Don’t put off writing your obituary. The truth is that you just have to start it, you don’t have to finish it. There are 4 ways to write an obituary, but please keep in mind, the longer the obituary, the more it will cost. So, the question is, do you want it short and sweet or long and detailed?
Here are a few things that you will probably want to include in your obituary:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- City of residence
- City of birth
- Name of significant other (alive or deceased)
- Date, time, place of funeral, memorial service or wake will be held – obviously, you won’t have that information, but it’s not a bad idea to include a general mention so that your loved ones can contact the funeral home or church where you want your memorial service to be held. If you already know which funeral home you want your funeral to be held in or if you have a particular pastor, father, or another spiritual leader to officiate at your funeral, you may want to mention it here as well.
- City and state of birth
- City and states of previous residences throughout the years
- Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other family members
- Special pets
- Activities – this could include volunteer work, church/synagogue/temple/mosque membership, hobbies, membership to professional organizations & your position within the organization and your contribution to the organization.
- Vocation and/or places of employment
- Significant accomplishments
- Military service
- Schools attended and degrees earned
- Personality traits and/or a short antidote
- How you died – you may want to leave this part blank
- Where people should make a memorial donation
The First Paragraph
The Short & Sweet Obituary
In the short and sweet obituary, the opening is a short one sentence that gives general information about who you are, how old you are, where you reside and when you died. You do not need to include the cause of death. Of course, since you are writing your own obituary, you should leave the date and cause of death blank and let your family members fill in that part.
An example of the short and sweet template might just be a short death announcement and look something like this:
[Name], [age], of [residence] passed away on [date].
Here’s an example of what it might look like:
Jane Doe, 89 of Akron, Ohio, died Jan 1st, 2012 with her family by her side.
The Biographical Obituary
In this type of obituary, you want to give some basic biographical information, such as place of birth, education and marital life (if it applies to you).
Here’s an example of a template you could use:
[Your full name] was born [place of birth, date of birth, parents]. [Your first name] graduated from [high school] and attended [name of college] where he/she received a degree in [name of degree]. He/she was married to [spouse’s name, time of marriage]. (You may want to include where you lived most of your life and where you retired if it is applicable.)
Here’s an example of what a biographical obituary might look like:
Jane Doe was born to the late Joseph and Judy Jackson, January 1, 1905. Jane graduated from Springfield High School in 1922 and received her BS in Journalism from the University of Akron in 1927. She married the late Dr. John Doe in 1929 and they lived together in the Akron area for 35 years before retiring to the Tampa Bay area.
The Second Paragraph
The second paragraph is optional. Remember that obituaries aren’t free. There is a cost involved. Word counts vary depending on the newspaper’s font and column width. So your loved ones should ask how many words are in an inch and keep that fact in mind when going to submit your obituary. If you want a picture with your obituary, then you should provide that for your loved ones, as well. Please keep in mind that may also add to the overall cost of your obituary.
The Informational Paragraph
If you want your obituary to include more information than what is typically included in the short and sweet obituary or the biographical obituary, use the biographical obituary as your first paragraph and then add additional information in the second and third paragraph.
Think of these paragraphs as mini-paragraphs or descriptive paragraphs. They describe you. Now pick three positive adjectives that describe your personality. If it helps, think about what you want to be known for.
For example, rather than saying you were civic-minded, describe what you did to demonstrate your civic mindedness. Describe your volunteer activities, charity activities, lodge affiliation or other organizations that you were involved in.
The formatting of these paragraphs is less structured since it all depends on the information you want to include.
An example, a paragraph may look something like this:
“Jane Doe was a nurse until she retired in 1980. She was passionate about helping the homeless and volunteered at the Akron Free Clinic during her spare time. She also served meals to the homeless at Haven of Rest Ministries on Market Street on Christmas and at Thanksgiving. She also read books to toddlers during the Akron Library Storytime Hour on Monday mornings. She was honored with the Akron Hometown Hero award in 1989.”
Or maybe it may like this, “John Doe was an avid fisherman. He spent most weekends fishing in his boat, The Wild Matilda with his family and friends on Lake Erie. He enjoyed coaching little league and ran 12 half-marathons with his grandchildren during his lifetime.”
The Survivor Paragraph
This is by far the most common type of obituary you will find in the newspaper. In this type of obituary, you should list your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (if you have any). You also need to include the residences of these family members and separate the names of each person with a semicolon. If you have a lot of grandchildren it may be more appropriate to just mention the number instead of listing each grandchild separately. I think the rule of thumb should be if you have three grandchildren or less, go ahead and list them individually, otherwise just stick to mentioning the number.
An example of this would look something like:
Jane Doe is survived by two children: Sarah Johnson of Copley; Samuel Doe, of Canton; and Susan Williams, of Wooster. She is survived by 6 grandchildren and by 3 great-grandchildren.
The Funeral/Memorial Service Paragraph
The funeral information should be placed in the final paragraph. It will include the time, date and place where the service will be held. Since you won’t be writing this part, you may still want your wishes known, if you would like the attendees to donate to a charity in your name.
If that’s the case, then it should look something like this:
“Instead of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Catholic Charities.“
When your family submits your obituary, they need to know what the deadline is for your local newspaper, although it usually around 4 or 5 p.m for obituaries, sometimes they’ll make exceptions, if possible. Otherwise, it will go into the next day’s paper.
Try not to make your obituary too long and stick to the formatting suggestions outlined above. However, your local newspaper my format their obituaries differently, so it’s a good idea to take a look at the obituaries in your hometown newspaper to look at the formatting. If the formatting is different, follow their formatting.
If your obituary is too long, it may be edited down to a more manageable size so the newspaper can fit it into space they have allotted for obituaries.
If you want your obituary to be published in a local paper where you used to live, then you should provide that information to your loved ones so they can carry out your wishes.
Some funeral homes will include the obituary in their funeral packages. If you have a particular funeral home in mind, find out if this is the case. Also, you can always purchase a pre-burial package from a funeral home, but if there is any money left over, the funeral home will not refund the difference to your family. Pre-need funeral packages put control of your final expenses in the funeral home’s hands.