Obituary Writing Pitfalls


Here are some pitfalls to avoid when writing an obituary.

The other pages of this website concentrate on what to do right. Make it accurate, make it lively. This page is about some pitfalls. One pitfall is making the obituary more about the people writing the obituary, rather than about the deceased. Another pitfall is making the obituary more about the death and funeral, rather than about the life. Still another is using clichés.

Do not make the obituary about the people writing it. Do not start off with “It is with sadness that the family announces . . .”  Another said, "With deep feeling of sorrow, we said goodbye to our dearly loved . . ." I have even read (and wondered what the family was thinking): "With mixed emotions,  we announce the peaceful passing of our mother . . ." Instead, make the obituary about the deceased, and the life they lived.

In the same way, think about life, rather than just the death and the immediate arrangements. For example, often the people who helped out in the final stages of life, and at the funeral, are thanked in the obituary. This is fine as far as it goes, but what about the people who helped out during the lifetime? Again, an excellent way to resolve these issues is to get more information from people before they die. Perhaps they would have wanted to thank those who made the food at the reception after the funeral, but they might also have wanted to thank that mentor at work, that friend, or that great Grade 5 teacher.

Avoid the pitfall of using clichés. The obituary you write does not have to sound like all the others. Just as resumés should not be filled with "I," there are expressions to avoid in obituaries. For example, instead of asking people to make a memorial donation, I have read obituaries that asked people as well to buy a friend a flower, fill out an organ donation card, or do a good deed.  

Tips to Avoiding Pitfalls
  • Do not start with “the family regrets to announce . . .”   Instead, start with the deceased’s name and make the obituary about them.
  • Do not reference the deceased back to the obituary author(s).  For example, avoid saying “Mom" or "Dad.” Instead write about the deceased in the third person, as an individual.
  • Do not say “after a courageous struggle . . .”   Think about other ways to say this that do not sound like a cliché. Honor the deceased’s fight with their illness by describing it accurately and sensitively. How did they themselves describe this period of their life?
  • Do not exclude the life.  Describe more than just the final period of life and the death. Do not just thank those who helped with the care during the illness and dying and (if written afterwards) to those who helped at the funeral. Instead think of thanking those who helped out during the lifetime.
  • Do not use abbreviations that could be unfamiliar.
  • Do not say “in lieu of flowers . . .”   Instead simply state your requests for memorial donations. As well, consider more creative ways.
  • Do not forget to proofread, and proofread again.
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See Also:

Obituaries – Delicate Questions

Obituary Template

Obituary Writing Tips

Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Stories

Memoir Writing: Ten Tips

A Family History Writing Workshop




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