Planning for your death is hard. When you add writing an obituary into the process, it’s downright intimidating. Death planning is an integral part of life. But it comes with quite a few thought-provoking challenges. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want to accomplish?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Find Inspiration
- Step 2: Learn How to Write an Obituary
- Step 3: Put Pen to Paper
- Step 4: Revise Your Draft
- Step 5: Send It to Your Loved Ones
- A Few Self-Written Obituary Examples & Templates
These are essential questions that drive your everyday decisions. But they can do more. They can help you decide if the legacy you’re creating is what you want to leave behind. Unlike writing an obituary for a loved one, writing your obituary gives you the chance to look at your life. It lets you get the opportunity to share your story. You’ll have peace of mind that you had your say. And you can help your friends and family by starting this difficult task for them.
Thinking about end-of-life planning isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a complicated affair. Taking a few minutes to write an obituary for yourself can be a gratifying experience. It’s so powerful that it’s often used as a creative writing exercise. Don’t just take our word for it. See for yourself with these step-by-step tips.
Step 1: Find Inspiration
Before you begin, it’s a good idea to get some inspiration. Unless you read the funeral section of the newspaper, you probably aren’t familiar with obituaries.
An obituary is a way of publically honoring the dead. Believe it or not, this isn’t a modern tradition. Obituaries were found in the remains of early civilizations. Some date back to ancient Roman times. Historically, obituaries were only for the most notable people in society. Ordinary people weren’t included in obituaries until the American Civil War. During the war, newspaper announcements began to keep track of the dead. And obituaries started to appear for people from all walks of life.
Today, lengthy obituaries and smaller announcements are still typical. You can find them in your local newspaper, prominent publications, and even on social media.
One of the most well-known stories about obituary writing is about the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel. When Nobel’s brother died of a heart attack in 1888, some French newspapers reported the wrong brother had died. In the obituary, reporters called Nobel a “merchant of death” because of his family’s history creating explosives.
After reading these accounts of his own “death,” Nobel realized he did not want to be remembered this way. This realization arguably led to Nobel’s career crisis. He decided to rewrite his will to dedicate his fortune to philanthropy. Today you know. this act of goodwill as the Nobel Peace Prizes.
Alfred Nobel used his desire for a favorable obituary to change the course of his life. How can you use yours to tell your story?
Step 2: Learn How to Write an Obituary
There are a few things to know about how to write an obituary before you begin. Don’t worry, you don’t need to go back to English class. But understanding the basic format of these announcements will go a long way.
At its base level, an obituary informs people that a death occurred. It also shares any details about the funeral or memorial service. Some obituaries also include a summary of the deceased’s life and the legacy they leave behind.
Here are the steps to writing an obituary:
- Basics: Begin by stating the full name of the deceased and the date of death. Don’t worry too much about the specifics since you don’t know those.
- Summary: Next, share a summary of your life. You can start from birth or include only key facts.
- Relatives: List any relatives, living or dead. Why? Obituaries help readers determine if they have a personal connection to the deceased. You can list grandparents, parents, siblings, children, spouses, and so on. Read our guide for obituary etiquette for the predeceased for more.
- Funeral details: Share funeral home or memorial details. If you know what type of funeral you’d like, include it in this section. Share contact information for the person who will be in charge of your funeral.
- Legacy: Finally, list any specifics you’d like done to honor your memory. For example, you might request a donation to a favorite charity.
Don’t worry too much about the specifics around your death or your funeral information. You can include them if you’d like, but the focus is your life and legacy.
Step 3: Put Pen to Paper
Now it’s time to start writing. This is the hardest part. How do you sum up a lifetime of memories and connections? Keep in mind that most obituaries are short. Unlike an elegy or eulogy, they’re typically between 200-500 words. They can be longer in significant publications, but this is the exception, not the rule.
When writing your first draft, write as much as you need. Sometimes it helps to get everything out on the page all at once. Don’t worry about your mistakes or whether you’re using the right words. This is a work in progress.
Here are some tips for getting your creative energy moving:
- What words best describe your life?
- What has life meant to you?
- Share your favorite memory.
- What are your proudest accomplishments?
- What character traits do you want to be celebrated?
- What legacy are you leaving behind?
- How would you like your loved ones to honor your memory?
If you’re not sure where to begin, ask your friends and family. They probably know you better than you know yourself. Ask them to share their favorite memories and what they love about you. Seeing yourself through the eyes of a loved one is an enlightening experience.
Step 4: Revise Your Draft
Your obituary won’t be perfect right away. This is a work that’s meant to evolve and change. Your life isn’t a one-dimensional page. It evolves and grows with you.
Revise your obituary as you continue to experience new things. While you’re writing, you might realize you have a different idea of the legacy you want to leave. If that’s the case, imagine your new world of possibilities.
There’s no perfect answer when it comes to writing your obituary. You just need to write the words that mean something to you. From there, you can always make changes. Don’t be afraid to revise.
Step 5: Send It to Your Loved Ones
Finally, share your obituary with your loved ones. Don’t leave your obituary trapped in a journal or saved somewhere secret on your computer. Share it with trusted relatives, and make sure they know your end-of-life wishes.
Share your end-of-life wishes— including your self-written obituary— with your loved ones instantly.
Create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile to get started.
There are a few ways you can share your obituary. Ideally, you can use an end-of-life planning profile, like Cake, to share your wishes with your loved ones. Plus, you can make sure your family has access to your legal decisions and obituary documents, too.
A Few Self-Written Obituary Examples & Templates
Let’s take a look at some obituary examples. You can use these as inspiration for your writing. Remember, there’s no one “right” type of obituary. It just has to mean something to you.
[NAME], a high school math teacher, passed away at the age of [X]. For 10 years, she served as the Math Department Head and Theater Director. The students at [SCHOOL] adored [NAME]. A graduate of [COLLEGE], [NAME] was a kind, patient instructor who touched the lives of her students during her career. [NAME] leaves behind her husband of 3 years, [SPOUSE], and her parents [PARENT] and [PARENT]. In remembrance, [SCHOOL] is currently accepting donations to dedicate a section of the school library to [NAME] in honor of her service.
[NAME], a long-time resident of the Tampa area, died [DATE] surrounded by his close family. Born in [YEAR], [NAME] received his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from [COLLEGE] in 1960. He directed the Chemistry Research Division at [COMPANY] for 40 years. In his spare time, he taught at [COLLEGE]. [NAME] loved golf, visiting family, and traveling. He was proud to have visited all seven continents. Many will remember how his laugh could light up a room. [NAME] is survived by his children, [CHILD] and [CHILD] who will never forget their father’s compassion and humor.
[NAME], age [X], of New Haven died on [DATE]. She was born in Atlanta and was the only daughter of [PARENT] and [PARENT]. After receiving her BA from [COLLEGE], she married her high school sweetheart, [SPOUSE]. She was a doting mother and active community member. Her work included planning [CITY]’s annual fall festival and holiday celebrations. [NAME] was also a supporter of the arts, volunteering with several local painting groups for over 20 years. She leaves behind her husband and her son, [CHILD]. Funeral services will be at the family’s home. The [LAST NAME] family requests memorial gifts in [NAME]’s honor for the city’s art program.
What Story Will Your Obituary Tell?
Writing an obituary for yourself doesn’t have to be a sad experience. It’s a chance to reflect upon a life well lived. And it can confirm that the legacy you’re creating is what you want. When you write your obituary, you help your family by starting this hard task for them. More importantly, you also ask the question: What type of life have I lived?
It’s okay if you don't have all the answers right away. Take a few minutes to reflect by writing an obituary for yourself. There’s a reason this is such a powerful writing exercise. Who knows? You might have your own Alfred Nobel moment of enlightenment.
- Andrews, Evan. “Did a Premature Obituary Inspire the Nobel Prize?” History, 22 August, 2018. History.com.
- Fife, Steven. “The Roman Funeral.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 18 January, 2012. Ancient.eu.
- Gagnon, Amy. “Death and Mourning in the Civil War Era.” Connecticut History, 13 August, 2012. Connecticuthistory.org.