An obituary is a public notice of death that includes service details, a list of relatives, and biographical information about the individual’s life. When you write an obituary, it is also your opportunity to share the story of your loved one’s life—what they valued, cherished, and loved the most. Whether an obituary is serious or humorous, elegant or poetic, the writing and reading of obituaries can serve as a type of grief ritual. Unlike most other ways for acknowledging death, obituaries are accessible to just about anyone, can be read countless times, and easily capture the treasured memories and unique qualities that set each life apart.
Print obituaries are usually written and paid for by the family of the deceased and published in a local newspaper. Most newspapers charge by the line, making it easy to estimate the expense and ensuring that no important details are overlooked. The family may choose to print a short death notice first, followed by a full obituary later. The obituary may tell the story of a person’s life, such as personal or professional accomplishments; volunteer or charitable activities; military service, religious affiliations, or educational achievements. See our blog entry on The Art of the Obituary for information on specific details to include. When preparing a print obituary, your funeral director can assist you with the wording or information to be included in the obituary. Your funeral director will also know who to contact and how to arrange payment.
Online Memorial Tributes
Along with a printed obituary or death notice, families usually have the option of posting the obituary on a funeral home’s website or a memorial site. If you find that it is a bit too costly to print your loved one’s full obituary in the newspaper, an online tribute page offers an ideal way to memorialize a loved one’s life. Online memorials or obituary pages can also be shared on social media to reach a wider audience. Be sure to ask your funeral director about your options for an online memorial page. Some funeral homes offer personalized memorial pages where friends and family can leave comments, condolences, and share memories and stories.
Planning Ahead for Obituary Content
If you are considering planning your funeral wishes in advance, you may want to keep some biographical information on file, along with any additional information you want published. You can also set aside funds to cover the cost of printing the obituary, along with other funeral-related costs to help alleviate the financial burden from family members. In order to make writing the obituary easier for your family, you should also document where you went to high school or college; the years you graduated, degrees you obtained, or organizations you participated in; and the names of family members (including maiden names), especially those who have already died, as this type of information can be difficult to obtain or verify on short notice. Having it on file protects loved ones from the possibility of disagreement or oversight. For more guidance in the area of planning ahead, see our entry on the reasons people plan ahead funeral wishes. If you think your family might create an online tribute in your memory, you can save photos or document special memories and dates that it would bring them comfort at the time of loss.
Making the Obituary More Meaningful
Some people are larger than life—you want their story to jump off of the page. To make the obituary more meaningful, be sure to share what your loved one’s personal legacy is, and how his or her life made a difference in the lives of others. If your loved one had a unique and special “spark” that inspired others, that passion is worth sharing. If your loved one dedicated him or herself to the service of others, that is worth sharing. Anything that your loved one valued, loved, or took on as a personal mission is worth sharing! Some of our favorite examples include those of Mary A. “Pink” Mullaney, Aaron Purmort, and this one by Margaret (Marge) Aitken Holcombe, who wrote her own obituary, dubbed by the Huffington Post as the Best Obit Ever. Oftentimes, these final farewells give family and friends a chance to laugh and cry as they remember the good times you shared. Whether you are writing for yourself or someone else, obituaries offer a unique opportunity to memorialize a life and to spread joy and memories to loved ones near and far.