Writing an obituary often feels a bit like an art form. It’s something most people don’t do unless they experience the loss of a loved one, and that makes learning how to write an obituary seem like an even bigger challenge. With endless obituary templates and etiquette available nowadays, it’s becoming a bit easier.
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However, all those templates and guides lead to an unexpected result: repetitiveness. A quick scan through the obituary section of any newspaper highlights just how similar these are. It’s hard to learn much about who a person truly was when the structure is so rigid.
Tips for Writing a Creative Obituary
While it’s not time to toss formatting guidelines and templates out the window, it’s understandable that many people are looking for a creative alternative.
This guide shares eight tips for writing a creative obituary as well as some examples to spark your own inspiration. Who said you had to stick to the rules when it comes to death announcements?
1. Write your own obituary
The best tip for writing a creative obituary is also the simplest: write your own. Many creative writing courses challenge students to practice writing an obituary for yourself. Why is this such a frequent exercise?
Not only is this practice a way to start end-of-life planning, but it’s also a powerful way to share your own story. Being in control of one’s narrative, even after death, is a wonderful gift. It’s a way to learn more about your accomplishments and your legacy.
How do you want to be remembered? What message do you want to leave to your friends, family, and community? These are the questions you get to answer if you write your own obituary.
2. Tell a story
Humans connect through stories. While most obituaries follow a similar format, you’re always free to break from the mold. Telling a narrative that’s engaging or unique pays tribute to someone while sharing something special. As author Shannon Alder says, “A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
Stories are how we remember those we love. They’re the tales we recount over glasses of wine at the dinner table and during holiday celebrations. What stories do you have to tell?
Recounting a memory does more than break from tradition. It also reveals something about the deceased, whether the story highlights their humor or their perseverance. Let their lasting impact be a memory shared with the world.
3. Use a non-linear timeline
You don’t have to stick to a strict timeline. While obituaries typically follow a chronological order, this isn’t the only way to share someone’s life story. You can link stories together with different themes, focus on the milestone, or emphasize important life lessons.
When using a non-linear timeline, look for common threads that connect these different moments or characteristics. These carefully chosen tidbits show someone’s unique personality and character, so make sure they mean something to you.
4. Use humor
Who said an obituary had to be a somber affair? Offer readers a much-needed laugh and reprieve. If you’re writing an obituary for someone who always had a joke to tell, this is a powerful way to pay tribute to their sense of humor.
Writing with comedic wit, sarcasm, or any other humorous tidbits gives readers an insight into your loved one’s personality or your own. It leaves an impression on the reader that won’t be forgotten.
5. Share their hobbies or interests
Obituaries typically include things like the date the person died, their birthday, career, and relationships. Why not dive a bit deeper? People don’t experience life as boxes checked on a page. We’re defined by more than our birthday, age, and parents.
Share your loved one’s hobbies, interests, and personality. Paint a clear, vivid picture of who they were and how they spent their time on earth. Whether he was a lifelong swimmer or she loved to dote on her pets, these are the small quirks that make us individuals. They’re how we deserve to be remembered.
6. Use first-person
You can use any perspective when writing an obituary. It can be in first-person (I, we, our, etc.) if you want to add a personal touch. While most obituaries are written in third-person (he, she, they), don’t let this limit you.
Share this individual from your point of view or your family’s perspective. For instance, instead of writing, “She was a valued member of the nursing staff,” write something like, “We always admired her commitment to her career and her patients.” This is a much more personal way to express your love for the individual. Don’t be afraid to say things in your own words.
7. Include quotes or lyrics
Sometimes you can’t find the right words to say. Luckily, you don’t always have to. Your loved one likely had a favorite movie, book, song, or artist. Including these quotes within their obituary not only evokes their memory, but it also shares something important about them.
If you’re not sure whether their favorite songs or books are a good fit, use any quotes that mean something to you or the family. There are endless religious, creative, and poetic quotes that fit any theme or feeling you’re trying to evoke.
8. Invite others to share their memories
Finally, don’t carry the burden of writing the obituary yourself. Share the process with others who knew the deceased, like close friends and family. They likely want their voice and perspective too.
Like funerals, obituaries are often for the living. They’re a way to share your perspective on someone’s life experience. Bringing others into this discussion is a creative way to share additional memories, characteristics, and voices.
Creative Obituary Template
While you should edit any template you use to fit your needs, a template is a great way to put pen to paper. We’ve created an obituary template with these tips above in mind.
[Name] passed away at [age] years old on [date]. [Name] was born on [birthdate] in [city, state]. [Name’s] friends remember [him/her] as [quotes or characteristics]. [Name's] biggest accomplishment in life was not only [his/her] family, but also [their accomplishment, hobby, or quirk].
[Name] was married to [partner’s name], and had [number] children, [children’s names]. Though [Name] is no longer with us, [Name] will never be forgotten. The family will hold a funeral service on [date] which is open to members of the community.
Creative Obituary Examples
Let’s take a look at some creative obituary examples to get a better idea of how these tips above work in practice. From here, spark your own ideas to write an obituary that truly stands out.
If you’re reading this, I’ve likely passed away. I shouldn’t be so surprised—this was something I’ve known was bound to happen eventually! Life is truly a gift, and now it’s time for me to give it back. While it’s hard to say goodbye to those I love, I am lucky to have lived such a full life. Since growing sick in June of 2005, I’ve learned what it means to really live life to the fullest. Since my diagnosis, I was married to the love of my life, John Mason.
I watched my daughter, Melissa Mason, grow into a smart, inspiring woman. I climbed mountains, traveled to new places, and danced in the rain. Though my time has come to an end, I hope my friends and family continue pushing forward together. Each moment matters, so make it count.
In her 80 years, Mary Mathew taught her friends and family many things. She always warned us of the dangers of wearing white after Labor Day. She taught us how to bake her famous chocolate chip cookies. Most importantly, Mary taught us how to use our hearts to the fullest. Born on December 1, 1935, Mary was always a force to be reckoned with. She didn’t know how to take no for an answer, and frankly, she always got her way. Even in the end, she was laughing and making jokes with everyone around her.
Her family says it will be hard to imagine holidays and events without her wit, humor, and fashion advice. In the meantime, they promise to brush up on the latest trends. They know she’s watching them (and their fashion choices!) from her final resting place. The funeral service will be private, but the family welcomes donations to the local Women’s Club in Mary’s honor.
Harry Bracken first discovered his passion for cars in college. He’ll never forget his first Nascar race. His parents said there was no keeping him from pursuing his dreams from then. No matter where he was going, he was always in the fast lane. That’s how Harry lived his life until he passed away on January 15, 2010, in an auto accident. His final moments were spent doing what he loved most, and that’s all anyone could ask for.
When he wasn’t behind the wheel of his beloved Mustang, Harry doted on his children, Levine and Victoria, and traveled with his wife, Susan. Susan would like to note that though Sally (Harry’s Mustang) was always his first love, she wouldn’t hold that against him. Harry’s funeral service is January 20 at the Catholic Church. His family would like to request everyone to wear their favorite Nascar colors in support of Harry’s passion. Wherever he is now, we’re sure he hasn’t slowed down one bit.
Tell a Life Story in a Unique Way
There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing an obituary. Whether you’re writing your own obituary or you’re telling the story of a loved one, there are no rules to worry about. While following a template and paying attention to proper etiquette is always helpful, don’t let this hold you back.
An obituary is a tribute to a life well-lived. It’s hard to capture someone’s essence within a limited word count. Breaking the mold and stepping outside the box allows greater insights into the parts of an individual only friends and family saw. Interests, hobbies, and personality all shine when you use the tips above. What story will you tell?