What Is an Obituary, and Why Do You Need One?

When making funeral arrangements for a loved one, writing an obituary is often the last thing on our minds. Although it’s easy to prioritize other tasks, obituaries are an important opportunity to celebrate a loved one’s life and legacy. Obituaries help bring us together in remembrance of the remarkable members of our families, neighborhoods, and communities. 

Here, you’ll learn about the history of obituaries, why obituaries are important, and the best practices for writing an obituary that honors the people we love most.

Where Do Obituaries Come From?

In simple terms, an obituary is a public notice of a death in a community. A typical obituary will include the date your loved one passed, their cause of death, their family’s names, and details concerning their funeral for those who would like to attend. Obituaries are published in print newspapers and online. 

The first known obituaries were published around 59 B.C.E. in ancient Rome. These obituaries were written in papyrus newspapers called Acta Diurna, meaning “daily events.” Obituaries gained popularity in the 19th century, a shift away from longer stories reserved for well-known figures and politicians.

Obituaries tend to be shorter due to the era’s complicated printing processes. Most newspapers were set by hand, discouraging lengthy columns. While the inclusion of obituaries became more common after the invention of the linotype machine during the Civil War, they remained brief because of this historical precedent. 

With the rise in written obituaries and the progression of technology, newspaper publishers realized obituaries were an easy way to make money by selling them as paid advertisements. As such, thousands of obituaries exist in present-day news archives. They’re wonderful, informative ways to learn about our family’s history and the lives of those who came before us.

Why Are Obituaries Important?

Our loved ones have touched more lives than we could ever know. Writing an obituary is an opportunity to remember the love and connection we shared with loved ones who have passed, and it’s an invitation for others to join in celebrating their lives. 

Obituaries are important because they connect us to our history, allow us to pay our respects for our loved ones, and help us honor these remarkable lives.

 Genealogy and History

Obituaries are an opportunity to learn about our family history through the words of the people who loved them. Not only can obituaries help us connect the branches of our family trees, but they provide insight into the lives of our ancestors from years past.

If you’re searching for biological family members or information on a specific member of your family, obituary archives from the cities and towns where they were born can be an incredibly useful tool. 

Similarly, obituaries help preserve our local and personal histories. By keeping a public record of the contributions our loved ones made in their families and communities, the memories of their positive impact will live on for decades to come.

Honoring Remarkable Lives

While obituaries can be helpful for future generations, they are also an opportunity to pay our respects in the present day. Obituaries are tributes to the legacy and life of those we love, and it’s important to keep their memory alive. 

When a loved one passes, it can be difficult to remember the brightness and meaning they brought to our lives while navigating through the shadows of grief. By including anecdotes, quotes, and memories of our loved ones, writing an obituary is an opportunity to celebrate their beautiful life in the midst of your heartbreak.

Where Do I Start?

Through catharsis and posterity, obituaries serve a much larger role than many of us realize. Still, writing an obituary can be very difficult. The act of remembering those who have passed may bring up intense emotions. Below, Eterneva has provided some helpful suggestions to guide you through the process.

Practical Information To Include

An obituary can include your loved one’s full name, the day they passed, and where they died. You may also choose to include your loved one’s cause of death if it feels appropriate. 

In addition to information about their passing, you can also include information about their life such as their birthdate, photos, and the names of their immediate family members. You can also add information about other people who were close to your loved one, such as significant others or close friends.

Personal Information To Include

After covering the basics, you may choose to write about the accomplishments and contributions of your loved one to their community. 

You can include where the person graduated from high school and college, beloved clubs or organizations, or enduring hobbies. This is also a wonderful place to provide anecdotes, describe your loved one’s personality, or include their favorite jokes, quotes, or mantras. This will help others remember fond memories of your loved ones and create opportunities to celebrate their lives.

An obituary should be specific to the personality, life, and legacy of your loved one. While writing their obituary, you can ask others who were close with this person about their shared memories and your loved one’s impact on their life. By including memories from other cherished relationships, you can craft a well-rounded portrait of those who have passed.

What Should I Avoid?

It’s important to be respectful of loved ones who have passed and their family members when writing an obituary. Because this is a lasting memorial for your loved one, you should remember that you are writing for a general audience. As such, there are a few situations you should avoid when crafting an obituary.

Inappropriate Comments or Jokes

Everyone has different ways of processing death. For some, humor is a coping mechanism. However, it’s usually a good rule of thumb to avoid jokes or comments that make light of your loved one’s passing. Although your loved one may have appreciated the levity, it may cause harm to other mourners. 

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and you should use your judgment when deciding to include humor in your obituary. 

Home Addresses

It is appropriate to include the general area or town where the deceased person lived. However, including the person’s home address could intrude upon the privacy of family members still living at your loved one’s residence. 

Allowing a Stranger To Write the Obituary

Although it may be difficult for those close to the deceased to write their obituary, outsourcing the obituary to a stranger can make the piece more impersonal. Embrace the opportunity to celebrate the relationship you have with your loved one, and let writing the obituary be a point of light in your grieving process. 

Remember that you do not have to write an obituary alone. You have the support of those who love you to help you navigate through this difficult time. Allow the obituary to be a way to address your emotions towards the death of your loved one, and invite others to join you in this reflection on a remarkable life.

Ending on a Encouraging Note

Navigating grief can be an intense process, and it can be difficult to talk about lost loved ones. It’s important to lean on your support system of people you love and trust. Instead of ignoring or suppressing your emotions, let tasks like writing an obituary or creating an Eterneva diamond act as an opportunity to explore the complex feelings that arise after a loved one’s passing. 

Grief is not linear—it can move like a rollercoaster, with slow rises and sharp drops. It’s natural to feel sad while writing an obituary for someone you love. Amidst that sorrow, you can also view the obituary as a way to healthily express your emotions, celebrate your loved one’s life, and inspire fond memories of your loved one. While grief can feel isolating, memorials like an obituary can remind us that there’s a community of people dealing with similar emotions.

Obituaries are an important step towards healing. They foster community and encourage people to come together in love to celebrate the life of one person who has impacted many others.

Sources

How Obituaries Went From Dry Death Notices to Tributes to Truth | How Stuff Works

A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding and Using Historical Obituaries | Family Tree Magazine

Ticonderoga, NY | Wilcox and Regan Funeral Home

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