An obituary is a tribute to a life that has passed on and includes facts about birth and death and other milestones of most lives. However, to really honor a life that is no longer with us, you need to include some of the unique personal kinds of remembrances that made the deceased so different from the billions of others who have lived and died on this terrestrial ball.
Let’s look at the elements of a well-written obituary. After all, “There’s nothing quite so moving as an obituary that truly captures and honors the spirit of the deceased.” (1)
First off, realize that an obituary does not have to be boring and somber. Recently, an obituary written by a daughter for her father went viral. It was full of wit and hilarity, personal details, and relationship drama. Her writing was meaningfully memorable and brought her father’s escapades to life. You can read the obituary at Legacy.com.
It is also ok to make your obituary conversational in tone. Write as if you are talking to a best friend who never met this person. You want to really bring the deceased to life so that others can better remember who this person was. The more you can remember and memorialize a deceased’s life essence, the better everyone who reads the obituary can feel their grief and know what this loss means.
Obituaries can help us see clearly what this individual meant to us personally. Adding grace notes of difficulties or struggles they may have faced, along with some hints at their character faults, can be a good idea. You don’t want to write a tasteless caricature, but you also don’t need to make it bland. Talk to your funeral director if you need feedback about your writing.
An obituary also must include the facts of a person’s life, such as where and when they were born and died. You can also include how they died if you like, but this is not a necessary detail. Mention any marriages and children, grandchildren, and even a beloved pet. Details about their career or what they enjoyed studying can give flavor to the essence of the deceased’s life.
If the deceased was guided by a principle or life saying that you heard them quote repeatedly or if they were involved in a church or community group, describe these beliefs and endeavors. The deceased had a life that meant something to the people around them.
Share how they changed lives. Were they a gregarious soul who never met a stranger? Did they sit in the living room sewing quilts and waiting for others to chat? Were they filled with zeal to help others who were less fortunate or to give away their life’s savings? These are the kinds of ways that we all want to be remembered.
It is universally known that each of us has flaws, but as the obituary writer, you must dig through the deceased’s life to find the gold mixed in with the daily dirt. Most of us have some good qualities and care about something. Bring this out and let their real personality and best habits shine through.
Flowers and Contributions
Whether the deceased and family ask mourners to contribute to a charity or give flowers, include these details in your obituary. Those who are grieving often want to bless the family who is left, whether through contributions to a GoFundMe page, donations to cancer research, or fragrant flowers. Make sure to include the details of how best to show the family love and care.
You’ll want to work with your funeral home director before writing the details about the memorial service or funeral. Whether you choose to have a cremation and memorial service weeks later, a casually dressed green burial outside, or a small family group meeting in the chapel for a wake and funeral, there are many valid ways to honor the deceased while helping family and friends grieve together. During the pandemic, there is also the option of video live feed funerals to keep everyone protected against the virus.
If the prospect of writing an obituary for a deceased loved one is still stressful, talk to your funeral director about getting some help. At Renaissance, we work with families daily to help create memorial moments for grieving loved ones. We would love the opportunity to help you in your grief journey as a family, whether through setting you up with grief counseling, helping you plan a funeral, or give feedback as you write an obituary. We want to hear from you and be a resource for whatever your family needs during this stressful and sad time.