Writing An Obituary: Top Mistakes To Avoid

An obituary is a basic notice that seeks to announce the death of a person, giving a description of their life and a list of their family members. Obituaries are usually published in funeral programs, newspapers or online. Nonetheless, there are many pitfalls that people often run into when drafting obituaries. The obituary is often written when the surviving spouse, relative and/or friend is experiencing grief.

Therefore, it is not uncommon for the writer(s) to shift focus away from making an announcement and celebrating the life of the deceased. It is advisable to know how to avoid these pitfalls in order to write good and meaningful obituaries for your loved ones. Some of the top mistakes to avoid when writing obituaries include:

1. Writing about a loss

Many people lose focus of writing about the deceased and concentrate on the loss. This is perhaps one of the most common mistakes where individuals or families write about how they are feeling about the demise of their loved one. The phrases often used are: “With mixed emotions, I/we announce the passing away…”; “With great sadness, I/we announce…” and “With deep sorrow, I/we announce…” Writing about how you feel, instead of writing about the deceased person, is inappropriate.

It is obvious you are grieving about the demise of a loved one, but it is unnecessary to write your feeling on an obituary. Obituaries are about the deceased and not the mourners. In addition, it is important to refer to the departed in third person (i.e. use he or she) and avoid using words you used on the deceased while they were still alive, such as “Dad” or “Uncle”.

2. Information loaded obituary


There is a world of a difference between describing a funeral and announcing a funeral. Ideally, funerals need to be announced in an obituary and not described. The announcements should seek to provide notice to every interested member to come and pay their last respect to the deceased. Give the dates, time, location and dress code or etiquette. Therefore, describing the casket, menu and flowers is not appropriate. Furthermore, providing details about cause of death is not appropriate.

Write an obituary about the deceased person and the life they lived, but do not give details about the causes of death. This is particularly the case if a loved one died of an illness. You do not have to give details of the sickness leading up to their death. Therefore, the following phrases may be appropriate, but not necessary: “Passed away suddenly…”, “Passed away peacefully…” or “Died of ….” Details of the demise are better reserved to memoirs or conversations as opposed to obituaries.

3. Using clichés

An obituary needs to be unique and just like resumes; it should not be loaded with expressions of “I” or “We”. Instead of asking for memorial donations, it is common to read obituaries that ask people to buy flowers, do a kind deed, or fill-out organ donation cards. However, clichés are often understood by some people, while others do not.

Therefore, phrases like “Gone to be with the Lord”, “In Lieu of Flowers”, or “Resting After a long battle”, may not mean anything to some people. In order to bring everyone on board, generally accepted phrases like “Died peacefully”, “Donations to be made to …” or “Succumbed to Cancer” are recommended.

4. Thanking people in obituaries

Thanking people in obituaries may sound thoughtful, but it is not appropriate unless the deceased gave the express permission. When you decide to thank people in an obituary, you are likely to leave out very important people that the deceased would wanted included in the obituary, granted the opportunity. Furthermore, thanking people involved with funeral arrangements is likely to leave out people who played a pivotal role in helping the deceased before their demise.

If you have to thank anybody, a handwritten note sent or given to the concerned people offers a more personal and effective way of recognizing people who played a significant role prior, during and after the death of a loved one. However, the excellent way to address this issue is to get information from individuals who know the departed well. You would have discovered they wanted to thank a mentor at work, a certain friend or a great teacher, and include in this precious information.