How to Write an Obituary That Is Creative and Memorable

The frenzy of an at-need funeral often requires an efficient approach to writing obituaries. As funeral professionals, your focus is on those personal interactions that demand your immediate attention. You generously and tirelessly bring your energy and empathy to arrangement conferences, first viewings, visitations, memorials and graveside services. It seems unreasonable to expect you and your staff to use some of those limited resources to pen a more meaningful obituary. But, if you should need to, here are a few tips to help you craft a creative and memorable obituary for your client families.

When helping a family plan their loved one's services, face-to-face interactions are invaluable. They help grieving families understand the process and reflect on their loss. But remember that obituaries have an enormously long shelf life thanks to the Internet. Even for those who aren’t public figures, obituaries have a much further reach than ever before. They’re often easily accessible to family members and friends for years and can even build connections with members of previous generations who we never met. But this also increases the importance of an obituary as something that could be accessed by many people for years to come.

What this means for funeral professionals is that the stakes are even higher to create impactful obituaries that also leverage digital platforms and differentiate your firm from others. This is why it’s a good idea to incorporate obituaries as part of your client families’ preneed funeral plans. A prearrangement conference offers the time necessary for your client families to reflect on how they want their loved ones to remember them and gives you and your staff an opportunity to write an obituary that is both memorable and creative.

Here are seven ways you can ensure that your obituaries — printed and digital — are meaningful and establish your firm as a leader in embracing innovation.

1. Ask questions & collaborate with the family

The best way to write with impact is to deeply and personally understand your topic. If you want to write a compelling obituary, you need to get to know your client families. You are already collecting the basic information as part of your funeral home file record — names, dates, family members, etc. Now, ask some follow-up questions to add some personality to the basic details:

  • The deceased was preceded in death by her husband of 50 years. That’s half a century! Surely, there are some great stories to share. Ask about how they met. Where did they live when they were first married? Did they take any trips? What hobbies did they enjoy together?
  • She is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. There are few people more talkative than a proud grandparent. Ask questions about the grandkids. Are they involved in sports? Do they sing? How often do the grandparents get to see them? How do they celebrate the holidays?

Asking questions helps move the conversation forward and indicates to your client families that it’s okay for them to share stories with you.

2. Add some emotion

Once you’ve had a chance to learn more about your clients, it’s time to put pen to paper. Length is always a concern when it comes to obituaries — column inches cost money, and there are certain details (like service times and locations) that have to be included. But the stringent length requirements don’t have to result in a nondescript summary. You can find brief and impactful ways to include poignant details that add meaning to your obituaries, without adding expense. 

3. Experiment with humor

You might also consider including some humor (where appropriate). Consider the following excerpts from

  • James ‘Jim’ Groth made his last wildly inappropriate and probably sarcastic comment on July 28.”
  • “Famously opinionated and short-tempered, Big Al handed these qualities down to his daughter, Jill Ann Brownley of Phoenix, Arizona, a sharp-tongued character in her own right.”
  • Virginia R. Fieldman was born August 2, 1922, on Staten Island and died in Machias on July 15, 2014, of a worn-out, much-used heart.”

What I love about each of these examples is that they are not just funny, they also provide important information — dates of death, birthplaces and names of surviving children — and they do so succinctly. Humor can be a great way to add levity to the obituary of someone who wishes to be remembered for having a lighthearted, fun personality.

4. Give friends and family members an easy way to share the obituary

When a loved one dies, social media platforms help share details about funeral plans, provide a place to gather memories and stories and allow others to offer words of comfort during a difficult time. Although you shouldn’t rely too heavily on obituaries as content for your funeral home's social media, you should make it easy to share obituaries through your website and social media platforms.

5. Make the obituary easy to find on your website

Obituaries are a key feature of most funeral home websites, but it can be tricky to find the best way to present them. It’s important to understand how different types of visitors interact with your website — from those who just want to see the obituaries to those who are looking for tips on prearranging — and develop content and a site structure that is beneficial for each audience. Most people spend 15 seconds or less on a page, which means it’s critical that your website immediately engages visitors and provides clear paths for them to get more information about the content they need.

6. Encourage visitors to post memories and messages

Providing a place online for people to publish their condolences and memories is a highly valued service for families and should be an integral part of your online obituaries. Some firms take this collaborative approach to memorialization a step further by allowing visitors to upload their own photos and videos or send virtual “gifts” in the form of images of flowers or candles.

7. Incorporate videos

Video is a powerful medium for sharing the characteristics that made a person unique and memorable. Embedding a short, simple and sincere tribute video to accompany the obituary can help build a more complete picture of a person’s life.

While online tools and platforms help create richer and more interactive tributes, the basic elements that have always made obituaries meaningful still apply. If you ask the right questions, you’ll be able to help families tell their loved one’s story in a way that leaves a lasting impression.

Today's families want creative memorial service ideas, and being able to write a memorable and compelling obituary is one more way you can meet the needs of your client families. Take advantage of the time and space available during a prearrangement conference to gather the information necessary to pen a creative (albeit brief) tribute.

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