After a person dies, someone in the family usually writes a biography or obituary about the person. This task sometimes falls to a friend or the funeral director may also help with the writing process.
You may then submit the biography or obituary to the newspaper through the funeral home. Most newspapers charge families a per-word rate to print the article. You may also write the obituary for the funeral program on the funeral home’s website.
Check out our tips for writing a biography for a funeral. We will also give you short biography examples to help you with your task of telling your loved one’s life story.
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Steps for Writing a Biography for a Funeral
Think of a biography (or obituary) as a news article informing the general public about a death that occurred. Even though you may feel emotional when writing an obituary, this is not typically the outlet for writing about your feelings.
Even though the biography is an informative article, it is up to you to include the details. You can include pretty much whatever you want, but it’s a good idea to get the family’s general consensus regarding what you will write about in the biography.
The number and types of details may vary, depending on the person and where the biography or obituary will be used. A biography (or obituary) read at a funeral may include more details than one printed in the newspaper or funeral program.
Step 1: Start with the general facts
You want to identify the deceased first. Use the full name (with the maiden name in parentheses) and the age of the person. If the deceased had an often-used nickname, consider putting it in quotes.
The more identification factors you use makes it less likely that your loved one gets mistaken for someone else. This is especially important if your loved one had a common name.
Step 2: Consider including the essential dates in the obituary
Some families choose to include the birth date and death date of the deceased in the obituary. You can present this information in a variety of ways.
Others avoid giving this detailed information in hopes of limiting the likelihood of fraudulent activity. You may provide partial information, such as “She was born to Bob and Mary Smith in October 1982.”
Step 3: Consider including the cause of death
The family must decide whether or not to include the cause of death. Most people who read the biography will wonder, “What happened?” This question may seem nosy to you, but it is only human nature to be curious about such matters.
Some families choose to leave this information out of the biography, which is their prerogative. Others may view it as a piece of information that may be helpful to future generations. Some may give partial information, such as “Mary Frankie Jones, 65, passed away after a long illness.”
Step 4: Include information about the early life of the deceased
Most people choose to include the names of the parents of the deceased as well as the city of birth. Again, only include specific information if you feel comfortable; some unscrupulous individuals use this biographical information for nefarious purposes.
You may consider including where the deceased graduated high school and/or college. Include any brief military service during this section of the biography as well.
Step 5: Include other family information
Often, you list a deceased person’s marriages in the article chronologically and list children at the end of the article as “survivors to the deceased.”
For some, it’s easy to write about the deceased’s spouse but makes a difficult task for others. Again, there are no “rules” on who to include, so you and your family must make those determinations.
People agonize over whether to include estranged family members. You may also wonder whether to label stepchildren differently than biological children. Ex-spouses and long-term partners that never marry may pause you as you write the obituary.
Each situation is different, so most etiquette guides recommend that people do their best to keep their relationships with their living family members intact by not limiting the list of survivors in the obituary.
Step 6: Write about your loved one’s professional life
A funeral biography is not the same as a resume, but most people give at least some general information about how the deceased earned a living.
If the deceased worked his entire adult life at one place of business, you would include this detail in the obituary. If he job-hopped but stayed in the same industry, you may include a sentence about his profession.
You may make this section of the biography longer for those with active careers.
Step 7: Consider including information about community involvement
Many families choose to include their loved one’s involvement in community groups. For example, you may choose to include the deceased’s involvement in a specific church, civic organization, or volunteer group. You may also want to include any offices that the deceased held in any of these organizations as well as any awards earned.
Step 8: Add any details that made your loved one special
There’s much more to life than work and club memberships. Think about other details you could include in the biography that would help people understand what made your loved one unique.
Perhaps you want to write about how she was a Star Wars superfan and waited in line each time a new film was released. Maybe your loved one was an avid camper and fisherman and spent each weekend in a tent.
You may want to write a lengthy exposition about what made your loved one special, which you should do. Use this information to write your loved one’s eulogy or share your writing with close family members. Depending on where you publish it, you may find your writing limited by the amount of space available.
Funeral Biography Samples
To get you started in your writing process, read these short, fictional obituary snippets.
For a parent or grandparent
Douglas Richard Schrute, 82, passed away peacefully in his home on Monday, June 23, 2020. His wife of 53 years was by his side at the time of death.
Douglas was born on December 22, 1938, to Richard and Mary (Sullivan) Schrute in Elmwood, Illinois. He was the fourth son born to the couple.
After graduating from Elmwood High School, he joined the U.S. Army, serving his country in Korea.
For a child or grandchild
Mary Kate is survived by her parents, Michael and Patricia Carmichael, and one brother, Cole. Other survivors include her maternal grandparents, John and Tawnya Crabtree, and her paternal grandparents, Frank and Louise Carmichael.
For a partner or spouse
Peter worked in the telecommunications industry all his life. He began his career at Southwestern Bell in 1973 and retired from AT&T in 2018. He worked as a technical salesperson for most of his professional life.
For an adult without immediate family
Michael will always be remembered by his friends as the “man of 1,000 stories.” He began each conversation by saying, “Stop me if you’ve heard this before,” which no one ever did. He was the life of the party, and laughter followed him wherever he went.
For someone who died after a long illness
Jack passed away Friday, December 8, after a long battle with lung cancer.
The family wishes to express appreciation to the Elmwood Hospice organization for helping make his transition to heaven as peaceful as possible.
Take Great Care When Writing the Biography of a Loved One
If you are in charge of making all of the arrangements, you may find yourself overwhelmed by your list of “to-do” items.
Even though you may find yourself pressed for time, carefully consider the wording of your loved one’s biography or obituary. Take care to be as accurate as possible by double-checking dates, the spelling of names, and other facts.
Anytime you write something of this level of importance, it is good to have other family members and friends check the piece for accuracy, clarity, and grammar. Have others proofread the funeral program as well and help you pick which modern funeral program to include.
You only have one chance to write the obituary of your loved one, so take your time as you complete this task.