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How To Write A Great Obituary — Step-by-Step

Many of us do not know how to approach writing an obituary. It’s a large responsibility to chronicle someone’s entire existence in a few paragraphs, especially during a time of grieving. Obituaries provide biographical and service information to the public but can also serve as a way of saying goodbye and congratulations on a life well lived.

You are likely to have lots of questions when getting started:

  • What do I include?
  • Who should be named?
  • How much is too much information? Too little?

A funeral director can offer lots of guidance on putting together an obituary. In fact, the funeral directors at Phaneuf often place the obituaries for you as a service offering. This post is an opportunity to help you discover some clear ways to structure an obituary, provide clear information and honor the deceased.

We suggest a couple steps before sitting down to write the obituary:

1. Gather Memories of Your Loved One

Think about who this person was. What was their passion? Did they treasure a classic car? Did they love to play cards with friends? Remember what they did to make you smile and laugh. Think about what they did that made you proud. Try and pinpoint a couple times in their life when they were at their happiest. Take some notes to add to the obituary in a later step.

2. Reach Out to Family and Friends

We touch a lot of different people in our lives in many ways. Use this opportunity to gather some precious memories and stories from others who deeply cared about you departed loved one. Talking to others will probably help with your healing and their healing – and those folks may spark some memories that can be included in the obituary.

3. Get it All Down

We mentioned taking notes as you remembered things, but it’s important to write down everything that comes to mind, even though it likely won’t all be included. You will be able to use these notes to make the obituary a fitting farewell. Plus, it could be helpful to share this information with whomever will be delivering the eulogy.

4. Create a Biographical Outline or Sketch

Most obituaries open with what is called a biographical sketch, which includes the deceased’s full name, age, residence, and time and place of death. Keep in mind, there is no “official” phrase to use when announcing someone’s death. “Passed away” is perfectly fine as is “Crossed over,” or “Gave a final breath” or “Joined his wife in Heaven.” Go with what makes you feel comforted. For example, an obituary can begin with something like:

Lydia Coolidge, 87, of Lincoln, Nebraska, passed away on May 1, at her home surrounded by her grandchildren.

Your outline can also include cause of death, but it is not necessary. Again, the obituary should be personalized for the deceased. Perhaps this was a private person who did not want an illness to be disclosed to the public. Follow your best judgment.

Next, in your outline, you can include a list of surviving (and deceased) family members and their relationship to the deceased. Here’s a brief example:

Lydia was the daughter of Earl Smithers and Virginia (Brown) Smithers (both deceased) and is survived by her sister, Rita Little, of Las Vegas, Nevada … etc.

You can include as many generations and relationships in this section as you like. If your loved one had a tight-knit family that was always together, it’s perfectly fine to include close nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. This is actually one of the most-important parts of the process, because you don’t want to leave someone out by accident.

Next, if there are public services, you would list them in your outline, with time, date and location. This is also where you would want to include any information about donations to be made in the name of the deceased. They may have been passionate about a charity and you could ask for donations to be made there in lieu of flowers or plants, if that matches your values.

5. Summarize Accomplishments

You can next include big life events – she climbed Mt. Whitney – as well as any social and philanthropic groups, hobbies, awards and places of employment. There is no need to have a long list of everything your loved one did throughout their life, which is where your notes and memories will come in handy. Think about the things that made them proud and include them here.

6. Include a Photo… or Two

While including a photo can add additional cost when placing in a print newspaper or on the funeral home website, it can help the community to immediately recognize your loved one, in case they had not yet received the news of their passing. This is why we encourage including a recent photo. If you have a favorite photo from the past, consider using it and the recent photo. Family and friends often save obituaries for memory albums, etc., and including a photo serves as a pleasant reminder of a loved one.

7. Submitting an Obituary

If possible, submit the obituary at least two days before any public service is being held so attendees have the opportunity to attend to say farewell. The submission process for obituaries in publications and online varies. For example, the New Hampshire Union Leader accepts obituary placement via the funeral home. In cases where a funeral is not taking place, individuals can make the obituary arrangements with the newspaper.

Publications generally offer a variety of obituary packages which vary in cost. For example, a death announcement may be listed for free, but only includes brief biographical information and cause of death.

From there, costs vary depending on the length of the obituary, how often it will run, if it will appear in print or just online and whether photos will be included. Funeral homes generally will feature your entire obituary as well as multiple photos on their website for a period of time after a death and service.

Writing an obituary for someone so dear may be painful during the process, but afterwards, many find the experience to be an opportunity for some peace. Think of it like this, you are helping your loved one bid farewell to friends, family and the community.

This post might have you thinking about what you’d like included in your own obituary and perhaps your other end-of-life wishes. (It’s not unusual for people to write their own.) Take a look at our free workbook, My Life My Wishes, for simple steps on getting started.


MANCHESTER, NH – Stephen F. McLaughlin (66) passed away at home, surrounded by family, on August 18 after a courageous battle with cancer.

Stephen was born in Boston in the middle of the Baby Boom generation, and in the middle of a more immediate baby boom – as the fifth in a family of ten children – to Leo J. and Katherine (Pucci) McLaughlin. As a young child, the family moved from Boston to Bedford, NH, where he attended grammar school.  He graduated from Bishop Bradley High School and earned an electrical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire. He enjoyed pointing out that he was among the last generation of engineers educated using a slide rule, which today seems like an outdated tool, but was used to send a man to the moon.

Stephen started his career at LeCroy, a small instrumentation firm in West Nyack, New York, that manufactures oscilloscopes and other test equipment for physics research.  He returned to New Hampshire in 1979 to open a regional sales office for the company, working with physics researchers throughout the Northeast, including several Nobel Prize-winning scientists.  He always felt fortunate to be part of a small group of engineers and scientists that grew the company into a major international supplier of leading-edge instruments.

Later in his career, Stephen joined FLIR, a defense contractor that manufactures long-range thermal-imaging cameras for surveillance applications. In this position, he travelled around the country and around the world to support a wide variety of organizations with security and surveillance solutions. As an applications engineer, he worked with U.S. and foreign militaries and government agencies to design and deliver state-of-the-art thermal-imaging solutions. He was once again fortunate to join a relatively small company during a period of rapid growth, which led to many opportunities for enrichment.

In his leisure time, Stephen spent countless hours working with his wife to restore the turn-of-the-century Victorian home they have lived in for more than 30 years. He is remembered as a loving, supportive and involved father and a deeply committed husband to his high school sweetheart, who he met at 17 while working at Lord’s Department Store on Hanover Street in Manchester.

He was especially funny, with a razor-sharp wit, descending from a line of very funny people: After his father died, Stephen and his siblings found a stack of notecards in his desk with only the punchlines for countless jokes. When Stephen’s children were young, there was no better thing to hear when they got in trouble than “wait until your father comes home.” If they could just get him to crack a smile, the chances were pretty good that things would turn out alright.

Stephen was predeceased by his parents and a sister, Rosemary McLaughlin.

Stephen is survived by his wife of 45 years, Joanne (Doucet) McLaughlin, and three children: Stephanie McLaughlin and her husband Patrick Parkinson of Manchester; Benjamin McLaughlin and his wife Amy of Exeter; and Timothy McLaughlin and his wife Gretchen Morgan of Portsmouth, plus four grandchildren: Wyatt, Morgan, Cole and Alice McLaughlin. He is also survived by his siblings: Marcia Zahr; Hannah McCarthy and husband Phil Rutledge; Leo McLaughlin and wife Marty; Michael McLaughlin and wife Mary; Kathleen Peterson and husband David; Mark McLaughlin; Patricia McLaughlin; Matthew McLaughlin and wife Debra; plus 24 nephews and nieces, and a large extended family.

SERVICES – Friends and family are invited to calling hours at Lambert Funeral Home on Sunday, August 21, from 2 to 5 p.m., and a celebration of life service on Monday, August 22, at 11 a.m. at Lambert Funeral Home.

We have developed an end-of-life planning guide to help families answer important questions as they plan their final wishes.

Funeral Planning Guide

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