How to Write Difficult Obituaries
Death is almost always a difficult time, regardless of the circumstances, and a family is likely reeling with emotions at the same time an obituary is due to a funeral home, newspaper, or elsewhere.
In the cases of suicide or a sudden death due to accident or violence (or terrorism such as the Sept. 11 attacks), there are special challenges when it comes to writing something in memory of someone who has died. Many newspapers have ethical guidelines stating that they won't cover suicides as a news story unless the death is that of a public figure, or takes place in a very public manner. If you are worried that your loved one's manner of death will be revealed in the media, it usually can't hurt to contact local editors and producers to tell them of your concerns. Conversely, if you wish the public to know that your loved one took his or her own life, and want to urge others to get help for depression or other personal issues, don't hesitate to approach the media with your request. This is especially common in the case of teen suicide.
If the decedent took actions that somehow led to his or her death, family members may choose to reference the cause of death in the obituary in the hopes that it will help someone else. Alternatively, the cause of death might be only hinted at in the form of a request for donations. For example: to a suicide prevention organization.
Another difficult situation is the death of a family member due to him or her driving under the influence, or being in some kind of physical altercation. Usually, cause of death is not mentioned in these cases - although some families choose to reference drunk driving or designate MADD or another organization as a beneficiary of donations, out of goodwill and as a cautionary tale. Occasionally, a family will use an obituary to reach out and offer apologies if the decedent's actions have harmed someone else, but this is usually left to be dealt with privately, or via the legal system.
Index of obituary templates