There are several parts to an obituary that extend beyond merely writing it. You may initially think that this is all that is needed, but think again – unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward. Not only do you have to create the obituary, but you have to submit it as well as gather information for the actual obituary. Furthermore, there are other options available to you to help alleviate the process and to lessen the burden on you in a time of duress.

You might also feel a sense of pressure in capturing the right tone and voice in writing an obituary. It can certainly be a weighty undertaking, but luckily you don’t need to be a William Shakespeare to write a meaningful tribute for your loved one (or even yourself, in some cases).

This article is intended to be a step-by-step guide to the process of both creating and publishing an obituary. Hopefully, it will ease the stress on you and your loved ones when you need to write one.

First, Know Your Options

The best place to start is to realize that you don’t necessarily have to write an obituary. Oftentimes, funeral homes will step in and create an obituary on your behalf, which you then simply have to approve. If you’re not comfortable writing an obituary or simply lack sufficient time, then this might be the route you choose to go.

You may also enlist the help of your newspaper or other local media that will run the obituary – similarly to having the funeral home pitch in, they can provide you with an iteration based on information you provide.

It’s important to realize that the responsibility of writing an obituary does not have to entirely fall on you and your loved ones. While you will want to have a say in the final content, you don’t need to be involved in every detail. But if that’s more appropriate for your situation, then of course, you can author the obituary to your liking. If you are more on the creative side or more married to the concept of the obituary, then you may prefer going it alone.

Action Steps:

Decide whether you want to take on the task of writing the obituary yourself; possibly contact the newspaper, local media, or funeral home to inquire about available options.

Second, Gather All the Information You Need

Even if you don’t write the obituary yourself, you will still need to collect biographical information about the subject’s life. You may already be aware of this information, or you may need to talk to another loved one to tie up any loose ends. Typically, the information you will seek will be as follows:

  • Full name
  • Birth date and death date
    • Note: You should consider if you want to include the full birth date in a public obituary, as it is information that could be used by criminals to steal an identity.
  • Place of birth
  • Parents’ names
  • Surviving loved ones as well as deceased loved ones
  • Locations they may have lived during their life
  • Education
  • Work history
  • Marriages and children (pets as well)
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Any other accomplishments (e.g., awards or military service, or something perhaps remarkable about the individual in question)

If you encounter any areas that you can’t account for, you can do some research (if time permits) or you can choose to skip over certain areas.

Then, naturally, you’ll need to include information about the funeral and, if applicable, a place of burial. If you are writing this obituary for someone who has yet to pass away – or yourself – you can leave a placeholder for date, time, and even – if decided – location.

The last nugget of information you will need for the obituary will be the individual’s wishes regarding donations and flowers. Sometimes flowers will be welcome by the loved ones; other times, it will be requested that in lieu of flowers, donations are sent to a specific nonprofit that will likely align with something in the individual’s interest. Be absolutely sure to include this, as a lot of well-wishers will want to send flowers, cards, or money in memoriam.

Action Steps: If you aren’t already in the know about this information, do some detective work; the internet and social media will likely be helpful tools to you at this step. Talk to the right people who can connect you with the information you need. And should you be writing in a fairly emotional time, you may want to create a checklist to keep you on track.

Third, Proofread Your Obituary

Due to the sensitivity of this content, you’ll want to either enlist a friend or loved one to read over the piece, or alternatively, you can ask for the newspaper or funeral home to give it a review. This is highly important if you end up taking a more emotional approach with your obituary. Depending on the individual who the funeral is for, this may be a method more comfortable to commemorating their life. But there are certainly reasons this approach won’t work for all situations.

If you’re particularly pinched for time, there are plenty of options for proofreading software online. Albeit not the foremost option by any means, they can help when you need to pull something together quickly.

Action Steps: Edit, edit, edit! Preferably with the aid of another person, but proofreading software is a good option, too.

Fourth, Distribute the Obituary

Once you’ve written an obituary and the funeral itself is nigh- if this is the option you’ve selected, that is – you’ll need to dispense it to all the necessary outlets. As alluded to before, this can include:

  • Certainly the funeral home, as they will probably publish it on their website
  • Local newspaper(s)
  • Other local media

The obituary will need to be published a few days before the funeral ceremony at the very latest, so plan accordingly with this step. People will need to have time to make arrangements to attend the viewing, the ceremony, or both. Alternatively, some people will choose to have the ceremony months into the future in order to give loved ones far away enough time to travel to the destination. In these cases, you can be more flexible with time. You’ll want to be mindful of honoring the individual’s time of death, though, so don’t wait too long to send it for distribution.

The Next Steps

An obituary does not just end at publication, however; the content you’ve included in the obituary can prove incredibly useful in other forms as well. Funerals tend to involve various mementos to the deceased, such as prayer cards, funeral programs, and various other keepsakes. These all serve unique functions but there is a significant overlap involved with the actual obituary. Let’s break it down:

Prayer Cards

The short definition of a prayer card is exactly as the name implies – a small, printed (often laminated) card that contains a photo of the individual, their name, and a prayer, hymn, or poem to remember them by. As prayer cards have a much more permanent meaning than an obituary, there’s no need to include the date, time, or location of the funeral on these cards. As well, you do not need to go into the same level of detail regarding the individual’s life.

Funeral Programs

Funeral programs are more detailed than prayer cards, but not on the same level as an obituary, either. A funeral program is designed to be a step-by-step agenda of the funeral service, so its intent is very specific. Of course, many people hold on to programs long after they’ve passed, but their intended need is time-sensitive. With a funeral program, you can include a basic overview of the individual’s life as their birth date, death date, and family or loved ones. You could also opt to include the entire obituary itself if time permits. Like prayer cards, you can go many ways with a funeral program.

Other Keepsakes

Other funeral keepsakes can borrow bits and pieces from the obituary, too. From memorial photo albums to guest books to bookmarks, you may choose to give guests another memento from the funeral to commemorate the individual they are mourning. The amount of information you will need for each varies depending on medium, but the obituary acts as a solid foundation for the rest of what you may design.

Hopefully, your mind feels somewhat at ease by now. Remember to ask for help if you need it, and to enlist the services of others where it makes the most sense. Writing an obituary is something that will be part of a permanent legacy for the individual in question, and with some preparedness and research skills, you can write one that will truly honor them. After all, obituaries are often kept by historical societies as well as online grave directories, so your words may make someone’s impression of a person.