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Writing Down a Life: Crafting the Obituary

An obituary also serves as notification that an individual has passed away and details of the services that are to take place. But it can be for more than that. A well-crafted obituary can detail the life of the deceased, with style.

An obituary's length may be somewhat dictated by the space available (and the related costs) in the newspaper it is to appear in. Therefore it's best to check how much room you have before you begin your composition. Remember that the obituary should appear in print a few days prior to the service. There are some cases where this may not be possible, therefore give some consideration to the guidelines below when composing the obituary.


What Should You Include?

Naturally, it should include the deceased's full name, along with the location and date of passing so that there is no confusion over who has died.

You may wish to consider placing a photograph (which can appear as black & white or in color depending on the newspaper's layout) with the text. There are usually extra charges applied if you are thinking of using a photograph.

If you wish, mention where the deceased resided. Do not include the street address, for security reasons; just mention the city and region/state/province/county.
In a concise manner, write about the significant events in the life of the deceased. This may include the schools he or she attended and any degrees attained; you may also include any vocations or interests that the deceased was involved with.

Add the Names of Those Left Behind…as Well as Those Who Went Ahead

It is common to include a list of those who have survived the deceased, in addition to those who passed away prior to the death of your loved one. The list should include (where applicable):

  • Parents
  • Spouse and children
  • Adopted children
  • Half & step children
  • Siblings
  • Half- & step-siblings
  • Grandparents

The relatives listed above may be listed by name. Other relatives will not be mentioned by name but may be included in terms of their relationship to the deceased. In other words, the obituary may mention that the deceased had 5 grandchildren, or 7 great-grandchildren.  

Also, anyone listed as a special friend or companion is not normally included amongst the list of survivors unless the deceased's blood relatives request that it be so. The obituary's traditional purpose is to list survivors either related through the bloodline or marriage.

At this point list the details of the time and location of any services, and the place of interment for the deceased; also any memorial donations requested by the family.


Tips for Crafting a Complete Obituary

If you don't know where to start, do read other obituaries to gain an idea of how personal and touching an obituary may be.