How to Write an Obituary

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Writing a loved one's obituary can seem like a difficult task. Not only are you trying to deal with your loss, you are now forced to put into words a summary of your loved one's life. With a few easy steps and the help of close family and friends, it can be a time to reminisce and remember the pleasant memories you've shared with your loved one.

Step 1. Gather Information
In times like this, it is often helpful to discuss the necessary details with close family members or friends. You may not recall everything right now - where your loved one was born or when they graduated or received their degree. Having someone else to discuss the details with can make the task less stressful.

Basic information needed is your loved ones full name, birth date, birthplace, city and state of residence at death, age at death, name of significant other, full names of parents and siblings, those that preceded your loved one in death, those surviving, date and time of visitation, date and time of funeral, name of pallbearers, name of funeral home and cemetery. If funeral arrangements have not yet been made, you can always include the name of the funeral home and "arrangements are being made." Those interested can contact the funeral home for more information.

Information on where the family would like to have memorials sent should also be included. When planning for memorials, think of what your loved one would want - not what you think would be best. If your loved one liked flowers and enjoyed seeing them blossom in spring, don't put "in lieu of flowers." Don't request donations to an animal shelter if your loved one didn't like animals and don't request donations to a cause they didn't support. A photograph can also be included with the obituary. Some newspapers will scale down a larger photograph to fit. Others will request a wallet size photo. Check with the newspaper to see what they require and how they want it submitted.

Step 2. Write
Once you have gathered the basic information, begin to write the obituary. If you are unsure of where to start, it can be helpful to look at obituaries in your local paper. This will give you a guideline to follow. Some newspapers will provide a template or format to follow. Others will have no guidelines and it will be up to you as to how much or how little you include. Since so many newspapers charge for obituaries, you often have free reign and the newspaper will print the obituary just as you have written it. You may want to consider cost per line or the cost per word and determine how much you want to spend. This will determine how much or how little you include in the obituary.

Most obituaries begin with the basic information gathered above, then follow with a summary of the loved ones life. For this step, don't worry about the length as you begin to put down the information. You can always edit and cut once you have finished. Right now, just concentrate on summarizing your loved ones life. Start from the beginning and include the important events along the way.

Step 3. Include Pertinent Information
As you begin to write about your loved ones' life, you might want to include the following information:
Military background
Honors and awards
Extra-curricular activities, for example: church affiliation, clubs, volunteer groups, hobbies, anything important to your loved one.
Home life

Additional information you may want to include:
Special pets
How they died - most obituaries do not include this, but this is an option.

Step 4. Memorialize Your Loved One to Your Readers
As you piece together the summary of your loved one's life, it's important to think of your reader as well. This is your chance to memorialize your loved one and let others know the whole person. Include interesting tidbits, something the reader might not have known about your loved one - and don't be afraid to include humor. Sharing little known facts about your loved one with family and friends gives them something to smile about and lasting memories to cherish.

You will need a eulogy for the funeral service and this draft can serve that purpose as well. The longer version can be read at the funeral and a shorter version can be used for the obituary.

Step 5. Proofread and Edit
Once the initial draft is written, be sure to proof your work and have someone else check it for spelling and grammatical errors. Make sure you spell names correctly and don't leave out family members or other important details.

At this time, you can decide if you want to shorten what you've written and possibly keep the longer version for a bulletin insert or for the pastor to read at the funeral. Some funeral homes include a basic obituary as part of the package. If so, check with them to see what their word limit is, or if there is one. If the newspaper charges by column inch, you might want to call and find out how many words make up a column inch so you will have an idea of what price you are looking at. Then you can edit accordingly.

Step 6. Delegate
If all the above seems overwhelming or you just don't feel up to it - delegate! Writing the obituary shouldn't be a stressful time. If you don't feel up to it or you aren't good at writing, pass the task on to a friend or family member that enjoys writing or that is good at writing letters. You can provide them with the information, make suggestions, and they can take notes. Make this easy on yourself. Don't feel guilty about passing the task along if you are not up to it. Friends and family are glad to help in times of need.

Step 7. Submit
In order to ensure that the obituary reaches the paper without errors, check with the paper to determine the best way to submit the obituary. Oftentimes, the newspaper will allow you to submit the obituary on disk or to e-mail the obituary. You can also ask for a proof of the obituary before it is printed so you can look it over for errors or omissions. Other information to find out are deadlines for the obituary, where to send the obituary (if by e-mail, the correct address; if in person, the address and the person to speak with) and the date the obituary will be published.

Step 8. Submit to Other Locations
You also have the option of printing the obituary in more than one paper. You may want to print the obituary in the newspaper of the town where your loved one grew up; or if a loved one has just moved, at both the new and the old location. Sons and daughters often have the obituary printed in their hometown. If you plan to submit to other locations, check with them to see how they suggest you submit the obituary. Check prices and word count as well

Step 9. Check Your Submission
Once the obituary is printed in the paper, check to make sure names are correct and important information is included. If errors are found, call the newspaper and if time allows, have them print a correction. This is especially important when names of family members are incorrect or date and times of funeral are wrong.

Step 10. Purchase Copies and Consider Lamination
Some funeral homes include several laminated copies of the obituary in the package. Check with your funeral home to see if this is included, and then determine how many additional copies you might need. Purchase several copies for family and friends unable to attend the funeral and notify others if it will be published in their hometown paper and on what date it will be published. For those unable to attend the funeral, it's nice to receive a copy of the funeral bulletin and the obituary.

Below is a sample obituary template and two sample obituaries; one is a simple, short obituary; the other is a longer version that would also be suitable for the eulogy. These are just samples to give you an idea of what you might include - you can be the judge on what is best for you and your loved one. There is also a short list to help you avoid common mistakes and to help ensure an easy task for you and your family.

Sample Template
(Name), (age), of (residence), died (date of death), (place of death). (Cause of death is optional)

He was born on (birthday), to (parents) in (birthplace).

(Last name) attended (college) and... (fill in with educational honors, military honors, awards, etc.).

He married (spouse) on (date of marriage) and they had (number) children, (children's names)

(Employment and retirement information.)

(Hobbies, sports, interests, activities and other information can be included here.)

(Last name) is survived by (list spouse, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings and parents if applicable).

He was preceded in death by his (list parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, etc.)

Visitation will be (date and time) at (name of funeral home and location).

Funeral services will be (date and time) at (church or funeral home where service will be held) with the (name of person doing service) officiating.

Interment will follow at (name of cemetery and location).

(If arrangements are pending, include the name of the funeral home and the phone number to call for more information.)

Pallbearers will be (names of pallbearers). (Include honorary pallbearers if applicable.)

(Include information on memorial donations).

Sample - Short Version

Rep Franklin Moore, 77, of La Pryor, died Oct. 3, 2007, in a San Antonio hospital.

He was born on May 3, 1930, to Rep Moore and Leona Klohs Moore in Dryer, Texas.

Moore attended A undefined many friends and relatives; and his three prize horses, Chip, Nipper and Sissy.

Visitation will be Sunday, DATE from 6 to 8 p.m. at Grace Funeral Home in Victoria.

Funeral services will be Monday, DATE at 2 p.m. at John Wesley United Methodist Church with the Rev. David King officiating.

Interment will follow at Hochheim Cemetery in Hochheim.

Pallbearers will be Jim Steinbaugh, Ronny Moore, Rex"Billy" Moore, Bob Moore, Wayne Turk, George "Buck" Turk, Wallace Meeks, and Lance Honig.

Sample - Long Version
Rep Franklin Moore, 77, went to be with his heavenly father on October 3, 2007 after a long fight with kidney and heart disease. He was born at Dryer, Texas on May 3, 1930 to Rep Moore and Leona Klohs Moore. They later moved to Gonzales and he enjoyed training horses, participating in rodeos and learning the saddle making trade. He also attended A undefined Chip, Nipper and Sissy.

Avoiding Common Mistakes
Below is a checklist to help you avoid common mistakes and to make the task of writing the obituary easier.
_____ Don't make the obituary about those still living - make it about your loved one.
_____ Include information about your loved one's life - don't include only the funeral details.
_____ Don't use abbreviations or terms that everyone may not understand.
_____ Write in the third person and refer to your loved one as an individual, not as Mom or Dad or our son or our daughter.
_____ When considering memorials, consider your loved one's wishes - not your own.
_____ Proofread and proofread again.
_____ Double check the spelling of all names.
_____ Have a close family member look over the obituary to make sure you are not leaving any family members out.