How to Write your Own Obituary

If you’ve ever written an obituary for someone who’d passed, you know what an intimidating responsibility it can be. To ease the difficulty during the period of loss, many individuals are choosing to write their own obituaries—a task that can feel difficult, but it can also be a very deep and insightful activity that can be revisited from time to time. So with genuine sincerity, here are some basic instructions on how to write your own obituary.

The difference between a death notice and an obituary

Don’t confuse a death notice with an obituary – a death notice simply announces the passing and informs the public of the funeral, memorial or celebration of life services. The obituary should be more of a true tribute, a chance for you to share about your life, accomplishments and surviving family members. And speaking practically, it would not be possible to pre-write a death notice.

Writing Your Own Obituary: Getting Started

If you open your local newspaper, you may find that the obituaries are a mix of short, simplified biographies, followed by the death notice information including their surviving family members and service information. You want your obituary experience to be unique, so you may not want to follow the traditional format found in newspapers and obituary websites.

One of the personal benefits of writing your own obituary is that it can be a powerful self-discovery activity, one that is both therapeutic and personally challenging. You have the opportunity to give others a glimpse of the person you really are, and it can also be a legacy you can pass onto your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

To make your obituary as unique as you are, it may help to read other thoughtful, clever or even humorous write-ups from others who decided to write their own obituaries before they died. Do a quick Google search for unique obituaries, or go to your local bookstore to find compilations of memorable obituaries that you might enjoy reading.

Writing your own obituary should be a unique experience, and you may not want to follow someone else’s format. However, here are some basic elements that you can include to get you started:

Elements of an obituary

  • Your full name, including maiden name(s), middle names, nicknames and suffixes
  • Where you were born and family information like where/how you grew up
  • Achievement information including degrees, careers or anything else important to you
  • Places you have lived
  • Marriage information and a list of your children, grandchildren, etc

Journaling Prompts that Inspire Your Life Story

Your obituary has the opportunity to show what you want to be remembered for. This could be your personality, devotion to family, or your work as a volunteer. Beyond achievements, it can also show your unique qualities as a person. It really can be whatever you want it to be.

Use these prompts to get your juices flowing. Write down memories, people, places and experiences. You don’t have to decide what’s in your obituary, just write freely. You might even decide to write a memoir out of it!

Why I did … This could be anything you’ve done in your life that you want to remember, such as joining the military, choosing a specific career path, living in a foreign country, or quite the opposite—never moving out of your hometown.

My life was special because … What events in your life made it extra special? Was it a wonderful spouse, having a dozen grandchildren, being part of a special community or learning a unique trade?

I wish I had/hadn’t … What do you wish you had (or hadn’t!) tried? Maybe it was something you were afraid of, like skydiving or taking a hot air balloon ride, or maybe you wish you’d never moved away from the city you lived in when you were 30. Why is this important to you?

Funeral Services Can Bring Closure for the Family

Just like writing a eulogy or being part of a funeral service, it is important that your family takes steps to grieve after you pass. Receiving sympathy and love from others at a memorial service, for example, can be an important part of what is called the “acute loss period” of grief. Remember, the funeral services are really about the people left behind after you pass, to help them grieve, get support and find closure.

So while you are writing your obituary, think about having a special talk with your loved ones to explain to them your wishes—and allow them some time to express their wishes of how they would like to honor you after you pass.

Take a look at some of our other planning resources here.

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