Writing an obituary can feel like a daunting task. Writing one for your grandmother or grandfather may seem even more challenging for different reasons.
Not only is it a matter of finding all the relevant information, but it’s also combining it in the right order, publishing it in the right place and also allowing the right people to see it. Never, fear, I’m here to help!
Here are the basic steps to writing an obituary for your grandparent:
- Choose publisher: print/online news, online-only, website.
- Contact publisher/website for forms, restrictions, deadlines, fees.
- Choose people, events, memberships, clubs, & hobbies to include.
- Draft obituary—roughly 200 words—on your own or with assistance.
- Proofread. Ensure nothing key was missed.
Well, those ARE all the steps you need, but it may still seem a bit like a secret code, but not to worry!
I’ve explained the details behind these five steps below in the hopes that it eases the process of honoring your grandmother or grandfather in writing.
What is an obituary for?
An obituaries’ primary function is to pay tribute to a deceased person by letting the readers know what made her or him special to loved ones, colleagues, and acquaintances.
It lets their personality shine through.
The obituary you write should give a distinct impression of who your grandmother or grandfather was and provide information about upcoming funeral or memorial services.
Another purpose for an obituary is to give enough detail about key events in the deceased person’s life that an acquaintance they lost touch with long ago—think old Army buddy or Bridge Club partner—will realize they had a connection to them.
Even if this old friend can’t make it to the funeral or memorial service, they may really appreciate the memories the obituary kindled.
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Who should write the obituary?
There are no set rules when it comes to who is responsible for writing the obituary of a deceased loved one. As you are reading this, you have probably taken on the responsibility as a grandchild and this doesn’t in any way disqualify you from doing an excellent job.
If you have taken on this role due to disagreements between your parents and their siblings, who might otherwise have written the obituary, you may find my other article on solving family disagreements about funerals
What information should I include in an obituary?
Obituaries typically contain certain biographical details, but it is up to you and your family to determine what is appropriate and applicable for your loved one’s tribute. The key people and events are listed below:
Referred to by first name:
Referred to by number:
- grandchildren, great-grandchildren
- nieces and nephews
- birth and death dates
- education (attendance/graduation years)
- occupation (place, job title, start/retirement years)
- military history (branch, years, place)
- marriage (year)
- places lived
- funeral and memorial service information
- sports teams
Impact on others
- notable personality traits
- well-loved pets
The structure of the obituary (examples)
The order you present this information in is up to you, but there are a few tried-and-true structures. A lot of information from these different groups can be combined in one or two sentences. This can help with conciseness, which is good for both readability and cost (as you will learn about below).
The first sentence or two traditionally provides the deceased person’s full name, place, and date of death, nickname if applicable, and sometimes the cause of death.
Example: Nicetown lost a beloved member of our community on May 16 when lifelong resident Margaret Jane Example (Peggy) passed away in the Niceville Regional Hospital after a short battle with cancer.
The next details are typically the deceased’s date and place of birth, parents (with mother’s maiden name in parentheses), and siblings.
Example: Peggy was born March 13, 1930 to John and Jane (Jones) Doe of Black Creek. She was the oldest of three children.
Education and marriages
Next are details about education, marriage history (it’s okay to include ex-spouses, especially if children resulted from the union), children (oldest to youngest), grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
Example: Peggy graduated from Niceville High School in 1948. Soon after, she began working as a floor clerk in Belmont’s Department Store, where she met and fell in love with Joe Lee Example. She married Joe in 1950, and together, they raised three beautiful children: Joe Jr., Nell, and Peter.
Family: Deceased and surviving
It is customary to mention family who preceded the deceased in death and who have survived them.
Example: Peggy was preceded in death by her parents and her beloved husband, Joe, in 2000. She is survived by her siblings, three children, seven grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.
Hobbies and personality
When mentioning hobbies and personality traits, try to choose the most defining characteristics of the deceased person.
Example: Peggy always had a warm smile and a friendly word for everyone, but her greatest impact was made at the piano. A musician since age 7, she will be remembered for the beautiful gospel music she provided during Sunday services at the Niceville Baptist Church, which she attended dutifully since 1955.
Somewhere in the obituary, you’ll want to include the date, time, and location of funeral or memorial services scheduled for the deceased person. If the family welcomes flowers for the service, don’t forget to provide an address that these can be sent to.
Alternatively, in lieu of flowers, you can request that a donation be made to a charity favored by the deceased or connected in some way to them. For instance, if the departed person died after a battle with cancer, it is fitting to request donations to a specific cancer research organization.
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Cause of death?
Whether or not to include the cause of death is largely up to the family. Many readers appreciate knowing the cause of death as it can be considered a pertinent detail of a life story.
But if the cause of death was particularly distressing, or if you have reason to believe the deceased would have preferred this detail to be omitted, there is no need to include it.
How do I find out information from their childhood?
If you want to include information from your grandfather or grandmother’s childhood, you may be wondering where to start your search.
Start with any living siblings of the deceased. Move on to friends of the deceased, even if these friends were made later in life: church members, old coworkers, neighbors.
If the departed person kept records, search through these. Otherwise, www.archives.gov provides helpful links for obtaining vital records.
How long should it be?
The average obituary is roughly 200 words. This is usually enough space to include relevant information. If publishing in a newspaper, check their website for length requirements. Online sites often have less restrictive word limits.
Where should you publish it?
You have different options for where to publish the obituary. No matter which you choose, the publisher will need to confirm the death in order to run the obituary. Your funeral home can help you with this, or you can provide the publisher with a death certificate.
Is a Newspaper still relevant?
Local print news can be a good place to publish your grandparent’s obituary. Many of their peers still prefer to get their news from this source.
A good rule of thumb is to submit the obituary to the paper no later than two to three days before the desired publication date. You can find relevant forms and links for obits on your newspaper’s website, or you can directly contact the paper’s obits editor.
Keep in mind that big, major city newspapers may only publish long-form obituaries of well-known or largely influential people. These papers publish death notices—explained later in this article—in the case of the general public.
How much does a print newspaper obituary cost?
It can be surprisingly expensive to publish in print. On average, expect to pay between $200-$650. Some papers charge by the word for obituaries, others per line or column inch. Some charge an extra fee to include a photograph.
You can expect Sunday paper obituaries to be more expensive, and publishing in a large-circulation paper in a major city can further raise the price.
Price varies from paper to paper, so your best bet is to contact your local paper directly for inquiries.
How much does it cost to publish online only?
Often, newspapers provide the option of running the obituary on their website only. The fee for this is usually between $50 to $100.
Memorial websites such as Beautiful Tribute, Tribute.com, and ilasting.com are another alternative. There are free versions for many of these sites and paid package versions with different features.
The benefit of memorial sites is that the obituaries never expire. The bereaved can easily visit the site any time they feel the need.
Can I pay someone to write it for me?
If you feel unprepared to handle the obituary yourself, your funeral home staff can—with details provided by the family—write and submit the obituary. Many funeral homes will simply tack the fee for this service onto your overall bill.
It may also be the case that a newspapers’ obituary editor can write the obituary for you. It is best to ask.
Can I skip writing an obituary?
There is no state law obligating anyone to publish an obituary if the deceased person and/or their family prefers not to.
You may wish to publish a death notice rather than an obituary. A death notice is only a few lines long. It lets the public know when and where the deceased passed away and gives details about funeral and memorial services.