Letter of Recommendation

   Difficult Obituary Questions


How to Address Tough Questions

Unless the Deceased has written their own obituary in advance, the compilation of a life story can run into some snags. Very often, family members are called upon to write the obituary, and can encounter some difficult questions about cause of death, relationships, identity, and family conflicts. What's most important in answering these questions is being aware of what the Deceased preferred, and what is least painful for their surviving loved ones.

Q: What if the Deceased changed identity?

A: If the Deceased was born with one sex, gender, or name and made a change later in life, it can be difficult to tell if those origins should be mentioned within an obituary. What's important is to have the obituary accurately represent the way that the Deceased preferred to be known. If they were transgender, preferred a different name, or used non-gendered pronouns, respect that in the obituary. Refer to them the way that they requested while alive.

Q: Should ex-spouses be included in the obituary?

A: If your funeral director or newspaper reporter writes the obituary, they will probably not include ex-spouses among the "survivors" listed. However, this is a prime example of when it's good to have a family discussion. If the Deceased remained close with their ex or they had children together, it's important to include the ex-spouse in the discussion of what the obituary will say. Just because it's traditionally left out doesn't mean it needs to be. That can cause unnecessary feelings of hurt and alienation during a time of grief.

Q: What if the Deceased was gay/lesbian?

A: If the Deceased preferred to keep their sexual orientation quiet from the public, then it's best to respect that by not including the information in an obituary. An obituary is not a place to disclose any secrets or private information. You may mention a "life partner" to avoid alienating a loved one. However, if the Deceased was openly gay or lesbian, and had a partner or a family, there is no reason to keep this information out of an obituary, whether or not other family members or friends were made uncomfortable by it. The obituary is about the Deceased's wishes and desires, not the preferences of the community. If you're not sure, consult with the Deceased's partner and find out what would make them most comfortable.

Q: What if the cause of death was suicide or overdose?

A: There is nothing wrong with omitting the cause of death from an obituary. A death can be doubly hard on a family if they feel that the Deceased is being judged or shamed by the community over the cause. However, some families may want other people in similar situations to know that they're not alone. If the Deceased committed suicide, the obituary may request a donation to suicide prevention services in lieu of flowers. While it's best not to lie, some families might feel more comfortable with a euphemism such as, "Died unexpectedly," or "Died at home on April 5." On the other hand, if the family wishes to be straightforward, that is also a valid choice. While saying, "Carrie committed suicide" can sound kind of harsh, using phrasing such as, "Carrie chose to end her life on April 5" can be honest and kind at the same time. A lot of social stigma still surrounds deaths from suicides, addiction, or AIDS, and many families believe that being straightforward about the cause of death can help fight against that stigma and offer support to others suffering in the community.

Obituaries are often tightly-structured pieces of writing, but they're not rigid. An obituary should first and foremost reflect the Deceased, which is the main thing to keep in mind when answering these questions.

Index of obituary templates