How to write your obituary now for later

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By Lyndal Phillips

Writing your own obituary

There are many reasons why an increasing number of people are choosing to write their own obituary. Although the idea might sound a little morbid at first, the act of writing your own obituary could prove to be an illuminating, cathartic and ultimately rewarding experience.

Why write your own obituary?

The increasingly popular decision to create an auto-obituary is becoming an important part of end of life care for both patients and their loved ones. But it is not just those in palliative care who are choosing to write their own obituaries. Family estrangements, a loss of family history, the desire to express gratitude, a wish to say farewell and the need to relieve others of the burden of trying to find the right words are all factors contributing to the growing trend of auto-obituary writing.

Writing your own obituary provides a unique opportunity for you to think about how you’d like to be remembered.

What can be included in an obituary?

Consider the defining events of your life, and think about the impact these events have had on the story of your life.

It might be helpful to consider the following suggestions as a framework to complete as you record your life story.

Names and dates

It sounds simple but it is important to begin by recording your full name. Remember to include your middle name(s), maiden name, nicknames and any other name by which you have been known. Include your date of birth, place of birth and the full names of your parents to complete the foundation of your obituary.

Details of loved ones

It is common for obituaries to include mention of spouses or partners, children, siblings, life-long friends and beloved pets. It is a good idea to create this list in a chronological order; begin with those you have known the longest, some of whom may have preceded you in death and follow through to those still in your life today.

Education and work

Record the names of the schools you attended and offer some insight into your favourite subjects. What do you remember most about your school days? Include mention of any further education you have completed including technical qualifications or tertiary degrees. You may also wish to include details of any notable achievements or awards you have received.

Provide a record of your working life, but try not to make it sound too much like a resume. Pepper your recollections with brief anecdotes and try to highlight those achievements of which you are most proud. Details that might seem insignificant to you can provide your readers with great insight into the life you have lived.

Memberships and associations

Include a description of any clubs, charities or organisations that have played a part in your life. Try to describe how these associations have enriched your life by detailing the connections and contributions you have made.

Travel experience, interests and hobbies

Think about those things that have brought you a sense of joy. Write about special places you have visited, sports you have played or supported, collections you have made or activities you particularly enjoy. Your descriptions of those things that have given you a sense of fulfilment will help to paint the picture of your life.

Gratitude and life lessons

Writing your own obituary is an opportunity to comfort your loved ones. By thanking your friends and family for their love and care you can wish them a fond farewell by extending acknowledgement and consolation to the bereaved.  You can also share any valuable life lessons and create a bit of a laugh at your own expense by recalling any pitfalls or misadventures you have experienced.

What sort of ‘voice’ is appropriate obituary writing?

Your writing doesn’t have to adopt solemn tone, a heartfelt and sincere piece can still include humour and positivity. Decide whether you’d like to write in the first person (using I), or the third person (she/he). There is no right or wrong way to write your obituary, writing in the style most comfortable for you will encourage your memories to flow smoothly.

Your obituary is your life story and writing it yourself gives you the chance to shape the way you will be remembered. What do you think? Would you consider writing your own obituary?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on

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