writing an obituary

Whether you’ve recently lost a loved one or you’re making those necessary arrangements beforehand, writing an obituary can feel emotionally challenging. Feelings can seem like a barrier between you and this task that needs to be accomplished. With that being said, the act of writing an obituary doesn’t have to be difficult—it can actually be immensely cathartic. The goal of this piece is to guide you step-by-step through the obituary writing process as well as help you see the therapeutic impact of such a seemingly daunting task.

The Types of Obituaries

Before you begin, we must note that there are a few different obituary styles.

Self-Written Obituaries

As the name implies, self-written obituaries are written by the individual themselves. These are usually written by people who are immensely forward-thinking and want to save their loved ones the discomfort of writing such a document. Some of these may have been written at varying stages of health or realization of the progression of a condition. The person’s desire to have a self-written obituary should be completely respected. Still, review all details to make sure they are current—such as a change in family structure or if they had moved since writing their obituary. When in doubt, lean into respecting their own wishes.

Funeral-Use Obituary

The “funeral use” obituary will be the primary obituary used for funeral program inserts, possible read aloud at the funeral, and otherwise distributed. These are largely free of word-count limitations, but should ideally fit neatly on one page.

Newspaper Obituary

The newspaper obituary is the obituary submitted to newspapers for publication. This may be a slightly shorter version of the funeral-use obituary—opting for more details over personal stories. The publication typically dictates the word-count for these.

How to Begin Writing Their Story

An obituary is a summary of a person’s life and what they held most dear. For this reason, writing one can be fairly therapeutic for those in mourning. Let’s break down the usual parts of a person’s obituary story.

The Essential Details

Most obituaries begin with the essential information about the person’s death. They may contain their name, age, and details about when and where they died.

Buchanan “Bucky” Goldstein, 92, died early Monday morning, February 17, 2020, at this home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For newspaper obituaries, some may prefer to provide funeral details following these details. Some prefer to save these for the end.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at 11 am at Congregation B’nai Emunah in Tulsa, OK. Services will be immediately followed by a graveside service in The Preserve section of Woodland Memorial Park Cemetery in Sand Springs, OK.

Those Who Have Preceded Them

Immediately following the details of one’s death and funeral arrangements for the newspaper obituary, some may choose to mention close family members who have preceded them in death. This is optional.

Bucky is preceded in death by his father Emil, and his mother Shoshana, as well as brothers Morty, Rick, and sister Ruth.

The Story of Their Life

In telling the story of someone’s life, it is helpful, if not enjoyable, to start chronologically and walk through their early years. Begin with their birth as well as where and how they spent their childhood. As you move through the childhood and teenage years, mention some of the schools they attended, the organizations with which they were affiliated, and the activities they enjoyed. Feel free to pepper in memorable stories.

Bucky was born June 7, 1928, in Austin, Texas. He picked up the fiddle from the age of 4 with the help of his grandfather, Mendel Goldstein. His family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1935 and became active members of Congregation B’nai Emunah, where Bucky celebrated his bar mitzvah in 1941. He attended Central Tulsa Highschool, where he showed a profound interest in poetry as well as western swing music. Bucky graduated from Oklahoma State University and married Ruby Glaser in 1952. He worked as a writer and editor for the Tulsa World until his retirement in 1993. He loved playing music for his children and grandchildren as with groups in the Tulsa area. Bucky will be remembered for his quiet wisdom, his warm sense of humor, and affinity for Tulsa.

Those They Leave Behind

At this point, some may mention the living family members of the individual. To guard the feelings of those who may be left out of this section due to word-count or writer error, it is recommended to finish this section fairly open-ended, i.e. “—as well as many other beloved family members and friends.”

Bucky is survived by his wife Ruby, children David, Betty, and Max, as well grandchildren Abigail, Jerry, Gabriel, Asher, Rachel, Ted, and great-grandchildren Levi, Rivkah, Ezra, and “Little” Bucky—as well as many other beloved family members and friends.

Next Steps

At this point in the obituary, it is customary to provide an address or organization where flowers or donations may be sent in honor of the person’s memory.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Bucky’s honor to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.


Nobody truly wants to write an obituary, but many find the process tremendously fulfilling. Treat this as an opportunity to recall the wonderful life that this person lived and the lives that they’ve touched. Know that the obituary you write will help fellow grieving friends and family members celebrate the life they led.