. You could also say ‘many grandchildren, and it will have the same effect. Relatives should be listed with their first name, spouse’s first name in parenthesis, then surname. If the spouse’s surname is different or the couple isn’t yet married, you can include the partner’s surname in the parenthesis along with their first name.
The service times
Local traditions vary widely as to when service times are acceptable. It is advisable to consult local papers for the specific order of service times. The best alternative to this is to leave this up to your funeral director. The essentials that you need to know are as given below:
- 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
- Time, Full Date, and Place of Visitation(s).
Please be extra careful not to confuse ‘interment,’ which means to place the bodily remains in their place of rest with ‘internment’, which refers to confining a person in a place against their will.
Any special message
The very end of the obituary may contain a memorable phrase such as “in lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to…”, or “Special Thanks to the staff at City Hospital for taking care of…”, or even the classic “We will always carry your memory in our hearts.” You can even add a short prayer, or a line from a poem is placed at the end. This may carry significant meaning to the deceased or the survivors and can be a way of communicating something that could not fit into the body of the obituary. However, these are optional, and you may forego this.
Photos of the deceased
A picture is worth a thousand words. It takes up a massive amount of real estate on newspapers and commands an enormous price over the standard run-of-the-mill obituary. Still, it can be the difference between readers glossing over the obituary and others suddenly recognizing your loved one from their past acquaintance. The value of identification is usually lost when using an old photo. It’s a fantastic feeling to remember the prime days of a person’s life in the obituary. However, the person’s old age is a part of his life and usually is much more recognizable to friends and acquaintances. If you feel that a dated photo truly captures the life of the deceased loved one, then you may include it along with a recent photograph as well. Otherwise, friends and acquaintances might not recognize the person and may not read the obituary at all.
Obituary Program Template
An obituary program features a line of events such as poems, funerals, and acknowledgment. Here is a guide template for you to help you organize an obituary program.
You can design the outer cover of the obituary program as per your choice or focusing on the descended person’s personality. But do not forget to add a cover photo, full name, service information, and birth and death date.
In the back panel, you can add a poem or a thank you or acknowledgment note on behalf of the family. You can also add information about where the burial or interment will take place.
The right-hand side of the inner page may consist of a short obituary that tells about the deceased, where he/she was born, school, marital information, and information about his family. Add a personalized note about the dead written by his grandson or son to express the intense feeling and sadness of the loss.
John Dalton (1937-2014)
John Dalton, known to friends as “Jack,” left us on July 4, 2014, at 78 years.
As a native of Grovedale, Jack attended the University of Alberta, graduated with a law degree, and practiced in the Peace River area. He was appointed to the bench of the Alberta Supreme Court.
He was the beloved man of his house, with his wife of 53 years, Cora, two sons Colin and Adam, ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, a big happy family.
We will gather at 10 am to celebrate Jack’s life on Monday, September 7, at the Oliver’s Funeral Home, 10005 – 107 Ave, Grande Prairie, with Reverend Mary Blackburn officiating.
To make memorial donations in memory of Jack, you can contact (name and mailing address of foundation/society).
Basic information section
The basic information that is a must in an obituary is writing the deceased’s full name and a nickname if he or she had one. The place of residence, the location and cause of death, the person’s age, and the date he or she died. Include his family and all the outstanding achievements he/she has made in their entire life span.
The order of Service section
While writing the service order, you must consider all the elements you want to include and then arrange as per the importance. The services can also vary based on the type of funeral you wish to host.
- Traditional Funeral in Church
If you are organizing the funeral in the church, the church minister sets up the instructions about how the service should be conducted. They follow a particular protocol for the ceremony. You can coordinate with the church officials to request some specific and personalized elements in the services.
- Funeral Home Chapel
To conduct a funeral at home, consult with the funeral director and get guidance about working services. They can provide you with sample outlines of the previous service to plan your service accordingly.
- Informal Memorial Ceremony
This offers maximum flexibility, and you just have to make sure that the venue (parks, restaurants, community centers) must be accommodated with audio/visual equipment (if needed), microphones, slideshows, etc.
A traditional funeral ceremony must include the following services in the order:
- Musical Prelude
- Introduction / Words of Welcome
- Scripture Readings
- Musical Selections/Hymns
- Formal Reading of Obituary
- Eulogy/Life Tribute
- Brief Informal Tributes
- Thank you and Acknowledgements
- Viewing of Deceased
Including an obituary for the Program
An obituary for a funeral ceremony is much longer and more detailed than the obituary for a newspaper or online website.
An obituary for a funeral program must include the following:
- The name and age of the person at the beginning.
- Add the date of birth, date of death, and the cause of death.
- Include the name of the family members, parents, wife, son, daughter, grandchildren, step-parents(if any), etc. mention the name of all the essential family members.
- Outline of the early life, schooling, childhood stories(if any), etc.
- Add professional details and achievements.
- Include community engagement information, if any.
- Mention why the person was so beloved.
Extra information that can be included
Apart from all the information as mentioned above, you can also add information like.
- You can separate the family list into two part such as,
- List of surviving family
- List of predeceased family
- Awards and recognitions: Mention all the achievements and awards he has received throughout his life.
- Unique or significant activities such as social work or other great work.
- Other legacy information
- Information on memorial funds or requests.
An obituary is the last note regarding someone close to heart. Though personal messages and wishes do not require rules or templates, the basic structure can help you write the best obituary note for your loved one or yourself.