The Basics: How to Write a Parent's Obituary in Advance

Q. My friend’s father just died unexpectedly, which left the family scrambling to write an obituary for him. Their experience made me think about writing an obit for my own 75-year-old father now – while I have the time and composure. If I do it now, I can also ask him questions about what information he’d want me to include or survivors he’d want mentioned. Can you advise me on how to get started?

This sounds like a wonderful idea to me. It will not only save you a lot of anxiety and trouble later on. The process of composing the obit and conferring with your dad about the contents can also be an opportunity to learn a lot more about him and to bond in a special way.

The bare-bones basics begin with the name of the person, age, occupation (if applicable), place and date of death, and usually cause of death (such as complications of diabetes or “died in his sleep”).

Depending on the length, you might talk about his accomplishments, as in, “He was a high school dropout, who went on to found the XYZ Company and eventually run for Congress.” Or you may want to take a different approach, as in, “He was an ordinary man with a big heart, who loved his family and community dearly.” You might mention the date and place of his birth, and medical history if desired (as in, “He had a heart transplant five years ago.”)  The list of survivors should include his mate, children, grandchildren (if any), and anyone else he chooses.

You can list the date, time and location of the funeral – or say something like, “A private funeral and a memorial will be held at a later date.” If you wish, mention where donations can be made, as in “In lieu of flowers, send contributions in memory of (name) to the American Cancer Society.”

There are countless ways to begin an obituary and choices of information to include (or not). For different formats and ideas, take a look at obituaries in a few newspapers. Incidentally, be aware that your father may have strong ideas for the obituary and want to participate – or he may just say, “I’ll leave it to you.” Everybody’s different. Regardless, one hopes he’ll be willing to answer a few questions. Your idea is a worthy one.

***

If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.

Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a blog for bereaved spouses and partners.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons/Ramunas Geciauskas

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