Here’s the wrenching conclusion to a young father’s obituary. What do you think—sweet or schmaltzy?

Nate used to debate his boys about who loved whom the most. Daniel, a big fan of Buzz Lightyear, told his dad, “I love you to infinity and beyond.” Nate, momentarily stumped, came back with, “I love you to infinity and beyond…and back again!” That phrase became a part of Nate’s permanent bond with his children. Nate, that’s how much we all loved you. And miss you. Nathan Paul Bahner (1978–2012)

If that passage didn’t leave you a little verklemmt, you are a monster, my friend.

Despite its sentimentality, this writing isn’t just a heap of hokey obituary clichés. The obituarist doesn’t simply tell us that Mr. Bahner was a “loving father” who “took great joy in his family” and “never complained.” Blechhh! Instead, with a tender anecdote and poignant quotations, it illustrates Mr. Bahner’s gentle regard for his children, riffing on themes introduced earlier in the tribute (which, by the way, is one of my favorites). Cloying obituary clichés and generalities can only tell us about a person—stories show us what made him special.

The easiest way to fall into this sticky trap is to use a template. These templates are littered with schlocky obituary clichés like “died peacefully,” “departed this life,” and “remembered forever.” They’re prefab, one-size-fits-all tributes that make your obit sound just like every other obit constructed using that form. Instead, follow the example of Mr. Bahner’s family and write a few freeform words about your loved one’s unique, remarkable life.

Be sure to explore all the free resources on this site. Watch the videos (please subscribe!) and download the one-page Quick-Start Guide to Obituary Writing. If you need more help, How to Write an Online Obituary includes excerpts from dozens of real obits that are affectionate but not sappy. You can download just the three core chapters of the book for $2.99 if you don’t want or need the whole she-bang. I really want to help you write a fantastic obituary for your loved one—or for yourself!

(Image courtesy Pixabay/Pexels.)