Obituaries are a hallmark of remembering those who have died. You may prefer to write your own obituary while you are still alive instead of having loved ones do so after your death. It’s a way to have a final say in how you are remembered, and to save time and grief for those you leave behind.
How do I write my own obituary?
Drafting your obituary can be a daunting task. It’ll likely bring up many mixed feelings, and take several sessions and drafts. Some people choose to write it while healthy, years in advance of when it would be needed. Others prefer to wait until they have a life-changing prognosis.
There’s no right or wrong way to write your own obituary, but here is a roadmap for you to consider:
Step 1: Reflect
Think about who you are today and how you got here:
- Am I satisfied with how my life turned out?
- What legacy am I leaving behind?
- Who are the important people in my life that made me who I am today?
- What unfinished business or goals do I have left to accomplish?
Step 2: Establish Tone
Do you want people to laugh while reading your obituary? Or cry? Or should it be a more serious reflection on your life, what you’ve accomplished, and advice you want to impart on others? If you aren’t sure, think about obituaries you’ve read in the past and what you liked or didn’t.
Step 3: Start the First Draft
Again, there is no right or wrong way to start writing. You may want to write down all of the necessary details first and then add content and context. Or you may be more inclined to create an outline. Some find it cathartic to just start free-form writing. The key is allowing yourself space to step away, reflect, and return at a later time.
Most obituaries include basic details. Some you can pen in advance, while others may need to be filled in by a designated loved one after you die.
You may want to include:
- Full name (including maiden or nicknames if applicable)
- Dates and location of birth and death (including how you died)
- Notable locations lived, career highlights, or proud accomplishments
- Full names of those that died before you and who you are survived by (parents, spouse, children, and grandchildren are most common)
- Funeral/memorial details
- Your photo – can be recent or from the past, but high-quality and just of you is recommended
Once you have a draft complete, talk about it with your loved ones. And revisit it as often as you need to update.
Step 4: Gifts or Donations in Remembrance
Obituaries often end with messages related to funeral services, where to send flowers, or options for making a donation to a designated charity of your choice. If you have a cause or preferred way for people to memorialize you, add this to your draft.
Step 5: Designate Someone to Complete and Distribute
Make sure that you designate a loved one to finish your obituary with the needed details after you die. You should also discuss with them where you want your obituary placed. Is it online with websites like legacy.com or tributes.com? In your local newspaper? On social media? As a final step, make sure you leave instructions for accessing your working document to those that need it in your digital estate plan.
Leaving Messages of Remembrance
Leaving a written message, audio recording, video, or other project of your choice is another way for you to be remembered by those you loved dearly while alive. These messages can be an opportunity to leave nothing unsaid, share things you may not be up for in person, provide future advice, celebrate events you won’t be there for, or to leave something tangible for folks to revisit when they need to hear from you.
The method in which your loved ones receive these messages after you die varies, but here are a few options to consider:
- Appoint someone to deliver them for you (leave directions or they can be saved with your other end-of-life documents).
- Use an app to pre-record messages that will be delivered at a later date (there are several, but two to check out are ForKeeps Afterlife Messages and After Cloud).
- Create email drafts with attachments and schedule sends for later dates. You can also provide your login info to someone who can go in and send these after you die.
Where can I get help?
Writing obituaries or messages of remembrance can be tough. You may get to a point where you want to call in reinforcements. If asking a friend or loved one doesn’t feel quite right, there are some services and resources that may be helpful:
- The Society of Professional Obituary Writers has an extensive directory of professional writers across the country.
- Love to Know provides free customizable templates for a variety of obituary styles that are downloadable and easy to use.
- US Urns Online has tips for creating messages to loved ones, as well as templates you can use.