It's your story — maybe it should be told in your words

Do you want to be remembered on your own terms? You might try writing your own obituary.

It can be a meaningful way to come to terms with the idea of dying, no matter how far in the future that may be. As you write, you have the opportunity to reflect on your life, reminisce and recall favorite memories, and say goodbye to family and friends. 

When you write your own obituary, you get the last word. (Toss in one final zinger, and you can even get the last laugh.) Your loved ones, meanwhile, get a lasting memorial that preserves your life story, details the family history, and showcases your unique personality.

Ready to begin writing your obituary? We've put together this guide to help get you started.

1. Choose Your Style

Your obituary is all about you, so it should reflect your personality and style. Whether you are serious or silly, verbose or plain-spoken, methodical or a free spirit, let your unique character shine through. 

You are the teller of your story and you set the tone. Your obituary can be:

  • Humorous

Obituaries don't always need to be solemn. If you've got a sense of humor, use it. A funny obit can showcase your unique perspective on life and provide a much-needed laugh break for your grieving loved ones.

  • Grateful

Express your gratitude for those who helped you along the way with a heartfelt and sincere thank you to special friends, family members, teachers, doctors, nurses, or others who inspired you.

  • Encouraging and Inspirational

Use your obit as a platform to inspire and encourage others. Talk about obstacles you overcame, times you failed but tried again, or your hopes for future generations.

  • Educational

You’ve learned a lot in your life. Share your accumulated knowledge and wisdom: offer lessons learned, tips for living well, or a detailed guide to making the best lemon icebox pie.

  • Biographical

Most of us do not publish our memoirs. Writing your obituary may be your best chance to tell the story of your life from beginning to end.

  • All of the above

Of course, there is no need to limit yourself. An obituary can be biographical, inspiring, and funny all at the same time.  

  • First- or third-person

There is no right or wrong way to tell your story. Whether you say “I” or “she” when referring to yourself in your obituary is a personal choice.

For some, it makes sense to use the first-person “I” when talking about themselves: I hope to be remembered, with laughter, love and a good pint…”

Others find it easier (or funnier) to tell their life story in the third-person: He served 3 missions for the LDS Church but they stopped sending him because he always came back…”

 

2. Add Substance

Who has brought joy to your life? What has given you a sense of fulfillment? Writing your own obituary allows you to emphasize the relationships, events, and activities that have meant the most to you. It’s also an opportunity to preserve your experiences and world-view for those left behind (and those yet to come). 

In your obit, include what’s most important to you:

  • Favorite People, Places, and Things

The grandmother who raised you, the teacher who inspired your love of learning, the best friend who was always there for you, the pet iguana who was your constant companion, the stuffed animal you carried around (even when you went off to college).

  • Unforgettable Moments

Family vacations, flat tires, rainy camping trips, your grandfather letting you drive the tractor, meeting your husband for the first time, moving to a new city or country, holding your daughter for the first time.

  • Accomplishments

Graduating from high school, becoming the first in your family to go to college, finally finishing your manuscript, skydiving for the first (and last) time, or when you finally climbed the tree that your brother had shimmied up so easily.

  • Lessons Learned

Life is short. Be yourself. You get what you give. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Say "I love you" often. Listen more than you talk. Always bring a bathing suit.

  • Your Place in History

You don't have to be famous to have been part of an important moment in history. Maybe you lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust. Maybe you were on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe you can remember a time when phones were attached to walls and calls cost a nickel. Tell people about it.

For the benefit of readers, and to create the most robust historical record for future generations, also consider including the following details:

  • Your Name (Including first, last, middle, maiden, nickname, title)
  • Dates of Birth and Death (You won’t know the latter, but someone else can fill it in later)
  • List of Loved Ones (Spouses, romantic partners, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, long-time friends, even beloved pets)
  • Education and Career Highlights (Schools attended, degrees obtained, places of employment, awards or notable achievements)
  • Military Service and Rank (Branch of military, wars served in, rank attained, special distinctions and awards)
  • Memberships in Organizations (Any civic, fraternal, or religious organizations that were important to you)
  • Hobbies or Special Interests (Places you've visited, sports you've played, activities you enjoy participating in, things you like to collect, favorite movies and books)

 

3. Finishing Touches

After you’ve written your obituary, have someone else read it over to catch any errors and make sure your thoughts are conveyed the way you'd like them to be. 

Most importantly, be sure to let your family know 1) that you’ve written an obit, and 2) where to find it. If you’ve done any funeral pre-planning, you may want to include your obituary with your funeral documents. Typically, the funeral home assists the family with publishing the obituary, so it would be helpful to have those papers all in one place. 

Finally, be sure to include with the obituary any specific instructions, such as names of newspapers you’d like the obit published in, so that your family knows and can honor your wishes. 


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