How to write your own obituary

February 25, 2016

By Katie Falzone
Legacy.com

It’s a popular assignment in journalism and English classes—write your own obituary. And life coaches sometimes suggest writing your own obit as a way of figuring out how you want to live your life. By starting at the end point—what you want your obituary to say—you can start making sense of what you need to do in life to accomplish your goals.

For some, writing an auto-obituary is an important part of coming to terms with the fact that their lives are coming to an end (either due to terminal illness or simply old age). For others, it’s a way to make sure they’re remembered the way they want to be remembered.

As you can see, there are many reasons why people write their own obituaries. We’ve put together a guide to help get you started.

Should I write in first-person or third-person narrative?

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to write in first person (using “I”) or third person (using “she” or “he” to refer to yourself). There is no right or wrong approach—for some people, it may be easier to express thoughts and emotions directly by communicating in the first person. Others find it easier to write about their lives from the more formal distance of third-person narrative.

What information should I include?

What are the defining facts of your life? Consider including most or all of the following. It will help to provide a framework as you make a record of your life story.

Name

Listing your full name, including middle name, maiden name, nickname or any other name by which you may be identified, is essential. It will help friends and acquaintances find your obituary even if you’ve fallen out of touch.

Dates

Obituaries almost always include the date of birth and date of death. You probably won’t know the second date, but plan to leave space for someone else to fill in the info. Many people also include dates of life-changing events, such as marriages.

Cause of Death

Although you may not know what this will be, it’s important to leave instructions about whether you want it to be made public or kept private.

List of Loved Ones

There is no hard and fast rule here, but obituaries commonly list spouses or romantic partners, children, parents, siblings, longtime friends and even beloved pets. Those who precede you in death are usually listed first, followed by survivors.

Resume Details

Education and work are fundamental parts of many people’s lives, so it’s traditional to mention schools attended, degrees obtained, military service and places of employment. You may also wish to include any awards or notable career achievements.

Memberships in Organizations

Feel free to mention if you were active with any civic, fraternal or church organizations. Including this information will help fellow members to find your obituary.

Hobbies or Special Interests

Places you’ve visited, sports you’ve played, activities you enjoy participating in, things you like to collect, and favorite movies and books are all fair game for inclusion. Basically anything that brought you joy or gave you a sense of fulfillment can be part of a dynamic obituary that paints a picture of your life.

Charities

Be sure to list any charitable organizations you’d like people to donate to, especially if you do not want them to send condolence flowers.

Funeral Arrangements

Indicate if you would like your funeral arrangements, including time and location, published in the obit.

Once you’ve gathered a list of information to include, it’s up to you to express yourself beyond the facts and figures.

Humor

If you’ve got a sense of humor, use it. Obituaries don’t always need to be solemn. They can also be a way to showcase your unique perspective on life.

Positivity

It’s also good to be heartfelt and sincere. You can use your obit as a platform to inspire and encourage others, or to send a loving farewell to friends and family.

Lessons Learned

Perhaps there are some valuable lessons you’ve learned the hard way. You can use your obituary as a cautionary tale or advise others to avoid some of the pitfalls you may have experienced.

Place in History

We are all affected by the times we live in. History is made day by day; don’t forget to include historical events that shaped your life.

Ultimately, your obituary is your story. It’s a chance to emphasize the events and relationships that meant the most to you. It’s also an opportunity to preserve your experience for those who are left behind and those yet to come.

One last practical matter

Be sure to have someone else read over your writing to catch any spelling or grammatical errors (and make sure your thoughts are conveyed the way you’d like them to be). Then make sure you provide copies for your immediate family so that it is available when you pass away.

If you’d like further tips on writing an obituary, see Legacy.com’s previous post, “How to write an obituary.”

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