How to Write an Online Obituary

Toss the template • Tell the story
Melissa Jayne Kinsey

Melissa Jayne Kinsey

When my father died in 2014, I volunteered to write the obituary. No sweat. After all, I’d been a medical writer and editor for 20+ years. But writing an obituary is not the same as explaining ventilator settings or mitosis. I looked online for writing advice, but the only suggestions I could find relied on boilerplate templates and rules that had become obsolete in the digital age. And they were dull. Shamefully dull. 

How to Write an Online Obituary is the book I wish I’d had when I sat down to write my dad’s obit. It’s for those who wish to remember a parent or child, partner or spouse, brother or sister, friend, pastor, teacher, mentor, or fallen soldier, and for those who would rather not leave their own obituaries to chance. Our loved ones may be gone with the wind, but let’s give them a grand send-off, shall we?

My Story

Writing a good obituary for my dad turned out to be trickier than I thought. Where to begin? Which stories and details would set his obit apart from tributes to other beloved fathers, grandfathers, and military veterans?

My Google searches for tips on obituary writing turned up only predictable suggestions: be brief, pound out a string of clichés, append a superfluous list of survivors, and toss in a few harps and angels. The resulting “death notice” is so bland, it could pass for a LinkedIn profile. My dad deserved more than a listicle of job titles and relatives—doesn’t everyone?

Casting about for direction but finding little, I applied what I knew of writing in general and tried to do justice to his remarkable life. When I was finished, I resolved to help others who want to remember their loved ones (or write their own obituaries) with warmth, authenticity, and a bit of chutzpah.

Free Quick-Start Guide to Writing an Online Obituary