Writing an obituary for someone you love is stressful enough, and you might be sitting down to write this obituary only shortly after your loved one passed away. You may have barely had any time to process the details of their death yourself, much less be ready to share them with the world.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Do You Have to Include the Cause of Death in an Obituary?
- How to Word the Cause of Death in an Obituary
- Where Can You Post an Obituary?
All of this may cause you to wonder whether or not you have to include the cause of death in an obituary at all. Rest assured that you don’t have to follow any rules when it comes to writing obituaries. But, as you may learn from our guides on how to write an obituary, there are a few parameters that are considered common.
We’ll discuss a bit more of what’s expected in obituaries in this post, as well as some examples for how to word the cause of death in particular. Figuring out the perfect way to word even a gruesome occurrence won’t make coping with it any easier. But, it may help you find much-needed support instead.
Tip: Writing an obituary might be just one of the tasks you're facing for the first time after losing a loved one. For help prioritizing and working through the rest, check out our post-loss checklist.
Do You Have to Include the Cause of Death in an Obituary?
To reiterate, no, you do not have to include the cause of death in an obituary. The choice is entirely yours, and it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of including or excluding this information. To help in your decision, we’ve listed a few pros and cons for including the cause of death in an obituary below.
Pros of including the cause of death
Yes, it may be hard to imagine the pros of detailing a loved one’s death for the world to see. After all, obituaries are meant to be public death announcements. Their main purpose is to let the world — and other loved ones — know about your loss. A few pros about listing your loved one’s cause of death include the following.
People who read it won’t have to ask. If you list the cause of death in your loved one’s obituary, it provides an answer for one of the top questions surrounding death, “how did it happen?” Granted, if your loved one was known to have a certain illness or was of older age, it will likely be less shocking.
Of course, writing the cause of death doesn’t mean that people won’t ask anyway. If you don’t want to dive into a one-on-one discussion with certain people about your loved one’s death, you can always refer them to the obituary you wrote, too.
It shows that you’re healing. Acknowledging how your loved one died will help show others that you have accepted what has happened, at least for the time being, and that you’re attempting to move past it. Though it’s not your job to be strong for everyone, it may help some people feel more comfortable reaching out to you.
It can help raise awareness. If your loved one passed away due to violence or a particular illness, it can help raise awareness about this particular issue. Again, it isn’t your job to step into a difficult advocacy role. However, it may help connect you with a larger support group that can enact real change in your loved one’s honor.
It’s (more or less) considered customary. As you can read in these obituary templates, it is considered customary — more or less — to discuss how your loved one died. This detail often comes at the very beginning of the obituary with the rest of your loved one’s biographical information. That being said, you can also leave it as “passed away” or “died” without providing further information.
Cons of including the cause of death
Despite the pros we have listed above, there are some cons to including your loved one’s cause of death. Of course, you may agree or disagree depending on your situation.
You may not be ready to discuss the details. Announcing your loved one’s death in an obituary is one thing, but you may not be ready to discuss the details of their death with other people just yet. It’s hard to say whether or not including the cause of death will cause more or fewer people to pry.
Some of your family or friends may want to keep this information private. It is difficult to please everyone. It may so happen that some of your friends or family members may not wish for you to disclose how your loved one died, even if it was “expected.” Some people simply think it’s in poor taste.
It may cause confusion. It will entirely depend on your situation, however, including the cause of death in an obituary may cause some confusion or upset. This ties into the above point. Saying that your loved one died of natural causes when in reality they passed away from a long battle with cancer, may result in some disagreement in your family for how to word your loved one’s cause of death.
How to Word the Cause of Death in an Obituary
Even if it is just one aspect of an obituary, the cause of death is an important part. If you choose to include the cause of death, you may fear that you won’t word it properly. Depending on your loved one’s specific cause of death, we have provided a few examples below for how to word it.
If none of the examples below describe your loved one’s situation perfectly, you can always use one of more of them as a jumping-off point. Discuss the phrasing with a loved one, if necessary. Ask more of your friends or family if they have any experience writing obituaries and what they decided was the best thing to say. You don’t have to make this decision on your own.
If they died after a long illness
“...Jackson passed away after a long and brave battle with cancer. Though his outcome was never entirely positive, Jackson never gave up hope and never stopped fighting, even until the very end. His family is eternally grateful for how long he as able to hold on, and the memories that they were able to share because of his courage and strength…”
“...Lina passed away due to complications from MS. Lina’s family remains in awe of her continued positivity and exuberance for life, even when things got difficult. Her laugh, bright smile, and Christmas cookies will be sorely missed by all who knew her…”
If they died after a short illness
“...George passed away after falling ill to pneumonia. His family is devastated but knows that George is with God. They are grateful to have had such a loving and supportive husband, father, and friend, even if his time may have been cut short…”
“...Susan passed away from complications of COVID-19. Susan’s family extends their condolences to others dealing with loss from this devastating illness. They believe it will help bring everyone together…”
If they died suddenly
“Trevor passed away suddenly on August 1, 2020, at the age of 23. His family is overwhelmed with grief, yet they are taking it one day at a time. They would appreciate some space during their mourning period…”
“Betty passed away in a tragic accident. Though they are devastated, her family hopes that the details of her death will not overshadow the beautiful, fulfilling, and bright life she lived. They hope that in light of her death some positivity will become of it and it will raise awareness for…”
If they died unexpectedly
“Malcolm died unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 42 on August 1, 2020... Malcolm’s friends and family are organizing a walkathon in his honor to raise awareness for heart health in the South Tampa community. Proceeds will benefit the T. Pepin Heart Hospital in Tampa. In lieu of flowers, Malcolm’s family is asking that donations be made to the American Heart Association…”
“Carol passed away unexpectedly at the age of 70 on August 1, 2020. Carol was preceded in death by her husband, Lenny, who passed away three years ago at the age of 67. She is survived by her sons, John and Tyler, their wives, Serena and Yvette, and her several grandchildren. Her family would like to extend gratitude to the Sacramento community for their outpouring of love and support…”
If they died by suicide
“Chris passed away at the age of 32 after taking his own life on October 30, 2021, in his home of Salt Lake City. Chris is survived by his mother, Joan, his father, Troy, and his younger sister, Stephanie. After years of seeking treatment for ongoing depression and PTSD, and openly sharing about his experiences on his Twitter account, Chris could not hang on any longer. His family will continue to share about their son’s struggles with mental health in hopes of reaching others and preventing another such tragedy from occurring … In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made to Salt Lake City Center for Mental Health & Rehabilitation. The family credits this clinic for keeping their son here on Earth just a bit longer, for which they’re very grateful.”
“Grace tragically died by suicide on September 20, 2021, in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of 27. She was preceded in death by her brother, Greg, and her mother, Suzette. She will be greatly missed by her coworkers, Billie and Maria, and friends, Monique and Rob, from her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. A sunrise service for Grace will be held at Memorial Park in Phoenix on October 20, 2021, at 6 a.m. All are welcome to attend and are encouraged to wear pink, Grace’s favorite color. Her friends and loved ones hope this memorial serves as a safe space for others to discuss mental health issues and find a community of support.”
Where Can You Post an Obituary?
Posting an obituary online is a nice way to share information about your loved one as well as provide a reliable digital record for years to come. There are plenty of options — both free and paid — that allow you to have control over how the obituary is formatted, who sees it, and even who can share it. You may also want to keep in mind these tips for how to find an obituary online or offline.
Common places for posting an obituary are newspapers, online memorial sites, social media, or other online publications, such as those accessible through your loved one’s funeral home. You may choose to post the obituary on one type of site and then share it on other platforms as well. Some online memorial sites make the sharing process, as well as making donations in your loved one’s name easy and seamless.
The process for how to submit an obituary to a newspaper is fairly simple. Posting an obituary through a local newspaper is more affordable than a larger publication, of course. Depending on content (word count, images), obituaries can range in cost from about $200 to $1,000 or more.
When discussing price, be sure to ask if an online post is included and how long it will remain available on the newspaper’s website. You should also provide the writers with adequate information, but be clear if there are details you want to emphasize or exclude.
Though these writers are professionals, you will likely be asked to proofread a copy prior to its publication. Be sure to review it closely for accuracy and style, as the writers want to get it right, too.
Online memorial site
There are many online memorial sites to choose from. It may be easier to make a decision depending on whether you’d like a free platform or are OK with paying a small fee. Online memorial sites have many benefits, but be sure to discuss with your loved ones what ones are most important to you.
For example, online memorial sites may allow the post to stay up longer — even forever — when compared to a newspaper obituary section. Many online memorial sites also give you more control over the content rather than having to work with someone else, which you and your family may appreciate.
Creating an obituary to post on social media isn’t difficult, even for those who are less tech-savvy. You can even accompany the post with pictures or videos of your loved one and create a sharable memorial.
A social media obituary can be accomplished in a shorter timeframe than other options through third parties. You can even edit the post afterward if you share it on Instagram or Facebook, which is a nice option to have if you’re prone to spelling errors. If you choose to share the obituary on Twitter, remember that you cannot edit the content.
One thing to consider about sharing obituaries on social media, however, is the privacy settings of the post. You can opt to make the post public on Facebook, but it will not work the same way on Instagram if you have a private account — the same goes for Twitter.
An alumni bulletin may be another way you can submit an obituary online for free. If your loved one was especially involved in his or her college, high school, or trade school, posting their obituary here will help let other classmates know of their passing and lend support.
An alumni bulletin may not reach all of your loved ones, however, so consider sharing the post with screenshots or a link on social media.
Keep Yourself and Your Family In Mind
When it comes to writing obituaries, there are a lot of hard truths that may be difficult to discuss. However, when you’re as aware of them as possible, it makes acknowledging or writing about them that much easier.
Discussing your loved one’s cause of death is no exception. When it comes down to it, it is you and your family’s choice — not anyone else’s. There is no authority when it comes to obituary writing. Only include what you feel comfortable sharing.
Another aspect of obituaries that you may be unclear about is the term or concept of “preceded in death.” Luckily, we have an entire post dedicated to this term, what it means, and how to incorporate it into any obituary you may write. You may also be interested in this post to help you determine the best obituary photo of your loved one.