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How to Write a Parent’s Obituary

by Linnea Crowther

Writing a meaningful obituary for your parent is one of the most important things you can do to preserve their legacy.

Writing a meaningful obituary for your parent after their death is one of the most important things you can do to show your love for them and preserve their legacy. It can be an overwhelming task, but you don’t have to go it alone. We have a tool that can get you started and tips on what to add to enhance a basic obituary into something beautiful.

How to Craft a Beautiful Obituary for Your Mother or Father

An obituary doesn’t have to be any particular length to be meaningful. A short obituary can be a lovely tribute to a life well-lived. But the more detail you can add, the better for family and friends reading the obituary now, as well as the generations that will read it to discover more about their family history.

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With a longer obituary, you tell stories about your mom or dad and really try to capture their personality. If your mother had a great sense of humor, maybe you’ll try to capture that with a funny obituary. If your father lived an inspirational life, you can detail his amazing accomplishments. If your parents touched a lot of lives through kindness, you can tell the stories of the people they impacted. Much more than just a short, informational paragraph, your parent’s obituary can capture their essence and bring them immediately back to mind every time you read it in the future.

Not sure exactly how to do all that? Here are a few things you might want to include and strategies you might consider using in order to craft a memorable obituary that tells the world exactly who your parent was. Of course, you don’t have to use all of these strategies — but it may be that a few of them can be combined to help you write the perfect obituary for your parent.

1. Talk about their favorite things.

The people who knew your parent are likely to associate them with some of their favorite things — foods, movies, music, travel destinations. You can offer a list of these favorites, or even better, you can tell a story or two to show how their favorite things fit into their life. Did Dad sing his favorite song at the top of his lungs while he worked on the car? Did Mom gift copies of her favorite book to the people she loved? Tell the story to remind friends and family of the quirky things they loved about your parent, like this family did in their mom’s obituary: “Shirley-Anne loved the black squirrels who visited her backyard and, if you were lucky, she sent you a squirrel birthday card or a present wrapped in squirrel paper.”

2. Tell family stories.

What’s your favorite story about your mom or dad? Something from your childhood, perhaps — a funny family vacation mishap or a perfect birthday gift or an occasion when you really saw their love for you shine through? It might be a story that everybody likes to tell when you get together, or maybe it’s something special to you in particular. You can share the story in your parent’s obituary as a reminder of a notable moment in their life. This family shared a favorite silly story and reflected, “The laughter from that experience can still be heard.”

3. Quote your parent.

Did your mother or father have a favorite saying, a frequently-told joke, a turn of phrase that always makes you think of them? Including a quote in their obituary will make the memories all the more vivid when you reread it in years to come. Maybe it’ll be deep — you might include some of your parent’s final messages to you and their other loved ones. On the other hand, maybe it’ll bring a smile to your face, like the deceased’s favorite verse in this obituary: “As he would often say, ‘Beefsteaks when I’m hungry. Corn liquor when I’m dry. Greenbacks when I’m broke, and Sweet Heaven when I die!'”

4. Share their accomplishments.

What was your parent especially proud of? (Besides you, of course.) Their greatest accomplishments absolutely belong in their obituary. Share their personal best marathon or 5k time, the military honors they were awarded, the professional accolades they received, the blue ribbon they won at the county fair, or whatever else put a proud smile on their face whenever they thought of it. Here’s an obituary that showcases a big accomplishment: “A lifetime member of the El Paso Veterinarian Association, in 2005 Dr. Bob was honored as the first Legend of Veterinarian Medicine, an honor he proudly accepted.”

5. Talk about the ways they showed their love.

Some parents say “I love you” every day; others might not say it much but show it with the big and little things they do to support their children. Parenting is a huge part of a mom or dad’s identity, and the ways they show their love say a lot about them. Share those ways in the obituary like this family did: “She would give her opinion without flinching or apology but she never dismissed you for your choice and always welcomed you home when it didn’t work out. She may slide a little ‘I told you so’ into the conversation but it was met with a side of Pringles, a bologna and cheese sandwich, smiley-face pancakes or a bowl of chicken & noodles.”

6. Remember how you frequently saw them.

If the memory of your mom in your mind’s eye is of her working in her garden, talk about that. If you see Dad flipping his famous pancakes, describe the scene. This can continue to be a vivid memory in years to come, especially if you preserve it in their obituary. This obituary remembers Mom at the sewing machine: “More than once I remember Mother was at the sewing machine making clothes or drapes or something when everybody went to bed, and she was still sewing when everybody woke up.”

7. Paint a picture of days gone by.

Especially if your parent lived a long life, there’s history in their years. The stories they told you of their childhood help recall the world when it was different from today. Preserving these stories in their obituary will keep that history alive for you and for the generations to come. One family achieved this by telling their dad’s story of childhood in the 1930s: “At one point during the Great Depression, 9-year-old Dell was the only one in his family with a job. He sold hot roasted peanuts on a city street corner to make the dime it took to bring home milk and bread to his family at the end of the day.”

8. Tell a love story.

If your parents had an enduring love with a touching — or funny — story behind it, share that story. Love stories are becoming more and more common in obituaries, and readers will love to discover or reminisce about the special match your parent was a part of. Here’s an obituary that sums up a love story in just two sentences about how Dad met his bride: “When Grover first saw Ruth at the roller skating rink, he said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He could not control his skates as they skated him right over to her.”

9. Enlist help.

You may have offered or agreed to be the one who writes your parent’s obituary, but that doesn’t mean other family members can’t contribute. You might ask one of your siblings, an aunt or uncle, or one of the grandkids if they have a memory or story they want to include in the obit. Think especially of family members who were very close with your parent and/or who are talented writers.

10. Get creative.

There are so many ways to capture the essence of your mom or dad’s personality. One family quoted a message from a friend in Dad’s 1938 yearbook. Another family provided context for their mother’s long life by describing the historical events that took place during her early years. Yet another offered personal notes to the grandchildren in lieu of a “survived by” section. These unique approaches make for loving and memorable obituaries.

It’s worth noting that as you work on writing your parent’s obituary, you’re likely to experience strong feelings of grief as you concentrate on describing the loved one you’ve so recently lost. Some of the memories conjured up by the writing process will be happy ones, while others might not be as easy and pleasant to remember. Take care of yourself as you write — take a break if you need to, and turn to others for help and support. Legacy’s Loss of a Parent support group of Facebook is one source of support you can lean on as you write — it’s full of others who have gone through a similar loss.


Related to Obituaries

Find an Obituary for a Specific Person
Guide to Writing an Obituary
How to Help Your Grieving Parent
5 Reasons to Publish an Obituary

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