Writing Down a Life: Crafting the Obituary

Crafting Obituaries

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How to Write an Obituary?

Obituaries serve as notifications that individuals have passed away and provide details of the services that are to take place. But they can be more than that. Well-crafted obituaries can detail the life of the deceased, with style.

An obituary's length may be somewhat dictated by the space available (and the related costs) in the newspaper it is to appear in. Therefore it's best to check how much room you have before you begin your composition. Remember that the obituary needs to appear in print a few days prior to the memorial service. There are some cases where this may not be possible, therefore give some consideration to the guidelines below when composing the obituary.

Example of an Obituary

**The obituary that was published is quite lengthy and can be read in full here.

Writing a great obituary is very similar to writing a eulogy. In both cases, you want to convey who the deceased was a person, what made them unique, how they influenced others, and highlight their personal and professional accomplishments.

An excellent example of this is the New York Times obituary written for legendary sports writer and radio/television commentator Frank Deford by Daniel Victor. The following sections are excerpts from the obituary and serve as excellent examples of how to write an obituary.

"Mr. Deford retired from NPR’s “Morning Edition” on May 3, signing off with what the radio
network said was his 1,656th weekly commentary since 1980. He also appeared on HBO’s “Real
 Sports With Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and wrote for Sports Illustrated for more than 30

This first excerpt is from the beginning of the obituary. It outlines the lengthy career Frank Deford had as a journalist and sets the stage for what will be discussed throughout the obituary.

"Mr. Deford was a six-time Sportswriter of the Year, a National Magazine Award recipient, a
 member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame and the first sportswriter 
to be given a National Humanities Medal, presented by President Barack Obama in a White 
House ceremony in 2013.

“A dedicated writer and storyteller, Mr. Deford has offered a consistent, compelling voice in print
and on radio, reaching beyond scores and statistics to reveal the humanity woven into the 
games we love,” the award citation said."

This section is an excellent example of showcasing the professional accomplishments Frank Deford achieved during his career. Rather than just stating all of the awards he won, Victor includes a citation that was engraved on one of the awards. This is important because it adds value to what Victor is writing about Deford. It provides validation about the kind of person and journalist that Frank Deford was.

"In 1990, he was recruited to be the founding editor in chief of The National Sports Daily, also
 known as The National, a short-lived tabloid newspaper that assembled a murderers’ row of 
writers and editors, including John Feinstein and Mike Lupica. Some said they had been drawn 
there by Mr. Deford’s presence."

This excerpt showcases the impact Frank Deford had on others, especially those within the sports realm of journalism. Part of writing a great obituary includes discussing the legacy and impact the deceased made on others. Victor does a good job of that by explaining how Deford influenced talented writers to work with him because of the reputation he had throughout the industry. These writers chose to go to a new startup company because Frank Deford was involved with it. That was enough to make them believe it would be a success.

"Besides his wife, Carol, whom he married in 1965, Mr. Deford is survived by his son, Christian; 
another daughter, Scarlet Crawford; and two grandchildren."

An important part to include within an obituary is a reference to the deceased’s family. In this case, Mr. Deford had preceded his immediate family in death so it lists who he is survived by. If he had lost someone before him, the obituary would say proceeded in death by… and then list who he is survived by. Other relatives will not be mentioned by name but may be included in terms of their relationship to the deceased. In other words, the obituary may mention that the deceased had 5 grandchildren, or 7 great-grandchildren. 
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What is Included in an Obituary?

Naturally, it is vital that the full name, along with the location and date of passing is included so that there is no confusion over who has died. You may wish to consider placing a photograph (which can appear as black & white or in color depending on the newspaper's layout) with the text. There are usually extra charges applied if you are thinking of using a photograph. If you wish, mention where the deceased resided. Do not include the street address, for security reasons; just mention the city and region/state/province/county.

Tips for Crafting a Complete Obituary

If you don't know where to start, read other obits to gain an idea of how personal and touching an obituary may be.
Do use such terms as "visitation will be from" or "friends may call from". Do not say the deceased will "lie in state" as that only applies to a head of state such as the prime minister or president. Don't use the phrase "in lieu of flowers" when memorial donations are to be requested, as this limits how readers can express their sympathy. Perhaps they want to send flowers to the family – and unless you are adamant that flowers are not wanted, the phrase is decidedly “off-putting”. Instead merely start the final paragraph of the obituary with the words "Memorial donations may be made to" and then state the charity’s name.

Final Considerations

Any and all information to be included in the obituary should be verified with another family member. A newspaper will have to verify with the funeral home being utilized that the deceased is in fact being taken care of by that funeral home.

If you wish, send the obituary to newspapers in other cities or towns where the deceased may have resided previously. Obtain copies of the obituary to send to distant relatives and friends.

Today there are online memorials, such as the Book of Memories™, where the obituary can be available for the cyber-community of the deceased to view. It is also a place where friends and family can leave messages of condolence, light a memorial candle, or share photographs and videos. If this sounds like a good option for your family, contact us to learn more.

Source : New York Times, Daniel Victor
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