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   Pitfalls and clichés to Avoid in an Obituary


Pitfalls and Clichés to Avoid in an Obituary

The wording of an obituary, when submitted by a funeral home or family member rather than written by a professional journalist, usually comes down to personal taste. But it may be useful to know some of what are considered clichés or common missteps in obituary writing. Also, be sure to write in the third person, rather than referring to "Mom," "Grandpa," etc.

Here are some common phrases used in obituaries, according to the National Society of Obituary Writers. You may choose to use them, but know that they are, indeed, very common.

died doing what he (or she) loved

now doing [activity: baking, fishing, etc.] with Jesus

would do anything for anyone

smile lit up the room

didn't suffer fools

lived life to the fullest

chose his (her) own path

only saw the best in people

generous to a fault

will be sorely missed

an inspiration to us all

will be remembered for his (her) quick wit

zest for life

in lieu of flowers

Lack of specifics is a pitfall of obituaries. Saying that someone had "a smile that lit up the room" may evoke pleasant memories for someone who knew that person, but doesn't really say a lot. Try asking questions that draw out details. One example given in the book Life on the Death Beat is, rather than "He would do anything for anybody," give an example of the types of things that he would do. Ditto for statements about someone's honesty, friendliness, and so on. The more meaningful the examples, the more accurate the reflection of the person.

Name-dropping is generally frowned upon, but that doesn't mean you can't do it. If meeting Marilyn Monroe was a highlight of Grandpa's life, and something he talked about often, by all means, include it if the family agrees. But be wary of embellishing associations with celebrities, or presenting them in a way that smacks of boasting.

Watch out for false claims. It should go without saying, but it's critical that professional writers verify facts and claims, and highly recommended that family members do so for paid obits as well. It may be the family legend that Uncle Bob patented Post-It notes, but a quick Internet search can disprove that.

Here's another obvious one: Make sure names are spelled correctly.

Index of obituary templates