Start your obituary now

Let’s talk about a very important piece of writing – your obituary. My father recently died and I, with a few others, was asked to help write his obituary. We all did what we could with the information we had and then it was sent to my mother who added additional information.

My mother sees an obituary as an announcement of death – very formal, very structured.

I saw it differently. I am a storyteller, I saw it as a chance to tell stories of my father’s life.

There is no right, there is no wrong it’s what feel right for the principal players.

This experience has made me think about what I would like my obituary to look like. Forget the colleges I went to or the jobs I’ve had – I want examples of experiences that define who I am, a mother, a mama hen, someone who had a way with words. I want stories. I want people to be able to read my obituary and be left with a smile. I wouldn’t even mind a joke or two.

Because of this experience, I’ve started to take notes on what I want in my obituary. It’s something that everyone should do. Think about it, your obituary is your last published piece, why wouldn’t you want a hand in writing it?

Everyone (I don’t care how many times you go to the gym and how healthy you are) should have a file where you keep a list of important information that *you* want mentioned about yourself. Examples include:

  • Where you live, grew up
  • Schools
  • Professional organizations
  • Volunteer work
  • Names of relatives and their relationships – we actually had to check on a few of these for my Dad
  • Favorite memories or attributes that define you – You can bet my obituary will mention that I was a mama hen to a flock of 6 children.
  • Your final bit of advice to the world

Thinking about your death is not a pleasant thing to do, but if you see your obituary as your final published piece to the world – your last chance to advise others, you just might have the incentive to start organizing and working on it now.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

21 thoughts on “Start your obituary now

  1. Having had to construct a few of these, agree it is a good idea to create a list of important information like this. Those left behind will appreciate it – not only for obits but also for any memorial services. It’s a rough time, and anything like this will make it easier….and it is a chance to edit “your final polished piece to the world”.

  2. I had a slightly different experience with my mother. She and I attended the memorial service of a friend of hers. As mother and I walked over to the reception mother handed me the copy of the order of service and said, “This is what I want for my memorial. Alice and I both loved all these hymns.

    I put that in my files and when mother passed away 6 years later, I had one less thing to worry about. Just handed that little memorial service bulletin to the pastor and said, “This is what mother wanted.” And that is what we did.

    and in the safe, along with my will is the order of service for my memorial.

  3. As a volunteer for hospice talking about death does not bother me. I know having my dad write a few things down before hand was helpful with writing his obituary.
    In order to help ourselves during a loved one passing, please take the time to work out these details in advance. I promise you will be glad you did.

  4. I’ve thought about my funeral. It struck me how few mourners there would be. I don’t mind that. What I don’t want is straddlers; people that actually never committed to me as a person attending for some abstract reason of their own. Like a lot of you guys I have favourite hymns but I think I’ll avoid them because of the sentiment; the message in them; I want my family to feel that I’m not passing on to a distant place but I am with them, in the atmosphere; they can breath me in and I’ll be there. A little 50 Cent and Maroon 5 will do nicely.

  5. I have everything about my passing practically planned (want to be cremated, buried my ashes sans urn under a cherry tree seedling in the garden so when the tree will grow up I will grow up with it and those who care can sit in my shadow and enjoy reading a book or napping and I will shower them with my delicate petals and so and so…) but not my obituary.

  6. I come from a very large, very close extended family, so my experience with obituaries has mostly been how difficult it is to fit everyone in. Around here we tend to write “So-and-so is predeceased by ….. and is survived by ….” and that can turn into a heck of a long list. When my grandfather passed away, for instance, we had to write that he was predeceased by his parents, and three siblings, and then we had to write that he was survived by two other siblings, his wife, his seven kids (and their spouses), his fourteen grandchildren (and their spouses), and his six great-grandchildren. It turns into one hell of a list pretty quickly, and also the newspapers charge by the world so it can end up being a pretty costly annoyance.

    When my time comes along, I want my obituary to be short, concise, and clever. No need in wasting a ton of money on something like that… I’d rather everyone just get together, party, and tell funny stories about me. ^_^

  7. Sorry about losing your father. I get your mother’s take–there is the formal obituary that goes into the papers. I saved the good stuff, though, the stories you mention, for the eulogy at the funeral. I gave the eulogy for both my parents. I cried as I wrote each and I cried when I spoke them. I trot them out every year, sharing them with friends and relatives, remembering the good and sad times. It keeps me close to them, since they live in my heart and mind, not in the tiny urn in the tiny niche in the small mausoleum in the vast grounds of the graveyard. I don’t know if I wish to write my own eulogy. I do know what to put on my tombstone, though: I told you I was sick…

  8. I started my but i think my children will do a good job of writing mine. And I confess that I read the local obits and enjoy the really good ones. Some of them need editing! Good post. Will get that will rewritten this year!

  9. That’s a nice concept of making it known to the world how you looked at your life. Especially for introverts I think. A nice way of not having your life made into a duration of formalities, but an adventure manual – after all, adventure is what it really is, hovering sometimes around mirth and sometimes around sorrows! Nice write-up.

  10. Good idea! My boyfriend’s mom passed away recently. His dad wrote her obituary which was quite long but included her hobbies, volunteer work and career along with the usual things you see. I can’t tell you how many people commented on what a beautiful obit it was and what a full, rich life she had. The cost added up but my boyfriend’s dad didn’t care, he wanted it all in there. I’m sorry for your loss.

  11. Thank you for this important nudge and exercise. It is helpful to us to review what’s been meaningful to us, and more importantly provides guidance and info for our loved ones during a time of sorrow and many decisions.

  12. My dad used to teach a creative writing class in an adult education program. The first assignment he gave was to have his students write their obituaries.

  13. I guess then the obituary piece will be always updated as a database. I mean who knows what you may want to add or exclude later on? I know some things will stay the same as you being mama hen to six children at least the effort, time, love and all cool stuff you have given to them. I wanted to ask a question if I may this is just a young person attempting to understand different outlooks of the world. Do you think, aside yourself, women tend to be necessitated to mention motherhood before storyteller? Or, do you feel it is your unique position that you are a mother who can also tell stories because she is a mother? As motherhood amplified and helped build your oeuvre of stories. I know to a certain extent it goes both ways. But I feel that your motherhood has enriched your stories as in a later article you actually mentioned decluttering the house. But don’t you think the colleges you went to and the jobs you had can actually also can be articulated into the mode of the storyteller? I know my own mother’s experience with school is fun to hear actually. Also how does it feel to have children in different stages of life? My sibling and my closest cousins are close to each other and me in age. My oldest cousin got married when I was a teen but I didn’t live with her so I think it’s exciting to have had a sibling 13 years my senior actually or even 7 or 5 because that would entail different life things. Sorry, if I asked too many questions or any you didn’t like. I am just a trying to understanding different perspectives.

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