Writing An Obitiuary

There are three times in our lives when our names may appear in print: birth, marriage and death. Of these, the obituary is the final word on our lives and our accomplishments.

For some people, the obituaries are the first things they turn to when reading the morning newspaper. According to a 2000 survey of 37,000 consumers by The Readership Institute, 45 percent of respondents stated that newspaper obituaries were important to them. Another 12 percent described the death notices as "very important."

Preparing the death notice is one of the most important—and public—tasks to be handled when a loved one dies. Fortunately, the bereaved are not alone when faced with this responsibility.

"On receiving the first call following a death, I reassure the family that when they come in we can put together the death announcement for them," said Scott MacLeod, Owner/Operator of the York Funeral Home in Fredericton, New Brunswick. "We can provide some direction and they can then proofread it and add personal touches.

" In fact, most Canadian newspapers will only run an obituary if it is received directly from a licensed funeral home, or if the information is confirmed by funeral home staff.

10 Tips For Preparing A Death Notice:

1. Check the obituary section of the local newspaper or the funeral home's website for examples.

2. Talk to other family members about what they would like to include in the obituary.

3. Write down vital statistics about the deceased: full name, date of death, place of death, maiden name, and age.

4. Compile a list of all family members who should be included in the obituary, including predeceased relatives. With the prevalence of divorce, blended families and adoption, this can be a delicate task. The funeral director can offer guidance.

5. Describe the main events of the person's life. This can include birthplace, education milestones, employment, military service, professional or volunteer memberships, hobbies, passions and other accomplishments.

6. List the times and locations of the visitation and funeral service.

7. Note any charities that were important to the deceased.

8. Thank people or groups for their care of the deceased.

9. Include a favourite poem, hymn or prayer.

10. Select a photograph that can be inserted above the announcement.

According to MacLeod, one of the biggest misconceptions people have about death notices is that they must follow a standard layout.

"So many people believe that there's a strict format that you often see obituaries with the same wording and the same positioning. That's fine if the family wants an obituary with lots of formality. However, there is no template. When writing the death notice, make sure it represents you, your family and the deceased.

Get Personal

MacLeod believes that all great obituaries have one common thread, an essential component that makes the reader connect with the deceased.

"It is important to include something unique to the person," said MacLeod. "It might be as simple as a catchphrase. These little touches give the reader a quick snapshot of the deceased and become the heart of the obituary."

MacLeod shared an example of a family that opted to put the phrase "anyway, anyway" in the obituary, as their mother peppered her conversations with those words.

"We received so many comments about that catchphrase from people at the funeral. It totally captured who this woman was. That little phrase in the death notice really stood out for them."

Obituary Taboos

According to MacLeod, the biggest mistake that people can make when writing a death notice is to include the home address of the deceased.

"That's just asking for someone to break into the house, because they know that the family and neighbours will be at the funeral.

" Another taboo is placing anything negative in the death notice.

"While there may indeed be difficult situations that affected the lives of others, these shouldn't come out in a public forum," said MacLeod. "They are best dealt with privately with the help of a counselor. Don't do something you'll regret down the road."

Ask For Help

The most important thing to remember is to include other family members. This is a good idea from a practical perspective—other eyes can proofread the data for errors or omissions. It is also a good way to glean personal touches for the obituary.

Another good idea is to plan for the inevitable. When a death is imminent, it can be extremely helpful to sit down with the loved one and discuss what he or she would like to appear in the obituary. It will be a difficult time to talk about such matters, but you and your family will feel better knowing that the obituary appears exactly as your loved one wished. You can even write your own death notice and keep it in a file with your funeral wishes for a later date!

For most of us, our death notice will be the final chance to share our lives with others. A little planning, with some help from the funeral director, will ensure that our obituaries are as unique as we are.