Writing an Obituary

Historically, obituaries or death notices date back to ancient Rome, first being printed on papyrus paper and distributed to the local population. Fast forward to today, and obituaries serve as a tribute to a person’s life and as a way to rally a community around remembering and publicly mourning the individual who has passed. Obituaries can vary in length and information included. Some families choose to include only basic vital information with service details, while others may choose to include more about their loved one’s life.


When writing an obituary, whether it be for a print newspaper or online, there are several things you may want to consider:

  • Vital Information
  • The 5 Rooms
  • Service Information/Charitable Contributions
  • Proofing


Let’s break down each of these points and discuss how to leverage each one while writing.


Vital Information

The first thing you want to include in the obituary is your loved one’s name, who you are writing about. Perhaps you would like to include their full name or include a nickname they went by. Next is their age, date of death, place of death, date of birth, place of birth and parents’ names. If the parents are deceased, you can use the term “the late” in front of their name – see example below:

Smith, John “Johnny” 71, passed away on January 11, 2023, in Salisbury, MD. Born October 20, 1951, in Milwaukee, WI, he was the son of the late Frank and Elenore Smith.


The 5 Rooms

Next, I like to ‘enter’ the 5 Rooms with families while putting together obituaries. The 5 Rooms include the following: Family/Friends, Career/Employment, Religion/Spiritual, Interests/Achievements, and Lasting Legacy. The 5 Rooms are a great way to start brainstorming how your loved one lived, how they spent their time, what they were passionate about and what was important to them.


Regarding Family/Friends, perhaps you include names of relatives and friends who your loved one is survived by. You can list a spouse or significant other, children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters, other relatives your loved one was close with such as nieces and nephews, cousins, special friends, or even pets. See example below:


John is survived by his loving wife of 37 years, Sharon; children, Clark and his wife Esther, Laura and her husband Zack, Brenda and her husband Paul; grandchildren, Kacey, Lily, Hannah, Michael; many other loving relatives and friends; faithful four-legged companion Rocky.


After listing survivors, many families choose to list relatives who preceded their loved one in death. See example below:


John is preceded in death by his parents, Frank and Elenore Smith; brother, Jack Smith; sister, Patricia Jackson.


After listing family, the next ‘room’ to enter is Career/Employment. This part of the obituary includes details about where your loved one worked throughout their life or what their occupation was, any professional accomplishments they may have received, possibly when they retired, or any post-retirement work they did. It could also include their educational background.


Next is to include any details on their Religion/Spirituality. Perhaps they were a long-time member of the Catholic Church in town, where they sung in the choir and served as an usher. Perhaps they were not a churchgoer but enjoyed honoring their higher power by being in nature.


The Interests/Achievements section is for including any hobbies your loved one enjoyed, how they spent their free time, clubs they were a part of, associations they served with, sports they enjoyed watching or playing, races they won, competitions they competed in, the list goes on. See example below:


John was an avid golfer. He enjoyed spending his winters in California with his wife and always welcomed visitors. John was a long-time member of the Rotary Club of Salisbury, served on the Executive Committee of the Greater Salisbury Committee, loved to watch his Green Bay Packers play football, and was proud to be a four-time finisher of the Grandma’s Marathon. Most of all John enjoyed spending time with his family.


The final ‘room’ to include is your loved one’s Lasting Legacy. What do they leave behind that will be remembered? Perhaps your loved one’s legacy is all of the quilts they made and gave to friends and relatives. Perhaps their legacy is their family. Or maybe they will always be remembered for their sense of humor and practical jokes they played on others. Sometimes, thinking of a person’s legacy can seem overwhelming. Don’t overthink it; let it be simple. See example below:


John will always be remembered for his kind heart and generous giving. He was able to support the Salisbury community by starting John Smith’s College Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to families in need so students can attend college.    


Service Information/Charitable Contributions

If there is a service occurring, include all details for the service such as date, time, location, and any special directions. Then, if your loved one expressed they would like people to contribute to a specific cause or charity in their memory, you may want to include the name of the charity and how to donate. See example below:


A Celebration of Life service is scheduled for Saturday, January 28, 2023, at 2:00pm at Holloway Funeral Home, 501 Snow Hill Road, Salisbury, MD 21804. Viewing and Visitation will take place one hour prior to the service at the funeral home, from 1:00pm until 2:00pm. Interment to follow at Parsons Cemetery, 912 North Division Steet, Salisbury, MD, 21801. In memory and in honor of John, contributions to John Smith’s College Scholarship Fund may be made to, PO Box 123, Salisbury, MD 21802.  



When you are finished writing, it is recommended that the obituary be proofed by several people before submitting it to a newspaper or placing on a website. Be sure to confirm spelling on names and make sure you are including everyone you would like to. There’s nothing worse than forgetting to include Great Aunt Margie and then her feelings get hurt. Check your family tree if you need to. Make sure the service information is correct – the date, time and location – or else someone will show up an hour early, or worse, an entire day early or late.



Overall, take your time when writing an obituary. Spend time thoughtfully putting it together. If you get writer’s block while working, take a mental break, get up, take a few deep breaths, and then return to it later. Remember you can always ask for assistance from your funeral director or local funeral home. They are there to serve and help you through this process.



Below is another example obituary demonstrating how to format it and what to include.


[Full name of deceased], age [age at death], passed away at [place of death] on [day and date of death]. Born [date of birth] in [place of birth], [he or she] was the [son or daughter] of [parent’s names].


Survivors include [list of survivors, including place of residence].


[First name of deceased] was preceded in death by [names of deceased relatives].


[First name of deceased] lived in [cities or towns of residence] and worked [summary of longtime or interesting employers and positions] until retiring in [year of retirement]. [First name of deceased] was a member of [religious, social, or political groups, along with summary of positions held or notable contributions made].


Services will be held at [time, day, and date of funeral or memorial service] at [place of funeral or memorial service, including address]. [Burial or interment] will be at [place of burial or interment, with address and time if open to the public]. Relatives and friends are welcome at [place, address, day, date, and time of visitation or additional gathering].


Memorial contributions are welcome at [Name of group or fund, with contact information, including mailing address].



Written by Britta Holloway

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