What is an Obituary?


When a loved one dies, many people want to commemorate the passing with an obituary. Traditionally published in newspapers, these days obituaries are found online too, on personal websites, or dedicated obituary sites. Some people even publish on social media. But what is an obituary and how do you write one?

An obituary details the life of the person who has died. It’s usually chronological and details the key points of their life. An obituary will talk about immediate family members and anyone else significant who has been left behind.

When a person dies there are a few things you’ll need to do and some you’ll want to do. This includes registering the death, arranging the funeral and saying goodbye at the chapel of rest, telling the right organizations and dealing with the estate. At the same time, you’re also grieving. But there’s no legal requirement to write an obituary. And if you do write one you don’t have to publish it.

You might just write it because you want to.

Why Write an Obituary?

An obituary is a nice way to remember a loved one. It both pays tribute to the person who has died, and lets the wider community know about the death. In the days before any social distancing restrictions came into play it would be common for the wider community to pay their respects by attending the funeral.

Sometimes people choose to write an obituary instead of sending flowers.

What to Write

The hard bit can be what to write. If you’re writing an obituary with the aim of publishing it, remember the words will be made public and last forever. So, you want to get it right.

An obituary should include some basic details about the deceased and other details that announce the death of your loved one. For example:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Date and Place of birth
  • Date and place of death
  • Their education
  • Surviving family members
  • A photo
  • Perhaps a poem or quote that reflects the life or loves of the deceased
  • The details of the funeral or memorial service

Some families choose to include the nature of the death, others don’t. It’s a family decision and also perhaps dictated by the circumstances. Seeing that a person ‘had a battle with illness is quite common in obituaries, whereas if the death was more traumatic it’s less likely the family will want to commit that to write.

If you’re publishing the obituary in a newspaper a word limit might apply.  But it’s always good to keep what you write concise anyway and think hard about the most significant parts of your loved one’s life. It’s not common but adding a humorous story that reflects your loved one’s personality is fine. It’s a personal decision for the family.

You may instead just choose to publish a simple death notice in a local newspaper.

Why It’s Different to a Eulogy

The main difference between a eulogy and an obituary is that an obituary is more functional, more about describing the facts and figures of a person’s life. A eulogy is a tribute, emotional, it’s the story of a person’s life. It sparks memories, it allows mourners to reminisce and share. It’s how you share what that person meant to you.

It may be worth looking at an obituary as a shortened biography. As we’ve mentioned, it’s usually chronological, and it’s structured in a different way to a eulogy.

An obituary might also only be a few lines, highlighting only the most important facts. A eulogy is as long as a person (or time) dictates.

Where to Publish an Obituary

Back in the day an obituary or whatever form of notice you’ve written would get published in a newspaper.  Major newspapers and publications pre-prepare obituaries for those in the public eye so if that person dies they can publish quickly.

It’s common to publish a eulogy online too and there are dedicated websites for it. Here families can create obituaries, memorial pages, leave comments and share memories as a lasting tribute to those who have passed away.

It’s worth nothing here too, that if you are publishing in different places you don’t have to use the same set of words each time. You can tailor what you need to fit the space.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to publish an obituary but for some, it’s an important part of the process of coming to terms with the death of a loved one. It offers the chance for additional support and to remember the good times.

You might even consider writing an obituary and not publishing it. Doing this can help with the grieving process.

But there’s no legal obligation to write one. It’s a personal decision.

Read Also: 4 Types of Funeral Processes

What is an Obituary?

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