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How to Write Your Own Obituary

If you’ve ever had to write an obituary for a loved one, you know what an intimidating responsibility it can be—to sum up someone’s entire life on a piece of paper is nothing short of profound. To ease the difficulty during the period of loss, many individuals are choosing to write their own obituaries—a task that can feel difficult, but it can also be a very deep and insightful activity that can be revisited from time to time. So with genuine sincerity, here are some basic instructions on how to write your own obituary.

Chapters

The difference between an obituary and a death notice

Don’t confuse an obituary with a death notice - a death notice simply announces the passing and informs the public of the funeral, memorial or celebration of life services.

The obituary should be more of a true tribute, a chance for you to share about your life, accomplishments, and surviving family members. And speaking practically, it would not be possible to pre-write a death notice.

What about a eulogy?

Think back on the last funeral or memorial service you went to. Remember when their loved ones stood at the podium in front of everyone? They may have read a poem, sang a song, or… read a eulogy they wrote? The eulogy would be full of memories, praise, and kind words. Eulogies are a way for loved ones who are left behind to gain some closure; truly a unique and important part of the service. While you could write your own eulogy, it is also a way for others to give tribute to the impact you had on their lives and the lives of others. 

Condolences and meaningful sympathy messages are also written about the deceased, but those are specifically crafted for the surviving loved ones.

Getting Started Writing Your Own Obituary

If you open your local newspaper, you may find that the obituaries are a mix of short, simplified biographies, followed by the death notice information including their surviving family members and service information. You want your obituary experience to be unique, so you may not want to follow the traditional format found in newspapers and obituary websites.
journaling-obituary

“When I was in college, my professor made me write an obituary. My own obituary...

...I stared at a blank page for hours, not able to get a single word on the page. 20 years later, I still feel charged with this great task. But instead of a blank page, I will fill it with the joy that all of my children bring me, and thank them deeply for the life that they gave me, whatever that is.” - S. Long

One of the personal benefits of writing your own obituary is that it can be a powerful self-discovery activity, one that is both therapeutic and personally challenging. You have the opportunity to give others a glimpse of the person you really are, and it can also be a legacy you can pass onto your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

To make your obituary as unique as you are, it may help to read other thoughtful, clever, or even humorous write-ups from others who decided to write their own obituaries before they died. Do a quick Google search for unique obituaries, or go to your local bookstore to find compilations of memorable obituaries that you might enjoy reading. 

This may surprise you, but obituary writers are kind of a league of their own—they even have their own conferences and events—and some of them have come out with intriguing books about all of the different incredible stories they’ve had the opportunity to tell through obituary writing. 

To get some inspiration for writing your own obituary, try to read a few. You might even like to think of a famous celebrity who may have recently died—their obituaries are worth reading, too.

Ways to Make Your Obituary Unique

Writing your own obituary should be a unique experience, and you may not want to follow someone else’s format. However, here are some basic elements that you can include to get you started.

Basic elements of an obituary

  1. Your full name, including maiden name(s), middle names, nicknames, and suffixes
  2. Where you were born and family information like where/how you grew up
  3. Achievement information including degrees, careers, or anything else important to you
  4. Places you have lived
  5. Marriage information and a list of your children, grandchildren, etc.

Journaling Prompts to Inspire your Obituary 

Your obituary has the opportunity to show what you want to be remembered for. This could be your personality, devotion to family, or your work as a volunteer. Beyond achievements, it can also show your unique qualities as a person. It really can be whatever you want it to be.

Here are some writing prompts to help with inspiration. You can use these to journal first, and then decide if you want to include them later. 

Why I did...

This could be anything you’ve done in your life that you want to remember, such as joining the military, choosing a specific career path, living in a foreign country, or quite the opposite—never moving out of your hometown.

My life was special because...

What events in your life made it extra special? Was it a wonderful spouse, having a dozen grandchildren, being part of a special community, or learning a unique trade?

I wish I had/hadn’t...

What do you wish you had (or hadn't!) tried? Maybe it was something you were afraid of, like skydiving or taking a hot air balloon ride, or maybe you wish you’d never moved away from the city you lived in when you were 30. Why is this important to you?

A few more writing prompts:

  • My favorite memory is …
  • People will probably remember me for …
  • I was crazy about …
  • My most embarrassing moment was …
  • When I was a child I thought ...
  • The best thing I’ve ever eaten was …
  • The best piece of advice I can give is …
  • Something other people always hear me say is ...

Use these prompts to get your juices flowing. Write down memories, people, places, and experiences. You don’t have to decide what's in your obituary, just write freely. You might even decide to write a memoir out of it! 

Putting Humor in Your Obituary

An obituary doesn’t have to be dark or gloomy. It really should be a reflection of the person you are, and well, you might want to show off some unique humor. Remember who will be reading your obituary after you pass, and how you want them to feel about both you—and the situation at hand.

Here are some quotes from real self-written obituaries whose writers wanted to go out with a bang:

“Today I am happy and I am dancing. Probably naked.”

“He was a comic book aficionado, a pop-culture encyclopedia and always the most fun person at any party.”

“Cremation will take place at the family’s convenience, and his ashes will be kept around as long as they match the décor.”

“His spirit was released from his worn-out shell of a body and is now exploring the universe.”

Funeral Services Can Provide Closure for your Family

Just like writing a eulogy or being part of a funeral service, it is important that your family takes steps to grieve after you pass. Receiving sympathy and love from others at a memorial service, for example, can be an important part of what is called the “acute loss period” of grief. Remember, the funeral services are really about the people left behind after you pass, to help them grieve, get support and find closure.

Here at Morrissett, we’ve seen many families come and go through funeral services and grave-side burials, or even just come to collect their loved one’s ashes. Something we have never heard a family say is, “I wish they hadn’t preplanned.”

So while you are writing your obituary, think about having a special talk with your loved ones to explain to them your wishes—and allow them some time to express their wishes of how they would like to honor you after you pass.

Other Steps in Making Advanced Arrangements

Now that you have some direction on writing your own obituary, you can start the process today. If you want to go beyond this one simple step in easing your family’s burden when you pass, you can learn the complete pre-planning process. 

Morrissett offers free preplanning sessions. This allows you to take control of your entire funeral process and eases the burden on your family.