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What Does ‘Preceded in Death’ Mean in an Obituary?

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Do you need to write an obituary? If so, check out the local paper or comb through online obituaries for inspiration — you’ll see a lot of common phrases to get you started. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

We’ll demystify one of the terms commonly used in an obituary or death announcement — “preceded in death.”  

‘Preceded in Death’ Definition

Obituaries focus on the life of the deceased. As the obituary concludes, close relatives are often listed. The obituary will say that the deceased is survived by a list of relatives.

The obituary will also say that the deceased was preceded in death by certain people. This means those relatives died before the deceased. 

Preceded in Death vs. Predeceased

The term “predeceased” has the same meaning as “preceded in death.” You could say that the subject of the obituary was predeceased by his parents, and it would be perfectly correct.

However, most people opt to use the phrasing “preceded in death” instead. It sounds more formal and less clinical.

Examples of ‘Preceded in Death’

Still having a hard time wrapping your head around how to use “preceded in death?”

Sometimes concrete examples can help. Here are a few examples of how you might use this phrase in an actual obituary. Each example could be a second-to-last paragraph in an obituary. (The closing paragraph would include the details of any funerals or memorial services, as well as charities people can donate to in lieu of flowers.) 

Note that these also follow obituary etiquette rules

Example 1:

Sarah Howe is survived by her son, Richard, and his wife, Cheyenne, of Rockford; daughter, Lindsay, and her husband, Amir, of Chicago; granddaughters, Melanie and Lauren, of Rockford, and grandson, Reza, of Chicago; brother, Paul, of Palm Beach, Florida, and sister, Laura, of Denver, Colorado.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Mark Howe, and her parents, Marvin and Elizabeth Jones.

Example 2:

Conrad Hayes is survived by his wife, Libby; their son, Max, and his wife, Ava, and their daughter Harper, and her wife, Rosa; granddaughters, Kaila and Brayden, and grandsons, Henry and Oliver; brothers Samuel, Edward, and Gerald; and 10 nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Jane and Peter, and by his sister, Rhonda. 

Example 3:

Madeline Boyer is survived by her husband, Bruce; daughter, Rebecca, and her husband, Anwar; son, James, and his husband, Alexander; granddaughters, Hannah and Chloe, and grandson, Omar; and sister, Sue Ellen. She is also survived by her beloved Pomeranian, Tinkerbell.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Bob and Joan Stokes, and her brother, Joseph.   

Other Ways You Can Say ‘Preceded in Death’

The term “predeceased by” has the same meaning as “preceded in death.” Here are some other ways of expressing this sentiment:

Passed away: The phrase “passed away” is a common euphemism for death. If “preceded in death” feels too formal, this is a good substitution. For example, you could write, “Lee’s husband, Carlos, and her mother, Samantha, passed away prior to Lee’s death.”

Previously departed: Obituaries often focus on family relationships. But many people have established found families with people who aren’t their blood relatives.

You probably wouldn’t include a close friend with blood relatives under the “preceded in death” section. Instead, you could say “previously departed loved ones included best friend Gail Stevens.”

Joined in heaven or reunited beyond the veil: A lot of people find comfort in the thought that we will be reunited with loved ones after death. You can express this sentiment in the obituary by changing up the standard “preceded in death” phrase.

For example, you could say, “Manuel will join his parents, Consuela and Hernando, in heaven. He will also be reunited with his son, Sebastian, who went to be with the Lord as an infant.”

This alternative is appropriate for someone who had a strong religious faith. You can also say the deceased was reunited with other departed loved ones “beyond the veil,” which is a lesser-used term for the afterlife. 

Entered eternal rest: You can also say that the deceased joins other loved ones in eternal rest. This carries the message that your loved one will now be rewarded with peace, surrounded by loved ones who died before him or her.   

The Usage of ‘Preceded in Death’ in an Obituary

For many years, obituaries have followed a pretty standard format. This has some benefits. Following existing formatting guidelines can be helpful for first-time obituary writers. It can guide you through what can be a difficult and emotional process.

But you may also find yourself using phrases or terms like “preceded in death” that don’t feel true to the deceased. When you understand the historically-used terminology, you can opt to use it, or you can adapt the sentiment in a way that’s more personal. 

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