Summarizing a loved one’s life can feel like an impossible task, especially when you’re grieving. It’s even more challenging when you’re not used to writing meaningful stories every day. And that’s what an obituary really is—a true story about someone who mattered to you.
Because you’re here, you’ve probably been given the responsibility of putting the obituary together on top of experiencing the mourning process yourself. Our hearts go out to you. But writing a meaningful obituary can also feel very cathartic: Think of it as a way to revisit good memories, share old stories and find some comfort.
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We have some ideas on how to represent your family member or friend in a way that feels genuine. We hope this can help and guide you as you begin to tell their story.
The first way many people widely share news about a loved one’s death is on social media or a blog (either personal or a site like CaringBridge).
A death announcement on social media can be short and simple, with a note that more information—like service details and a full obituary—is to come. This initial message is just about getting the word out.
Essentials to include in a social media death announcement:
- Who the person was to you (parent, sibling, grandparent, friend, etc.).
- That they’ve passed away. (How much detail you include is entirely up to you.)
- Positive attributes, a few heartfelt words or how you’re feeling.
- Optional: A photo and any important details or links you want to share, like an obituary or blog post with more information, such as CaringBridge.
Examples of what to write in a social media death announcement:
- Dearest friends and family, we are deeply saddened to announce that our adored dad, Sonny Silvercreek, passed away Friday night, leaving behind many memories with those he loved.
- Sad news: My sister left this earth late last evening. She was never a morning person, so true to her night-owl self, she flew off in the wee hours to her next adventure. For those who didn’t know, Rosemary was living with a kidney condition that caused her to say goodbye way too soon. (Read Rosemary’s story on her CaringBridge page.) Thank you for your support.
- To my family and friends: It is with a very heavy heart that I share that our Jaime left this life yesterday afternoon. They struggled fitting into this world, but it never took away from the world of blessings they gave to us. Jaime, we love you and hope you have finally found everlasting peace and joy.
An obituary can be traditional and straightforward or expressive and full of personality—or anywhere in between. Below, we’ll cover the expected parts of an obituary and provide examples of writing for you to personalize or use as thought-starters.
Start with the facts
Obituaries typically begin with information about who someone was and the announcement that they’ve died. These are the most common:
- Name: Preferably their full name, plus any nicknames, maiden names or changed names. Allow for prefixes and suffixes, like Dr., Sir, Rev., Jr., etc. Use proper pronouns, and if there’s any question, ask family for clarification.
- Age: This can be done by simply stating it, noting their birth and death dates or doing both.
- Who they were: This can include a range of roles, both personal and professional. Examples: Father, mom, teacher, skydiver, chef, friend, baby sister, peacemaker, party planner, etc.
- Date they died: This is optional and can be omitted if there are concerns about publishing too much info.
- Where they lived and died: You can include the city or cities they were born and lived in, and mention details such as that they died “peacefully, surrounded by family and friends” or “at St. Luke’s hospice care community.”
- How they died: This is also optional and entirely based on your preferences. People will be curious, but that doesn’t mean it’s their right to know.
A simple introduction that incorporates these facts can be personal and make a powerful statement about someone’s life. For example:
- Gene Romano III, age 87, of Tybee Island, Georgia, passed away on March 3, 2022, from complications during surgery. Born on February 10, 1935, Gene was blessed to have many roles as a husband, father, grandfather, brother, son and friend.
- Feisty right up to the end, Chris Young gave cancer a fight like it’s never seen. She was a young 46, but an old soul who made every day count.
- Daughter, sister, fur mama and friend, Elaine Ceballos, left this world loved on June 5, 2022.
Family and loved ones
Including the people your loved one loved is another way to honor their life and to acknowledge those who are grieving.
Start with those who preceded them in death. If you’re wondering how far back to go, first think about immediate family—like a child, mom, stepmom, dad, stepdad, grandparent, sibling, spouse or fiance. Your loved one might also have lost a companion or life partner decades ago, a best friend that they talked to every day or even a significant pet that would be respectful to mention.
Then list surviving family members—including chosen family.Choose a family member or a few to work with on the list. Do your best to come to an agreement that works for everyone. Most of the time, it’s better to over-include than under-include.
- Current spouse, children and stepchildren (along with children’s spouses or partners), parents, stepparents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, etc.
- First husband or wife, if there are children involved or if there was still a friendship or some other unique circumstance.
- Partners in life, whether officially married or not.
- Anyone not in the “traditional” list but who was very important to the deceased. Chosen family might include best friends, favorite uncles or aunts, a beloved mentor, a supportive group of buddies, beloved pets, etc.
- Current pets: You’ll know when this is appropriate—we all can picture the people whose pets are their world, so don’t be shy about including them.
Here are some examples of how to list family members in an obituary:
- Allie is preceded in death by her brother-in-law, Mack Ross. She is survived by her daughter, Liza Stapinski; Liza’s dad, Joe Stapinski; sisters, Laura Lynn Schroeder Ross and Jacquelyn Schroeder McKinley (Ryan); father, Dr. Aaron Schroeder; mother, Simone Mercier; stepmom, Logan Schroeder; and many beloved family and friends.
- Sophie is preceded in death by her mom, Adelaide Davis, and her precious schnauzer, Turbo. She is survived by a long list of people who loved her, including, but not limited to: dad, Hugh Cohen of Lawrence; siblings, Will Cohen (Luna) of Shreveport, Collin Cohen (Bridget) of Savannah, Charlie Cohen (Vivian) of Jackson, Aubrey Cohen of Houston; stepdad, Guy Smith of Fayetteville; bestie, Jenn MacLewen of Atlantic City; and her boisterous book club sisters of Springfield.
- Jack is preceded in death by his grandma, Harriet Irwin. He is survived by his father, Rowan Bleu; mother, Ann Bleu; brothers, Ken Bleu (Tracy) and Danny Bleu (Jo); bonus child, Tyrell Waters; and wild child collie, Mischief.
Life and accomplishments
It’s hard to know where to start, so start with what you know. Think of how they would have wanted to be remembered and let that spark some ideas.
Make a list of the most important things.Share the gems, the rare and wonderful things they did, what made people love them and how they loved others. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Where did their life begin…and where did it take them?
- What were their family and important relationships like, and how did they grow or change over time?
- What was school like? Were they a high school rebel, did they have multiple degrees or were they self-taught?
- What did they do to make a living? What impact did it have on them—or how did they impact their workplace or community?
- What were they known for among their friends and family? Interesting hobbies? Volunteering? Memorable stories, sayings or habits?
- What did they believe in? What mattered the most to them?
Here are some examples of what to write about someone’s life in an obituary:
- Mrs. DuBose was a dedicated sports fan—she cheered on countless games featuring her children and grandchildren, as well as every Kansas City sports team. She loved to bake and would not have dreamed of showing up to a family event or tailgate without her legendary caramel cake. She was a member of First Baptist Church, where she enjoyed singing hymns with the senior choir and attending Sunday school.
- Arthur grew up in Indianapolis, attended Westport High School, then joined the Marines once he graduated. After serving several tours of duty, he pursued his passion of making the most beautiful bamboo furniture. Some of his designs were even featured on celebrity social media accounts. Arthur played soccer his whole life, loved the outdoors and hated dressing up. More than anything, he adored his family. And they adored him.
- Nobody was more into fashion than Annabelle. A style maven through and through, our girl never looked bad and always made everyone else feel good. Her beauty was more than skin deep, though. After graduating from the University of Mississippi with a degree in Mass Communications, Annabelle started a nonprofit that supported young business entrepreneurs. When she wasn’t changing the world, Annabelle spent time painting in watercolor and loving on her cute kitten, Howard.
Share details of the service and special requests
It’s important to share details as soon as you can so friends and family can make plans to attend or memorialize the deceased.
Include information about the visitation, funeral services, burial and/or the celebration of life—which might happen a few months down the road depending on schedules. If your plans aren’t yet finalized, reassure people that you’ll share info as soon as possible. Once you have it, be sure to include:
- Type of event: Visitation, wake, funeral, private burial, celebration of life, shiva, etc.
- Location: Include the name of the place, plus any directions or maps.
- Date and time: If mourners are coming from other parts of the country, verify the time zone so no one’s confused.
You can also share special requests or ways the family would like loved ones to remember the deceased:
- “Flowers not required but always appreciated,” or “No flowers, please” or “In lieu of flowers, please…”
- Donations to specific foundations or philanthropies.
- Kind gestures.
- What to bring or share, including photos, memories and food.
Visitation will be Thursday, December 1, from 5–9 p.m. and Friday, December 2, from 4–6 p.m. at the Christ Church Community Center. Funeral services will be held Saturday, December 3, at 11 a.m. at Christ Church in the main chapel. Burial immediately following. Lunch will be provided in the church Fellowship Hall for those who’d like to gather and share favorite stories. In lieu of flowers, please donate to Rae’s favorite environmental organization: [insert donation website and/or mailing address here].
There are many ways to personalize an obituary, but there are a few easy ways to capture who your loved one really was and how they lived.
Deliver the details
By including personal details, you make your loved one’s story come alive. Think about:
- What they were known for. Maybe your loved one performed acts of kindness you want to share. Or believed in angels. Or were steadfastly optimistic about their favorite team’s chances.
- Being precise. Why write someone “loved to cook” when you can write about that one favorite dish they made only for the most special occasions? Look for information you can change from vague to specific.
- Getting descriptive. For example, turn “enjoyed” into “displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of” or “giggled excitedly over.”
Write in a real voice
Voice captures someone’s point of view, the words they choose and the emotions and rhythms in their speech. For an obituary, you can use your unique voice—or borrow your loved one’s style. Here are some tips:
- Make it conversational. Pretend you’re telling your loved one’s story to a friend. Use real language and turns of phrase.
- Write it out in the present tense. After it sounds like you want it to, switch to past tense.
- Include dialogue. This could mean adding a quote your loved one once said, borrowing their own language quirks or including part of a conversation you had.
Here are some examples of obituary writing that use details and voice to capture unique personalities:
- His perfect day was a horse ride down the Sapphire Trail, followed by a neat whiskey—plenty of ice—on the porch, with Sinatra playing in the background.
- They were a peacemaker, through and through. Except if you ordered pineapple on pizza. Then, Lord have mercy on your soul.
- Kit’s dream was to be a professional figure skater when she grew up. Even though she didn’t get to do that here, we think our little girl is twirling her toes off in Heaven.
Go completely off script
This is permission—just in case you need it—to trust yourself and your own language style when writing an obituary. Here are a few examples of nontraditional obituaries:
- No one knew more about Jane Austen than Edith did. Except for maybe Jane Austen. She visited the famous novelist’s homeplace twice and read all of her books way more than twice! In Edith’s memory, we’d love to have a proper British tea. Please bring a Jane Austen quote to share. For now, we’ll leave you with this one: “It is such happiness when good people get together.”
- Colette Park was a delightful girl, dancer, dreamer, artist, discoverer of “animal clouds,” ice cream aficionado and best friend to her fur sibling, Rufus. Colette will be remembered for all the things she was…and mourned for the things she could’ve been. We won’t focus on the end of her life, but instead on the beautiful eight years we were blessed to have her. To honor our sweet girl’s memory, you can donate to [insert philanthropy] in her name.
- Brian’s memory was so amazing that even elephants were jealous. He remembered the most random stories and names we couldn’t recall and never forgot a face. This is one of many reasons, Brian, that we’ll always remember you.
Paying formal tribute to someone’s life is a big responsibility. But what really matters is that you give it your best, with empathy and respect for your family and the person you’ve lost. Your loved one was special and your writing will be, too, when you do it with love.
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