Handling the death of a child is one of the most difficult things to experience. How do you express the right feelings and words when writing the obituary? An obituary is a public announcement of the death, typically accompanied by a brief life story of the deceased. In the case of children, the obituary is a way to honor their memory while also inviting others to keep the family in their thoughts.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Understand What an Obituary Is
- Step 2: Decide Who Will Write the Obituary
- Step 3: Find your Platforms or Publications
- Step 4: Begin Writing
- Child, Baby, or Toddler Obituary Examples
Because this isn’t something most people do often, feeling intimidated about how to write an obituary is a standard part of this process. When accompanied by the powerful emotions of a child’s death, it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. In this guide, we’ll share the steps involved with writing a child’s obituary as well as some examples.
Tip: Writing an obituary is just one of the difficult tasks you're left to face when you lose a child. For help prioritizing the rest, check out our post-loss checklist.
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Step 1: Understand What an Obituary Is
While it might seem straightforward, it’s not uncommon to have confusion about what an obituary is. Understanding the difference between eulogy and obituary isn’t always clear.
On the surface, an obituary is a written announcement of someone’s death. It’s not necessary legally when someone dies, but it is often an essential part of the grieving process. While a eulogy is read at the funeral, an obituary is published in print or online.
Obituaries are a way to tell the story of someone’s life. A family member or close friend usually writes them. They include information about the child’s life, his or her family members, and any lasting legacy. Obituaries serve many purposes:
- Share funeral information - Obituaries include information about the funeral, when it’s held, and whether it’s open to the public.
- Inform the community - Traditionally, obituaries are a way to inform the general public and community about the passing of a loved one. For families with strong community ties and extended family, this is an important way to spread the word without needing to contact everyone directly.
- Public record - The obituary is also a public record of the death. It’s a way to celebrate the life of someone who’s passed on.
Step 2: Decide Who Will Write the Obituary
Now that you understand what an obituary is, your next step is to decide who will take control of the writing process. Because this is usually an emotional task, it’s normal for the parents or immediate family to ask for help.
Having an extended family member or professional writer create the obituary on the parent’s behalf is often a smart choice. By asking the parents and family questions, the obituary writer has the information they need to create an impactful, true account of the child’s life and legacy.
Step 3: Find your Platforms or Publications
Next, choose where you’ll publish the obituary. Today, there are more options than ever when it comes to posting the obituary. Where you choose depends on your goals and intentions. There is no “right” place to publish an obituary, so feel free to select any of the following:
- Local newspapers - This is the most traditional option. If you have extended friends and family in multiple cities, you might decide to publish in several papers.
- Online obituary websites - There are several digital announcement websites for publishing obituaries. These live on in cyberspace forever.
- Social media - Many families choose to share their obituaries on social media. This is a powerful way to connect with your social circle over this painful news.
- Community or organization newsletters - Finally, if your family is involved in local organizations or groups, you might also publish the obituary in their newspaper or publication.
If you decide on a traditional publication, such as a local newspaper, contact them directly to uncover any specific guidelines. They typically have word count limits or other requirements for publication.
Step 4: Begin Writing
The writing of the obituary is the most challenging part. Again, there is no “right” way to write an obituary, even for a child. Focus on his or her impact and what made them special. No matter how brief their time on earth was, they have a story to share. It’s up to you to put this story into words.
Start with the specifics
To begin, keep it simple. There’s no need for a fancy opening. Start with the child’s name and their date of birth. You might also want to share any information related to the death, such as whether they died from an illness or disease. However, you are in no way required to disclose any information you’re not comfortable with.
For example, you could begin with, “Suzie passed away on July 2, 2018, surrounded by close family and friends.” Many families choose to share the specific circumstances around the death to bring awareness to an illness, medical condition, or defect. Again, the family has a right to their privacy during this difficult time.
Mention surviving family members
Next, mention the family members that live on to honor the life of the child. This includes parents, siblings, grandparents. It’s also considered proper to list any predeceased family, such as a parent that passed away. Learn more about the obituary etiquette for predeceased family to determine whether this should be included.
As for surviving family, people are typically listed in order of closeness:
- Aunts or uncles
- Cousins or extended family
Any step-parents or siblings should be listed after the immediate parents and siblings. If the child was close to a friend or pet, these names might also be listed. The phrase used here is “survived by.” For example, “Suzie is survived by her parents, James and Madison, and her sister Lucy.”
Share information about the funeral service
Conclude the obituary with information about the funeral or memorial service. If it’s open to the community, share the time, location, and any specific instructions. If the funeral is not open to the public, it’s polite to state that the family is hosting a funeral service for close family only.
This is also the time to ask for donations or any other specific requests. The family might request donations made in the child’s honor to the children’s hospital or another organization.
Child, Baby, or Toddler Obituary Examples
Because the right words aren’t always easy to find, especially in times of crisis, let’s take a look at some obituary examples. Feel free to use these as inspiration for crafting an obituary for a child, baby, or toddler.
Ava Marie, age 10, died on April 10, 2019, at the Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, GA. Ava was born on March 15, 2009, to parents Martha Marie and Anthony Marie. A lively, outgoing child, Ava was known by her friends and family to be smart, ambitious, and ready for anything.
As a member of her school’s dance dream, she was always surrounded by her friends. Ava is survived by her parents, Martha and Antony, and her brother Jonathan. Funeral services will be held on April 20th at 5:00 p.m. Flowers and donations are accepted in Ava’s honor.
Emily Smith passed away peacefully in her mother’s arms on June 5, 2015. She was born on February 1 the same year. Emily spent most of her short life battling cancer, and she was a fighter until the end. Though her time with her family was short, she touched many lives and was loved deeply by those around her.
Her family cherishes her memory as the brief gift it was. Emily is survived by her parents, John and Jane Smith, and her grandparents, James and Sue Brown. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations in Emily’s honor to the Detroit Children’s Hospital. The family is hosting a private funeral for close friends and family on June 10, 2015.
Harry Preston died on February 23, 2018, at 15 months old after a year of battling a heart defect. Harry was born in San Antonio, Texas on October 2, 2017, to parents, Jessica and Bobby Preston. Harry was an active, happy toddler. He loved playing with his cousin, Jeremy, and he always had a smile on his face. Though his life was brief, his memory lives on in his friends and family.
Harry is survived by his parents, his siblings, Mary and Kate, and his grandparents John and Kim Preston. The family welcomes all to his funeral on February 27, 2018. The service is at the Peaceful Cemetery at noon. To honor Harry, the family asks everyone to wear red, Harry’s favorite color.
Sharing a Child’s Legacy
The death of a child is always hard on a family. However brief their time on earth, the family carries their legacy in the steps they take after. The obituary is a chance to share this impact with the world with a brief narrative of the child’s life.
Don’t worry about finding the perfect words. As long as your obituary shares the best characteristics of the child, it’s an honorable tribute. Obituaries live on as a written reminder that those who pass away never leave us. These words live on forever.