How to Start an Obituary (With Examples)

Updated

Even if you write for your job or just as a hobby, you may struggle when composing an obituary of a loved one. Even those of us who are comfortable with the written word may freeze at the enormity of the task. After all, how can you sum up the life of a loved one in a few hundred words?

Jump ahead to these sections:

Additionally, many people experience brain fog after going through a traumatic event. For example, you might struggle with word choice or forming simple sentences. You may have also recently lost sleep, which exacerbates the situation.

We are here to help. You may not even learn anything new in this article. However, reading it may get your mind focused on helping you complete this heart-wrenching task.

Here is some advice on how to start an obituary. We hope that once you have a few lines written, the rest of the words will begin to flow. 

Is There a Right or Best Way to Start an Obituary?

Most people think of an obituary as a news article. The lead, or first paragraph, of a news article includes the essential details of the story. 

With that said, you may consider starting your loved one's obituary with a statement declaring your loved one's death.

We know how difficult it will be to write that fact on a blank computer screen. Your cursor may flash at you for a long time before you can formulate the words.

Ideas for How You Can Start an Obituary

There are several different ways to declare a person's death. Most use euphemism for death, but doing so is not necessary. What are your feelings about the use of the word "died?" Some of you might be uncomfortable with it. Others prefer the direct term as opposed to using euphemisms. Regardless of your reaction, the words "died" and "death" are perfectly appropriate for an obituary:

Sally Marie (Thompson) Smith, 88, died in her home on December 3, 2020, after a short illness.

Probably one of the most common euphemisms for death is "passed away." The phrase doesn't imply any specific beliefs regarding the afterlife. This approach may seem less jarring than the previous example: 

Sally Marie (Thompson) Smith passed away peacefully while surrounded by her family on December 3, 2020. She was 88.

If a person's faith was essential in their lives, you might consider starting the obituary with such a statement. Other ideas include "went to be with his Lord," "joined her husband in Heaven," "was called safely home." Here’s an example:

Sally Marie (Thompson) Smith went to be with Jesus on December 3, 2020. 

Of course, you can include other relationships in the description of the deceased. For example, you may refer to the deceased as a "loving wife, mother, daughter, and aunt," or "beloved friend," or "loyal companion”: 

Sally Marie Smith nee Thompson, loving wife and mother, was called Home on December 3, 2020. 

Perhaps you wish to identify the deceased by one major accomplishment. Examples include "former mayor of Springfield," "World War II veteran," "Titanic survivor," "Olympic silver medalist," etc.:

Sally Marie Smith, an award-winning journalist, died December 3, 2020. 

Narrowing down the residence of the deceased will help others identify who died. This tactic is beneficial if the deceased had a common name:

Sally Marie Smith, 88, of Springfield, MA, died peacefully at home on December 3, 2020. 

Don't be afraid to start the obituary with the emotions you are experiencing if you prefer:

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our beautiful baby, Sally Marie Smith. 

Some publications use specific style guidelines when publishing obituaries. For example, the first line may be the name of the deceased, the birth date, and the death date:

Sally Marie Smith, 1927-2020

Some prefer to keep it all in the first breath. This lengthy sentence gives most of the essential details regarding a person's death right away:

Sally "Nana" (Thompson) Smith, 90, of Hartford, KY, loving wife of 52 years of the late Matthew "Matty" Smith, peacefully went to be with our Lord on Tuesday, October 12, 2021, with her beloved family by her side at St. Matthew Hospital in Hartford.

Some choose to include the cause of death in the obituary, which can be done within the first line:

Sally Marie Smith, 71, beloved wife of Fred Smith, of Hartford, KY, died Wednesday, October 20, at St. Matthew's Hospital after a courageous battle with COVID-19.

Examples of How to Start an Obituary

We hope you are getting the idea of how to start an obituary. Here are some additional examples to consider:

Example for a parent or grandparent

Sally Marie (Thompson) Smith, loving mother and grandmother, passed away on Sunday, April 22, 2020. She was 88. 

Most families include a woman's maiden name in the obituary, which the writer can do in various ways. For example, you may choose to put the maiden name in parentheses, or some families use the term nee. 

Regardless of how you do it, adding the maiden name helps in manners of identification. 

Example for a loved one who had a partner or spouse

Sally Marie (Thompson) Smith, February 2, 1928 - April 22, 2020, Bethesda, Maryland. Sally lived a full and wonderful life of 91 years, 70 of those married to Matthew, the love of her life.

As shown above, some newspapers or obituary websites follow a specific style for obituaries. The city and state listed typically are the ones where the death occurred. 

Get weekly reminders to live life fully.

We'll send inspirational quotes directly to your inbox.

Example for a loved one who did not have a partner or children

Sally lived in Maine all of her life, where she enjoyed the foggy mornings, jagged coastlines, and the love of her family and life-long friends. 

There's no need to expressly state that a person never chose to marry or have children in an obituary. 

Places You Can Post an Obituary for a Loved One

You can post the obituary for a loved one in many different publications and websites. However, if you have no experience in funeral planning, you may not be familiar with the steps you need to follow to publish an obituary. 

Here are some places you can post an obituary for a loved one:

Newspapers

Some families choose to spread the word about a loved one's death by publishing an obituary in the local newspaper (or multiple newspapers). However, it's important to realize that most newspapers require a funeral home or cremation provider to submit the obituary. This process decreases the likelihood of spreading false information regarding the death of a person. 

Most newspapers charge a per-word fee to print obituaries. Depending on the circulation numbers of the newspaper, you may have to spend hundreds of dollars to publish the article. In addition, there is often an additional fee if you wish to include a photo with the obituary.

Most newspapers will publish an obituary in print and online versions. In addition, some newspapers partner with the obituary site Legacy, which means that all obituaries published in particular newspapers across the country will also be available in perpetuity on the obituary site. 

Online memorial websites

There are quite a few memorial websites that allow you to create a remembrance page for a deceased loved one. This remembrance page may include the obituary of the deceased. In addition, anybody can share these pages on social media, and visitors are encouraged to share memories and photos of the deceased for all to see. 

Some of these websites require a paid subscription, but others offer a free basic service. Some of these websites may allow you to post your loved one's obituary, but the page's primary purpose is to spread the word on end-of-life events. 

Check out each company's policies about posting the obituary of your loved one on the personal memorial page.  

Funeral home or cremation provider websites

Most funeral homes or cremation providers post the obituaries of those under their care. Talk with the funeral home staff serving your family about their requirements for the online obituary. Some staff may assist you with writing the obituary, while others will publish the article you provide. Some charge an additional fee to have the obituary posted on their company website, but other funeral homes include obituary posting as part of their packages.  

Some funeral home obituary websites link to larger ones, especially if the funeral home is part of an extensive network with locations throughout the continent. An example of this is the Dignity Memorial network of funeral homes, cemeteries, and cremation centers. 

Social media

You may consider writing the obituary about your loved one and posting it to Facebook, Twitter, or some other type of social media account. Even though this option is free, there is a benefit to posting the obituary of a loved one on a more significant public forum. 

Not everyone is connected on social media. If you wish to share details about the funeral, you'll need to find a way to reach a broader audience.

Even though obituaries aren't legally required, they can be considered historical documents. An obituary that is only posted on an individual's social media page may not be able to be accessed forever and by a wide range of people.

We Know How Difficult This Task Is

We know how hard it is to tell the story of a loved one's life in a few hundred words. Unfortunately, this monumental task may cause you to freeze in front of your keyboard if you don't know how to start. 

A lot of people get writer's block—especially if the task is emotionally difficult. So here are some ideas on how to get the job done:

  • If writing the first line is too difficult, skip it and go back to it later. 
  • Look at examples from online obituaries for inspiration.
  • Force yourself to write something—even if your sentences are incomplete. Your words may soon start to flow. 
  • Use an obituary template.
  • Ask for help from a friend, family member, funeral home staff member, or clergy. 

As you realize, the loss of a loved one is a traumatic event, so give yourself grace. 

Categories:

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.