With the popularity of the Internet and online newspapers, obituaries no longer have to be short blurbs under 50 words. Several sites are now including full obituaries for everyone, not just celebrities and politicians. When faced with a death of a loved one, it is difficult to decide how to summarize his or her life in a short article tribute. Follow the steps below and you can create an obituary your loved one would be proud of.
- Check requirements. If you are posting the obituary in the local newspaper, check its guidelines. If there is a word limit, you want to know before you start writing. Some also have guidelines for online listings that differ from the in-print guidelines.
- Include the fundamentals. Essential dates for any obituary are the birth and death dates. Some people choose to start with the death date, such as, “Jane Doe passed away on Friday, June 13th” to provide the most important information first. Just be sure both dates are included somewhere within the obituary.
- Consider your audience. Be sure to consider why you are writing the obituary and for what audience. Some obits are a family’s way of honoring their lost loved one. Others are a notice to the community that someone has passed and a service is planned. If the obituary is a notice, then include organizations, employers and neighborhoods that will remind readers how they knew the deceased.
- Provide a timeline. Some people prefer to start with the family or work first. There is no set order for writing an obituary but a good rule of thumb is to focus on the deceased’s priorities–workaholics would probably want careers listed first and those who were more family focused would want family first. If priorities aren’t clear, try chronological order. Include any major employers, organizations or career honors.
- Avoid unnecessary detail. It is not necessary to include the fast food job the deceased worked when he was sixteen, unless he passed away at sixteen or was still employed there. You cannot integrate every part of a life lived into a short article. The key is to include information that honors the deceased while providing triggers to those who might have known him.
- Don’t forget the family. Whether you are including family in the deceased’s life timeline (such as Jane Doe married John Smith and together they had six children) or you are just listing the family who survive the deceased, be sure not to leave anyone out. Use names (if possible) or if the list is too exhaustive, be sure you provide an accurate count of kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. Do not start a family dispute by leaving anyone out.
- Finish with the service notice. If a funeral or memorial service is planned, finish the obituary with the location, time and any instructions. The final paragraph is also a good location for saying thank you to a caregiver or those who visited the deceased during a long illness. Some families prefer any flowers be donated to a hospital or hospice center that cared for the deceased and the service notice section is the best place for this request.
- Provide a photo. Once you have written the obituary, include a recent photo of the deceased when you submit to your local newspaper.
- Remember your loved one. Writing any obituary can be emotionally draining, so once you are done, take some time to remember your loved one and grieve for him before you reread the obituary and submit it for publication.