For death is no more than a
turning of us over from time to eternity.
- William Penn
Writing an obituary or eulogy is
one of the most difficult and important things you'll ever have to
do. The obituary is the way many of your loved one's acquaintances
will first receive the news of their passing. For many others it
might be the one thing they read about your beloved, your one chance
to tell the world, including the future generations of your family,
who they were.
That's a lot of responsibility;
it can feel both urgent and insurmountable, added pressure during
what can be one of the darkest times of your life. There are often
cultural or religious time constraints regarding the arrangements as
well, some of them quite stringent. Bereavement is also a trying
time for families, when complex, intimate patterns and dynamics can
be magnified and made even harder to navigate by sadness, stress and
exhaustion. Each new task can seem too much - especially one like
this; the process of deciding what to say can be volatile,
On the other hand, many people
welcome the opportunity to articulate their loss. It's often the
profound and transformative experiences of our lives that awaken the
poet in us. This may be a way for you to give one final gift to your
lost loved one.
First, go to the obituary page in
your local newspaper. Most news outlets have online versions as
well. See what their fee structure is; it usually starts out with
the price for 50 words and goes up from there. That'll give you your
word limit - and a chance to read what others have written about
their loved ones. That's a good way to get ideas about what you
might - and might not - want to say.
Generally one begins an obituary
with the full name, including any nicknames. You can include other
descriptions here, such as 'marathon runner', 'brilliantly gifted
concert pianist', 'beloved mother', 'husband and best friend of
Emily' or 'hardworking father of Elle and Ethan', then the date and
location of their death. You can be specific, naming the hospital or
hospice, or general, providing only the city and state. If you want
to offer the manner of their passing, do; if you want to keep it to
yourself, that's fine, too. Some people prefer to be discreet:
'entered into eternity'; others volunteer more information: 'died
suddenly as the result of a drunk-driving accident'. If they passed
surrounded by family or doing what they loved, that's a comforting
thing to mention.
Next, you can talk about their
education and profession. Where did they go to school? What did they
do? How long did they do it? Were they ever in the military? Did
they receive honors for their service? Perhaps they were known for a
Were they married, or did they
have a longtime significant other? For how long? Where did they meet
their spouse? Who else is most affected by this death? Was there
anyone who was particularly helpful during the time leading up to
their passing? This is the place to list family members and friends
you think of as family ('is survived by'). You can do it by birth
order, geographical proximity or another arrangement more
appropriate to your situation. It's customary to list each person's
city of residence.
Follow that with any other
passions, pastimes or affiliations: club membership, bird-watching,
foster parenting, advocacy or volunteer-work for a cause. "A
longtime member of the Shriners and the Kiwanis Club, Jack divided
his time, enthusiasm and seemingly inexhaustible energy between his
store, hiking the trails of his beloved Front Range, and Little
League, where he helped to cultivate the athleticism and character
of countless local young people for more than a generation."
What else do you want people to
know? This is the time to tell them. It can be as simple as 'will be
sorely missed by family and friends', or as complex as you wish.
Your constraints are your budget and your imagination.
Leave readers with the viewing
and funeral information; if you want them to come, give the
location. Otherwise, try something like 'cremation has taken place'
or 'will be laid to rest in the family chapel with a private
graveside service. Gathering at ________ to follow; please join the
family there.' If you'd like to ask that donations be sent in lieu
of flowers, specify the charity - with contact information if you
have the space.
If all this is too much to
contemplate right now, think of contacting a professional writer who
specializes in death notices and eulogies, often called an
obituarist, memorialist or
It's a growing industry; you should be able to find someone who
work within your budget.
Of all the wonders that I
yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange
that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a
Will come when it will
- Wm. Shakespeare,
Julius Caesar , Act II
almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear
of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the
face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering
that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap
of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There
is no reason not to follow your heart."
- Steve Jobs