How to Write Your Own Obituary
Although it used to be traditional for a funeral director or newspaper reporter to compile information on the Deceased and write the obituary, more and more the reports are coming from family members—or even the Deceased themselves. When you write your own obituary, you get to choose the focus and the information that gets shared. Here are some tips for doing it right:
1. Write in the third person perspective. It might seem obvious to some, but it's important to follow the form in this way. Feel free to spice up the narrative with some self-aware humor (e.g. "Frank was a modest man-a fact that he pointed out to everyone he met") but stay within the structure.
2. Don't be a slave to tradition. Obituaries often hit up the main thrust of the Deceased's life—where they were born, where they went to school, whom they married, and their job. You should feel free to talk about those subjects if you like, but you don't need to. Instead, try to think about what's been most important to you. Try to sum up those experiences, anecdotes, and life-changing moments into a succinct summary. One person might write, "Helen became a devout student of Buddhism after spending two years in a monastery in Tibet," while another might simply say, "Gary's three children were the most important part of his life." Whatever matters to you most should come to the forefront.
3. Trim it down. Your life is important, especially to you, and there's going to be a lot that you think is essential reading. Remember, though, that you're just trying to impart the essence of your life, not grind out every detail of everything that happened to you. Stick to a couple of anecdotes, some choice life events, dates, and a few details and personality traits. Don't write a novel.
4. Update it regularly. Especially after major life events. If you write your obituary before you get married and have kids, your family won't want to use it after your death. Keep it relevant. And feel free to keep old drafts to show you what your life and your sense of yourself used to be like.
5. Skip the secrets and gossip. If there are some things you don't want to tell your family or friends while you're alive, don't put that information in your obituary. An obituary is a public, community report, and spilling a secret in that format can heap more shock and pain on an already grieving family. Instead, write a personal letter disclosing the private information, with instructions on how close or public you'd like it to remain. Also, try to avoid being cruel or insulting to family or friends in your obituary. It might seem funny when you write it, but these will be your last words about your loved ones, and they will be public.
6. Make notes for your family. Unless you're writing your obituary in the last stages of a long illness, you're probably not aware of how you're going to die or everything that will happen to you between writing the draft and the end of your life. You can make things easier on your family by leaving notes underneath your obituary for possible scenarios (e.g. "If I'm murdered or killed in a car accident, please leave out the cause of death. If I die of an illness, you may mention it briefly. If I slip and die in the shower with a doughnut in my hand, just say, 'He passed peacefully in his sleep.'")
Index of obituary templates