Not very long ago, it was the job of newspapers to craft the appropriate words for an obituary. That was back when writing up the death of an individual was considered to be part of the public service newspapers did for their coverage area.
Then someone came up with the idea that people should, or would, pay to have an obituary put in the paper. Because people were now spending their hard-earned money to place the news of a love one’s passing into the newspaper, they began to get more creative with the task.
No longer was an obituary just the five Ws of “who, what, where, when, and why.” Now family members left behind could turn a simple death notice into a memorial for the person they loved who had died.
Not a bad idea, but then, most people aren’t newspaper writers, or even creative writers. So, how do you come up with the appropriate words for an obituary, when you’ve never done that kind of writing?
Make sure you have the basics down: the date of birth, the date of death, the spelling of the birth name and maiden name. You can always add the nickname by which the deceased went by, or the name by which everyone knew him.
Remember, the primary purpose of an obituary is as an official notice of this person’s existence. It’s up to you to make sure all the basic information is true, correctly spelled, and accurate.
You loved this person enough to not go with the basic obituary version, so make sure you use the opportunity to tell his life. You don’t have to go into morbid details on how he died, or what he died of, if you don’t want to - although some description might give others an incentive to, say, give a donation in his name to the American Cancer Society if your loved one died of cancer.
Don’t just focus on his death; use this chance to celebrate his life. If he was an immigrant, use a sentence or two to relate how he came to the country. Remember how he went to school, how he worked his way up the educational or corporate ladder, if he was a doctor, how he helped people.
Remind the readers that the loved one who died wasn’t just a statistic, but was, not very long ago, a very real person who had a profound impact upon his family and friends.
Avoiding clichés is easier said than done, especially if you’re grieving and trying to write an obituary that will do justice to the person you loved.
Don’t use phrases you wouldn’t use yourself in a normal life. “With deep regret, the family of John Doe announces his death,” etc., is an example of one type of cliché to avoid.
“Passed on” or “departed this life” are just a little too flowery for the present day. Describe the person’s death as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Read other obituaries for ideas of what to say. Remember, the appropriate words for an obituary really aren’t all that difficult once you put a little thought and common sense into the writing.
You don’t want to come across this obituary in five or ten years, and cringe at what you wrote!
Yes, your grandmother may very well have loved crocheting little angel figures for the church Christmas tree, but with a limited number of words to use, do you really want to put a big emphasis on that activity into the obituary?
You might want to put more of your creativity into describing what she thought, a good deed she did, or some anecdote that describes who she was. Remember, an obituary is something you write to let future generations know who this person was.
With some forethought, you should have no problem coming up with the appropriate words for an obituary.