Writing an Obituary
We, as funeral directors, are well versed in writing obituaries and would be honored to write one for your loved one, if you so choose. However, some people may prefer to write it themselves and submit it to us for release to the local newspapers and for publication on our website.
Obituary notices provide information on the death of a person and inform newspaper readers about funeral arrangements. Writing an obituary notice is often a difficult and emotional task, particularly as it is usually a task given to a close family member or friend of the deceased. If you have been asked to write an obituary, you may find that it is easier to write the notice if you break the process into several distinct steps. In order to make it easier for you to write the obituary, you should also have:
A) A photograph of the deceased
B) A list of family members and accomplishments
Call the newspapers in your town (or ask your funeral director to make the calls) and ask how much they charge per inch for obituaries. If your budget is tight, the cost of a long obituary may be too expensive and you may need to write a shorter version than you had planned. Ask how much it will cost to include a photograph of the deceased. Some newspapers will charge you a static amount for obituaries. Others will base it on the length of the obituary. Newspapers that do charge for obituaries will charge by the column inch. Find out what your newspaper's column width is and the dollar amount per column inch. This will give you an idea of how much the obituary will cost to print. Custom obituaries will often run into the hundreds of dollars, so keep that in mind as you are writing the obituary.
Before you start writing the obituary, look at the obituaries in your local newspaper. Do all the obituaries follow a similar theme or format? If so, then try to emulate that style when writing the obituary. Some newspapers will print obituaries free as long as they follow the newspaper's format.
Also, confirm the papers’ submission deadlines, and then follow them. If a newspaper has to rush to get your loved one's obituary printed, mistakes may occur.
Find out the newspaper's preferred method of submission. Most newspapers do not like handwritten obituaries, since handwriting can leave some words up for interpretation, especially when it comes to names. Newspapers do not want to have to guess when it comes to typing obituaries. The last thing newspapers want to do is to upset the customer at their time of loss.
Start the obituary with the key facts concerning the deceased, including full name, city where he/she lived, city where he/she was born, date of birth and date of death. Some obituary notices include the cause of death, but that information is optional.
List family members who died before the deceased and then list surviving family members. When you list the survivors, start with the deceased's spouse or life partner, any surviving parents or grandparents and then list the children and their spouses. Include grandchildren, great grandchildren, brothers and sisters and close friends, if you wish. Depending on the custom where you live, you may also want to include the towns in which each of the survivors live along with their names. If the deceased had a special pet, you might want to mention this in the obituary.
Mention special accomplishments in the next section of the obituary notice. Include awards and special honors, schooling, military services, membership in churches, clubs, and organizations in this section. If the deceased had hobbies that he/she particularly enjoyed, you might want to include them. The deceased's most recent job is usually listed in this section.
Finish the obituary with details about viewings at the funeral home, the date, time and place of the funeral or memorial service and where interment will take place if the deceased is being buried. If any of these activities will be private, you should mention that fact in this section.
List the full address of any organization to which memorial donations may be made. If donations are requested for a trust fund for children, list the name and address of the bank.
Proofread and ask a third party to proofread the obituary, as you are less likely to see your own mistakes. Submit your loved one's obituary.
A short sample obituary may read like this:
Kim Benning, 63, passed away on Sunday, February 1, 2009, in her home. The funeral will be on Wednesday, February 4 at 10:00 am at the First Baptist Church with burial at the Slater Cemetery.
Kim was born January 1, 1946, to the late Steven and Diane Jones in Surrey. She attended high school and graduated from Slater State University in 1968. She moved to Fargo and worked at Merit Care Hospital as a registered nurse until she retired in 2006.
She was a member of the First Baptist Church, Slater, and a member of the Happy Homemakers Club.
She is survived by her husband, Steven; sons John, Bismarck, and Steven Jr., Slater; daughters Cynthia (Toby) Johnson and Jennifer (Tim) Nelson, both Slater; three grandchildren; and sister JoAnne (Larry) Donaldson, Arizona.
Funeral arrangements by Evergreen Funeral Home, Slater.
A lengthy sample obituary may read like this:
Ralph McInerny, Scholar and Mystery Novelist, Dies at 80
Ralph McInerny, a scholar of Roman Catholicism who taught at the University of Notre Dame for more than half a century and a prolific novelist whose books included the Father Dowling mystery series, died Jan. 29 in Mishawaka, Ind., near South Bend. He was 80.
The cause was complications of esophageal cancer, said his son Daniel.
Mr. McInerny, who taught philosophy and medieval studies at Notre Dame, was an expert on Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Catholic theologian and philosopher; much of his published scholarship included biographical and exegetical texts on Aquinas, and he edited a volume of Aquinas translations for Penguin Classics. He also wrote on the sixth-century philosopher Boethius, the 12th-century Spanish Arabic scholar Averroes and later thinkers and theologians, including Cardinal Newman, Kierkegaard, Pascal and Descartes.
He was far better known, however, as a novelist, and especially as the creator of Roger Dowling, a former canon lawyer whose career was derailed by drink and who has become, in his rehabilitation, a parish priest in a Midwestern town called Fox River, where he runs across an inordinate number of murders and shows an unusual gift for solving them.
Known for their clever plotting, the clarity of their writing and Father Dowling’s perspicacity and moral rigor, the series grew to more than two dozen books after the character was introduced in “Her Death of Cold” in 1977. Transposed to Chicago, and with Father Dowling’s first name changed to Frank, the books became the basis for a television series, “The Father Dowling Mysteries,” starring Tom Bosley, which ran from 1989 to 1991.
The Father Dowling books also had a religious subtext, with the main character serving as a messenger for the author’s traditional view of Catholicism.
“Dowling is idealized for more than liturgical purity,” Anita Gandolfo wrote in the 1992 book “Testing the Faith: The New Catholic Fiction in America.” “Father Dowling embodies a medieval worldview with its unambiguous moral order and universally accepted recognition of the truth of that order.”
Ralph Matthew McInerny was born into a large Irish-American family in Minneapolis on Feb. 24, 1929. He spent two periods of study in St. Paul Seminary, with a stint in the Marines just after World War II between them. He earned a B.A. but decided against becoming a priest, and he eventually received a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. from Laval University in Quebec. He taught for a year at Creighton University in Omaha and landed at Notre Dame in 1955.
In 1953 he married the former Constance Terrill Kunert; she died in 2002. They had seven children, six of whom survive him: four daughters, Cathleen Brownell of North Barrington, Ill.; Mary Hosford of Baltimore; Anne Policinski of Wayzata, Minn.; and Beth Hark of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.; and two sons, David, of Overland Park, Kan., and Daniel, of Waco, Tex. A son, Michael, died in 1957. Mr. McInerny is also survived by 2 sisters, 5 brothers and 17 grandchildren.
Mr. McInerny’s nonscholarly writing was hardly confined to Father Dowling. He wrote several other mystery series. One, written under the pen name Monica Quill, featured a crime-solving nun named sister Mary Teresa; another featured a lawyer, Andrew Bloom; a third was set at Notre Dame. He was two books into a fourth, about a nearly retired Ohio detective, Egidio Manfredi. His other books include an autobiography, “I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You,” published in 2006.
Mr. McInerny was also a frequent commentator on contemporary issues involving the Catholic Church. He was a founder and editor of Crisis magazine, a journal of lay Catholic opinion, now online as Inside Catholic. In the decades following the Second Vatican Council, he found much to criticize in the acceptance, by some theologians and Catholic educators, of secular modifications — on issues like homosexuality and abortion — in established Catholic principles. He delineated his views in a 1998 book, “What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained.”
In 2009, after Notre Dame invited President Obama to speak at commencement, Mr. McInerny was an especially angry objector, criticizing both the president and his own university.
“Barack Hussein Obama, enabler in chief of abortion, has agreed to speak at the 2009 commencement and to receive an honorary doctorate of law,” he wrote on the Web site of the conservative magazine National Review. “That abortion and its advocacy violate a primary precept of natural law reinforced by the Catholic Church’s explicit doctrine is a mere bagatelle. Wackos of all kinds will kick up a fuss, of course, but their protest will go unnoticed in South Bend. The pell-mell pursuit of warm and fuzzy Catholicism will continue.”