How to Write an Online Obituary

Colorful stories for modern lives

The internet has changed the way we do everything. But obituary templates haven’t changed at all. Name, dates and places of birth and death, schools attended, degrees earned, job titles, children’s names…are you nodding off yet?

We personalize everything else — from credit cards to cutting boards. We should personalize our obituaries, too. How was your father, say, different from every other beloved father who just died? Most men in their 70s or 80s are military veterans. Each had a long career doing whatever, produced two or three kids, and joined a Moose Lodge at some point. What set your father apart from all the men of his generation who led parallel lives?

Obituaries should tell stories—even the funny ones and the not-so-flattering ones. They should come alive with photos, videos, and music. And since each person’s life plays out in a way that no one else’s ever has or ever will, each obituary should be unique.

But hey, I get it. Those fill-in-the-blank templates are really tempting. Just cough up a few factoids, plug them in, and bada-bing, bada-boom, you’ve got yourself an obituary. At a time when you’re stressed out—grief, family bickering, financial concerns, funeral planning—it’s the path of least resistance. But writing a memorable obituary can actually be therapeutic. It helps you focus your grief on happier times. Collecting photos and swapping memories brings together squabbling siblings. Most important of all, when you see that warm tribute on the screen years from now, you’ll feel good about having written an obituary that helps everyone remember what was special about your loved one. That’s how I feel when I read my dad’s obituary now. It was the one last gift I could give him.

Hello and welcome!

Hello and welcome!

It's my mission to help you celebrate your loved one's life (or sum up our own) with a warm, colorful, unique tribute. If you get stuck or need some ideas, please email me or tweet to @onlineobits. I'd love to hear from you!

Melissa Jayne Kinsey

Free Quick-Start Guide to Writing an Online Obituary

Quick-Start Obituary Writing Guide

Examples, Ideas, & Advice for a Fresh, Original Tribute

Mockup of book cover: How to Write an Online Obituary

Mindmap used to write barf draft of obituary for Art Ellefsen.

Sample Mindmap for a Father’s Obituary

A mindmap or wordcloud is a tool for getting started writing an obituary. I created this mindmap for my father-in-law's obituary, but it could be used for a father's obituary as well. Either way, your content will be completely different. For two more sample mindmaps...
Blog post illustration: Clichés

Obituary Clichés: What to Say Instead

A few years back, I wrote a magazine piece that the editor criticized for containing too many clichés. In his edited version, the new opening sentence begins with "Tall, leggy blondes…" Turns out it's tough to write without using clichés, which are a sort of cultural...

Sample Barf Draft of an Obituary

Journalists use the term "barf draft" to mean a rough draft that's written (or recorded and then transcribed) all at once, without stopping to think or correct yourself or look up missing information. Once you create a barf draft of an obituary, you might still spend...
Blog image illustrating smells: Woman holding nose

Writing about Smells in an Obituary

Steaming waffles. Dana Brown Safari coffee. Zest soap. Petunias. Cool, wet grass. Firewood. Those are some of the scents and smells I associate with my grandmother. If I were writing her obituary, I'd want to include as much of that sensory detail as possible. But how...
For generational context, historical photos can be compared with period fashion illustrations.

Using Historical Photos in a Virtual Memorial

Whether you're building an online obituary, putting together a full-fledged virtual memorial, creating a mood board, or preparing any other sort of online tribute or genealogy project, supplementing your own images with historical photos and illustrations can help...
Sexism in obituaries: Yvonne Brill and Wernher von Braun

Sexism and Stroganoff

The 2013 New York Times obituary for Yvonne Brill, a rocket scientist, infamously opened with a description of her her housewifely charms: ”She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three...
Virtual Memorial Websites and Apps Comparison Chart

Virtual Memorial Websites and Apps

List and Comparison of Virtual Memorial Cost and Features If you anticipate a death in the family or if you're in the funeral business, you might find it useful to have a list of virtual memorial/digital memorial/digital afterlife/end-of-life websites and apps. The...
Blog post image: Vintage greeting "Get Well" greeting card

Get Well Soon? Awk-ward! Farewell cards find a niche

The greeting card industry has a good track record of predicting and capitalizing on trends before the rest of us even notice them. Remember, this is the industry that made doggie sympathy cards seem totally normal. (For a wonderful look back at the history of...