Should You Include the Cause of Death in an Obituary?

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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. 

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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…”  

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.

Want to learn more about writing obituaries? Read our guide on how to write an honest obituary and how long obituaries are.

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