Writing an obituary

We all read them, looking for familiar names or perhaps to confirm details of the news already received. Some even joke that they read the obituaries and, if their name isn’t there, they’d better get up and make breakfast!

But what if you are the one who has to write the obituary? Funeral homes pretty much have the process down and, believe it or not, there are people whose job title is Professional Obituary Writer. With more and more people opting for alternative funerals, services and visitations it stands to reason that more families are tasked with writing the obituary for their departed family member or simply want to put a personal spin on the announcement.

A typical obituary has five pieces of information:

  • The actual announcement including the name of the departed and often the location of their death
  • Biographical information including age, place of birth, career and/or education information
  • Immediate family who survive the departed usually beginning with the spouse or life partner followed by children, grandchildren and surviving parents or siblings
  • Time, place and dates of visitation and services
  • Organizations to which memorial donations may be made

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the death, thank you messages to those who assisted in the care of the departed are sometimes included in the obituary but may also be saved for a published thank you note at some point following the funeral.

Increasingly we are seeing more personal obituaries that contain the names of beloved pets left behind, hobbies that passed many pleasant hours and dear friends who were as close or closer to the departed as any sibling. Some families choose a slightly more off the beaten track approach as this family did – don’t miss clicking that link!

People who are aware that they are dying may choose to take an active role in planning their services and writing their obituary. Some even choose their headstones and the message to be written on it. Consider some of the wittier messages people chose for their headstones:

Merv Griffin – I will not be right back after this message

Odell Gill Douglas – I told you I was sick

Rodney Dangerfield – There goes the neighborhood

George W. Harris, Jr. – I knew this would happen

Leslie Nielsen – “Let ‘er rip”

Jonathan Blade – Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake / stepped on the gas instead of the brake

Anonymous grave in Stowe, Vermont – I was somebody. Who, is not business of yours

Anna Hopewell – Here lies the body of our Anna / Done to death by a banana / It wasn’t the fruit that laid her low / But the skin of the thing that made her go

Harry Edsel Smith – Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.

Mel Blanc – “That’s All Folks!”

Bette Davis – She did it the hard way

However the dearly departed is remembered in the obituary immediately following their passing, on the stone that marks their grave or perhaps on a plaque that shows where their ashes were scattered, it is clear that there are a lot of options. There’s nothing wrong with a traditional approach or with taking a more personal turn. The path chosen often signals how the family wishes to move forward in their healing.