The idea of writing an obituary for someone close to you can be daunting. But with a little time, thought and careful research, you can create something that will really do them justice. So, how do you write an obituary that’s memorable and unique? We’ll walk you through it all from start to finish here.

We will cover:

 

What’s an obituary, and what does it need to say?

Before you start, what is an obituary?

An obituary is a written public announcement that someone has died, published online or in a newspaper. It usually covers the following:

  • An introduction explaining that the person has died
  • Information about their life, their work and their family – this is the bulk of the obituary
  • A little on who their close family members are
  • The time and place of the funeral, as well as information on where to send flowers and/or donations to the family’s chosen charity

We’ll cover how to write an obituary, with ways to approach each of these sections, below.

Remember: the obituary doesn’t have to be sombre. It can be uplifting or even funny. The important thing is that it’s heartfelt and true to the character of the person who has died.

 

How to write a beautiful obituary, step-by-step

Whether you’re wondering how to write an obituary for a father or mother – or even a friend – the steps below should help you create something well-written and meaningful.

1) First, decide where to publish the obituary

It’s best to publish the obituary at least two days before the funeral. So, before writing an obituary for a paper, it’s a good idea to call them up and check:

  • How much it is (this may depend on length)
  • What the maximum word count is
  • What their deadline is

If you’d like the obituary to appear in a newspaper, you’ll likely have to pay a fee. The smaller and more local the newspaper, the lower the fee will be. But if you write an obituary online, on a memorial website for example, the guidelines are usually a lot more relaxed. You might not have to pay a fee either, and you can upload it in your own time.

How much does an obituary cost? Newspapers tend to charge between £30 and £600 for an obituary or death notice. Online obituary pages are often free.

 

2) Writing a great obituary takes a little research

Before you put pen to paper, it’s a good idea to do some research. Talk to a few other people (friends, family, co-workers) who were close to the person who died. You can ask them to check any facts and talk about how to make the obituary personal.

You might want to chat about:

  • Their date of birth, death, marriage, graduation and other important life events
  • Any achievements the person who died might have liked you to mention
  • Stories that reveal something about their character
  • Their favourite things – music, books, TV shows, poems, plays
  • What were they like to work with/live with/study with?
  • Words that describe the person who has died
  • Photos of them (these can also be used to make a memory board, book or slideshow at the wake if you’d like)

Once you’ve talked things through, gather together your obituary ideas. It can help to create a timeline of the person’s life along with a little mind-map of important words, phrases, quotes and ideas to inspire you as you begin your first draft.

 

3) Think about how to write an obituary introduction

The opening lines of an obituary tell the reader the essentials: who has died, and when. There are plenty of different ways to go about this, but here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Classic: “Robert Argent, 75, died peacefully at home on October 20th, surrounded by his friends and family. He was born…”
  • With a quote: “To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Robert Argent’s family would like to pay tribute to this amazing father and devoted husband as he heads on to his next adventure. Robert, 75, was known to all in the local area as a fanatical horticulturist and reliably hilarious friend. While the weeds of his garden in Hauxton may breathe a sigh of relief, those who were lucky enough to know him will miss him deeply. Robert was born…”
  • With sadness: “It is with great sadness that the family of Robert Argent shares the news of his passing on October 20th, at the age of 75. His good humour and unfailing kindness will be sorely missed.”
  • In their own words: “There’s nothing better than a good cup of tea.” Robert Argent was a man who loved the smaller things in life: great tea, long autumnal walks, a chat by the fire. He died on October 20th, surrounded by the roses he’d spent more than 10 years tending with care.”
  • Simple: “Robert Argent, known as Bob to his friends, died this week in St Mary’s Hospital in Brinkley at the age of 75.”
  • With relationships: “On Monday, October 20th, Robert Argent, devoted father, husband, grandpa and brother died quietly in his sleep at 75.

 

4) Writing an obituary is a lot like writing a biography…

…In that most of the obituary will describe the life led by the person who has died. You don’t have to do this in chronological order, although that can help. Here are some things you could talk about:

  • Where and when they were born
  • Their parents’ names
  • Where they went to school, college and university, and what they studied
  • Their hobbies and pastimes
  • Who their partner was, how they met, how long they were together
  • Their children’s names, and whether they were a grandparent
  • Any voluntary work they did, causes they cared about
  • Qualifications earned and awards granted
  • Their career – notable places they worked and achievements there
  • When they died
  • How they died – you really don’t have to mention this, but it may help if you and the rest of the family would prefer not to be asked later, or if it’s relevant to a cause you’d like the funeral guests to donate to

You don’t have to include everything they’ve ever done in the obituary. Try to think about what the person who has died would have considered their biggest achievements.

For some people, building their family is their greatest joy and accomplishment, and their job is just that – a job. Others pour their soul into a career they love as much as friends and family. Some of us are weirdly proud of chess championships won as children. The things we’re proud of say a lot about who we are.

Small, personal details can also bring a little colour into the obituary. For example:

  • “Robert studied Engineering at the University of Warwick, although he was better known on campus for scathing left-wing op-eds in the student paper and the wild parties he threw in his dorm.”
  • “Colleagues at Windermere Joinery remember Robert for his reliable stash of desk treats, which he would share liberally, as well as his keen eye for sleek design.”
  • “Robert was a devoted grandfather to his four grandchildren, with a playful tendency to collude in tricks and pranks on his unwitting offspring.”

 

6) Don’t forget to mention the family

If you haven’t covered this in the course of the biography, talk about the close family of the person who has died. Something like:

“Robert will be lovingly remembered by his wife, Wendy, and their two children, Lucy and Henry. He will also be sorely missed by his grandchildren, Abigail, Frances, Jamie and Lola. His older brother, Fred, died just a few years earlier.”

 

7) Finally, talk about the funeral service

When writing an obituary, it’s traditional to finish with information about the funeral service:

  • Where and when it will be
  • When and where the wake or reception will be
  • Where readers can send flowers and/or donations

If you want to keep the funeral quiet and private, don’t worry. You don’t have to mention the time and date of the service or wake.

 

8) Finally, writing an obituary well means editing it carefully!

Once you’ve finished your first draft, read the obituary back and make any changes that occur to you. Then leave it alone for a few hours or a day before reading it through again. Next, give the second draft of the obituary to a few other close family members or friends of the person who has died to read and fact-check.

Before you send it off, remember: if grammar isn’t your strong point (and even if it is) it’s a good idea to ask someone who is good at that sort of thing to check the obituary over. Just to clean up any typos you might have missed!

 

So, that’s how to write an obituary! Have any questions? Share your thoughts in the comment box below, and our team of funeral experts will get back to you.

 

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