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What are Obituaries?

Obituaries are death notices, usually published in a newspaper. Typically, they contain a brief biography of the deceased and information about the funeral and burial. They may also have a list of surviving family and any special requests regarding memorials.

Purpose of an obituary

An obituary performs a role similar to a eulogy or other speech delivered at a funeral. Its tone must carry the proper respect due the decedent.

Writing an obituary

Obituaries have certain elements, most of which need to be included. These items include (not necessarily in this order):

  • The person's name, or names if they had more than one.
  • Details of survivors, especially those most affected by the individual's death. Wording will vary from place to place and will depend on the nature of the family's relationships.
  • Funeral arrangements, including details regarding where the funeral will be held, the day, and the time.
  • If it is important, include the individual's age. This may have to be approximate in the event there are no clear records.
  • Indicate if the family made any special requests.
  • Some form of personal identification of the deceased, such as the job they held, position in the community, or other observation that makes it clear the person was important, even in some small way.
  • The person's place of birth.
  • Time, place, and cause (if appropriate) of death.

Obituary style

There are two basic patterns for obituaries. The one to use depends on the individual's personal history. If the person was famous or had enough notoriety that his or her death is newsworthy, then the news of the death and the appreciation of their life should be written as two separate items.

Another approach is used if the person was not that well known, but made a sufficient enough contribution to society to deserve an obituary. If this is the case, then the news of his or her death and the appreciation of that life should be written together.

Obituaries must be written honestly, but with sensitivity. Keep in mind that this and other obituaries will be read not only by the decedent's family and loved ones, but also by colleagues and distant friends. Do not lie or exaggerate to make the dead greater than he or she was, but do not downplay his or her accomplishments.

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