An obituary is where you announce when someone has passed away. This has traditionally been posted in newspapers and serves to inform the wider community about a death. It does this by providing key information and details of a service.
When someone famous dies you’ll often see a large obituary giving full details about their life achievements but that’s not always how it is. The vast majority of obituaries are small and written in the obituary section of local newspapers.
Why do we have obituaries?
In this modern age, you may be wondering why we still have obituaries. If you think about older times when there were no telephones or even social media, the reasons for an obituary become a lot more clear. An obituary was to let the community know if someone had passed away.
Newspapers were the best way of communicating and an obituary would inform old friends and distant relatives that a loved one had died. It would then inform them of the service and other personal details.
Do we still need an obituary?
While it is not mandatory to write an obituary, it is definitely a personal preference of the deceased or loved one. Below are 3 reasons to write one.
Not everyone may know – Despite your best efforts, there may still be people who don’t know about the death. An obituary allows you to cover all bases as there are still plenty of people out there who read the obituary section.
Detailing arrangements – With most newspapers and therefore most obituaries, they will be posted in their physical paper and also online. This obituary can be a good reference point for people to double-check the information on the funeral.
Creating a public record – An obituary is your chance to tell the wider community about how important someone was. It’s nice to have that little piece of history in their local newspaper detailing their life and how loved they were by their family and loved ones.
Modern alternatives 💻
If you want to be able to write an obituary but see no value in writing it in a newspaper piece then don’t feel obliged to do it. Here are a few more modern alternatives
Social media – The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram haven’t traditionally been places for formal notices but that doesn’t mean you can’t write an obituary on there. Just be sure you include all the important details of the service etc.
Online memorials – There are a few websites where you can create a memorial page for your loved one. This can be an excellent way to create something special and unique but without having to pay a newspaper fee.
What needs to be included in an obituary?
While an obituary is mainly to inform people of key details, there is also plenty of room to outline their life achievements and how special they were. A traditional obituary can be broken down into four segments (but again, remember you do not need to be traditional).
In the introduction you’ll be outlining that a person, most likely your loved one, has passed away. Be clear about who has passed, including their full name, any nicknames, their age and place of birth. Including a picture with the obituary can help with this. You can also include details about the death if you want but it’s not necessary.
The detail here is going to be largely dependent on the amount of space you have to work with. While your desire may be to write a full biography, it’s worth remembering the funeral is a wonderful time to celebrate their life as well. No need to write a full novel. To see more about writing an obituary to remember, read 👈
It’s good to think of what the deceased would have wanted you to put as well. Maybe they were devoted to a sports team, achieved a lot in their work, or were a valued member of the community. This section is a short reflection on their life.
Another traditional part of an obituary is to mention the family they have been left behind. Here you’ll see phrases such as “loving husband of 30 years to . . .”, or “devoted father to . . .”. The family members included will depend on the dynamics of the family.
If you’re struggling to include everyone’s names in the word count that you have, mentioning numbers with an appropriate adjective will suffice such as “caring grandfather of eight” etc. It’s important to include all the people that the deceased was close to in some way.
In this final section, you need to mention the funeral, making sure that you include the time, place and any additional details. You may also want to add any other special announcements here such as asking for donations to a charity in lieu of flowers 💐.
Arranging an obituary
If you’re going to put an obituary in a local newspaper, then it’s best to give them a call or look on their website to arrange it. They will often have different payment options depending if you want a picture and the number of words you plan on writing.
Keep it personal
There has been a lot of tradition when it comes to an obituary and usually a set structure. It’s important to remember that these are only guidelines and you’re free to write whatever you want to, if you want to write one. Every loved one is unique and different, so also make sure that however and wherever you write, it is respectful and personal 💛.