Obituaries can be difficult to write when you know a loved one’s or relative’s death is imminent. When death is completely unexpected, however, it can feel next to impossible. You’re already dealing with overwhelming grief, questions from friends and family, and condolences from every corner of your social spectrum.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Should You Include or Not Include in an Obituary After an Unexpected Death?
- Steps for Writing an Obituary for After an Unexpected Death
- Example Obituaries for a Sudden or Unexpected Death
- Where to Post or Submit an Obituary After an Unexpected Death
Writing an obituary for an unexpected death might be the last thing you want to tackle. However, if you can carve out some time and space in your day, we’re confident that you’ll be able to sit down and write a fitting tribute for your loved one.
What Should You Include or Not Include in an Obituary After an Unexpected Death?
It can be difficult to know what to include or leave out of an obituary. Depending on the reason for your loved one’s unexpected death, you may feel that the reason is too private to mention. You also might know that the deceased would rather not have the reason for their death widely broadcast.
On the other hand, you might feel that people would appreciate knowing what happened. Or perhaps sharing the reason behind their death could even contribute to the person’s lasting legacy.
These questions are highly personal and vary depending on your circumstances and those of your loved one. Here are some general guidelines to help you decide what to include and what to leave out of their obituary.
What to include
Many of the items you should include in your loved one’s obituary are the same as those included in an obituary for someone whose death was expected. These include:
- The person’s full name
- Death date
- Names of parents
- Names of predeceased family members
- Names of surviving family members
- Place of residence
- Important accomplishments (higher education, wedding, children, employment, etc.)
- Information on funeral or memorial services
- Special instructions (donations in lieu of flowers, etc.)
What not to include
The notable difference between the obituary of someone whose death was expected and someone whose death was not will likely be in what is not included in their obituary. So what might you not want to include?
Though this varies on a case-by-case basis, some families may wish to omit the cause of death. This is sometimes the case in an obituary for a loved one who died by suicide. Other causes of death that are often left out of an obituary include murder, a sudden undiagnosed illness, and vehicular accidents where the deceased was at fault.
Steps for Writing an Obituary for After an Unexpected Death
Figuring out how to write an obituary after an unexpected death can feel like an uphill battle. Just know that you’re not alone and others have dealt with this process, too. Give yourself a moment to breathe; then find a quiet spot to compose your thoughts and follow the steps below.
Gather the facts
Before you start writing the obituary, get a clean sheet of paper and list all of the facts you know. These include the items mentioned above. Double-check spellings, dates, and important information as you write it down. This will become the backbone of the obituary.
Start with the introduction
The first line or two can be thought of as the introduction. These lines state the person’s name, age, date of death, and cause of death (if desired).
Continue with biographical information
The next several lines should contain information about family members who survived and predeceased your loved one. After this, you can mention where they grew up, important milestones in their life, and accomplishments they were proud of. This is where you can let their personality shine.
Include information about funeral or memorial services
If a public funeral or memorial service is being held, share this information. Make sure to include the location, date, and time of the service. If private family-only services are planned, you can share this, as well.
Add specific instructions
Any specific instructions should be included at the end. This includes things like “in lieu of flowers” preferences and memorial service dress codes.
Example Obituaries for a Sudden or Unexpected Death
Writing an obituary for someone who passed away unexpectedly can feel overwhelming. Here are several examples to help you get started.
Example obituary for a loved one who died by suicide
Bobby Jones, beloved son, brother, grandson, cousin, and friend passed from this life on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, at the age of 24 after a lifelong battle with depression. He is survived by his parents, Mark and Janet Jones, his brother, Kurt Jones, his grandparents, Bob and Martha Jones and Betty and Jack Phillips, and many more family members and friends. Bobby was predeceased by his cousin, Brent Michaels.
Bobby spent his entire life in Santa Monica and loved the beach life. He enjoyed school and was proud to have graduated from UC Santa Monica with a degree in business. Bobby had a never-ending supply of entrepreneurial ideas. He started several small businesses during college that paid his way through school and helped pave the way for several friends to join him in business.
A funeral service will be held for Bobby at the Santa Monica Cemetery in the Seaside Chapel on May 10, 2021, at 9 am. All who knew Bobby are welcomed to attend.
In lieu of flowers, the Jones family would appreciate donations in Bobby’s honor to the UC Santa Monica School of Business scholarship fund.
Example obituary for a loved one who died in an accident
Elizabeth May, 56, unexpectedly passed away Tuesday, December 2, 2021, as the result of a head-on collision. Elizabeth is survived by her husband Jonny May, her children Liz, Carter, and Jennifer May, and her mother Randi Simmons. Those who predeceased her include her father Shawn Simmons and her sister Dorothy Simmons-Fitzgerald.
Elizabeth grew up in south Louisiana and, though she lived much of her adult life in the midwest, she remained a southern girl at heart. Her banana cream pudding was known far and wide as the best in Missouri, and her canned goods won first place ribbons at every county fair. All who knew her appreciated her love for others, her fun-loving personality, and her southern twang.
A funeral service will be held at Latham First Baptist Church at 1:00 pm with a lunch reception to follow. In keeping with Elizabeth’s love of baking, her famous banana cream pudding will be served and the recipe provided to all.
Example obituary for a loved one who died after a sudden illness
Timothy Jeff Hart, beloved husband, son, brother, mentor, teacher, coach, and friend passed away on Friday, September 5, 2021, after a sudden onset of pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his loving wife, Jan Hart, his children, Tim and Bethany Hart, and his father, Jered Hart. Timothy was 42 years old.
Tim was a proud husband and father and told anyone within earshot about his loving family. He was also devoted to his students and team at Madison High School. Tim would tell you that his family and his “kids” at Madison High were the two loves of his life. He loved without reserve and gave of himself without hesitation.
A family funeral service is scheduled to take place at Monroe Baptist Church, followed by a public memorial service at Madison High School on September 8, 2021, from 1:00-2:30 pm. All friends, family, and community members are invited to attend. Members of the football team are encouraged to wear their jerseys in Coach Tim’s honor.
In lieu of flowers, the Hart family would appreciate donations in Tim’s honor to the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.
Example obituary for a loved one who died unexpectedly and isn’t having a service
Alex Hunt, beloved brother and friend, unexpectedly passed away on October 18, 2021, at the age of 62. He is survived by his brothers, Andrew and Dylan Hunt.
Alex is a long-time resident of Rhode Island and enjoyed working as an IT consultant all around New York. He was a friend to everyone he met and never encountered an IT problem that he couldn’t solve. His friendliness, easy-going personality, and IT genius will be missed by all who knew him.
At this time, no public services are planned.
Where to Post or Submit an Obituary After an Unexpected Death
There are plenty of places to post or submit an obituary for your loved one. Here are the four places that are most common.
Newspapers often charge for a certain space, per word, or per line of text. Highly-circulated newspapers in densely populated cities can charge a premium to print an obituary while some rural newspapers only charge a modest fee.
Besides fees, one thing that might be an issue in publishing your loved one’s obituary is the timing. If you want to post an obituary just days after your loved one passed, then a newspaper might not work. Most require submissions at least a week prior to publication. If time isn’t an issue, however, newspapers remain a popular place to publish obituaries.
Online memorial website
Online memorial sites are rapidly gaining popularity for posting obituaries. Many families appreciate the instant nature of publication, the lower costs than traditional publishing, the ability to customize the obituary with pictures or video, and the nearly unlimited amount of text provided.
If you want the ability to publish an obituary that can reach your friends and family quickly without the hassle of newspaper publishing deadlines, an online memorial website is an excellent option.
Social media platforms are another place where it’s becoming quite popular, acceptable, and even expected for people to post loved ones’ obituaries. The benefits of posting on social media can outweigh publishing through a traditional newspaper. Posting an obituary on social media is often paired with publishing an obituary on a memorial website.
Social media offers families an instant method for spreading the word of a loved one’s passing while providing a place for friends and family to comment and write condolences. The benefits are many: It’s free, it’s instantaneous, and it can be rapidly shared.
Funeral home website
If you’re working with a funeral home, check to see whether they offer obituary hosting on their webpage. Many funeral homes offer this service free of charge for families they work with. Most funeral homes today provide families with an obituary page that offers unlimited words, a photo gallery, a digital guest book, and a one-click option for ordering flowers or sending condolence cards.
Honoring Your Loved One After an Unexpected Death
Writing an obituary is an act of love and a way to honor your loved one’s life. While it may not be easy, it will be rewarding. Carve out some time in your day to hit the pause button and think about your loved one’s life, then write a tribute you know they’d appreciate reading.