Writing a Tough Obituary


Writing an obituary can be a painful, yet cathartic experience. It’s an opportunity to celebrate a life while also informing friends and neighbours of a loved ones passing. They also provide details on how you can honour the dead – by attending a visitation and funeral or by sending flowers or charitable donations.

While this is all true, some deaths occur under particularly painful circumstances. While many people can come to terms with illness, old age, and even accidents, there are some deaths that are just hard to talk about, let alone write about in an obituary.

Thousands of families and friends lose loved ones every year to suicide, overdose and homicide. Many of these families loved these people dearly and want to honour them, yet feel uncomfortable talking about the nature of their passing.

How to write a difficult obituary

Even if a lot of people know the cause of death, many families still feel uncomfortable addressing it head on in an obituary. But truthfully, most obituaries don’t list the exact cause of death. They often use phrases such as, “After a long illness,” “or passed away peacefully at home,” so it would not be unusual for the obituary to be vague and nondescript about the cause.

The rest of the write-up can follow the standard formula, listing surviving relatives, details about the person’s career, hobbies, military service, volunteer activity and so on.

Charitable donations

At the bottom of most obituaries is a request for donations to a specific charitable organization selected by the family or loved one. Quite often the non-profit is tied to the cause of death. Here is a place where it might feel appropriate to include something about how your loved one died and how others might help to prevent it from happening to other families. You could include suicide hotlines, mental health organizations, women’s shelters, drug addiction centres and the like.

Facing it head on

While it’s rare, some grieving families who lost their loved ones to suicide, addiction, abuse or violence choose to address it upfront. This is not for everyone and you have to make your own choices based on what you and the rest of the family support, however, some people find it helpful and comforting to share their story.

With the opioid crisis in the news all the time, it’s not surprising that some grieving parents have shared their stories through their child’s obituaries. These serve as reminders that this can happen to anyone while highlighting it as a serious problem. As painful as these pieces were to write, there’s no doubt that these parents felt they had to share their stories to help others.

In the end, it’s up to you and the rest of your family and loved ones to decide how you want to share this news. Obituaries are not mandatory and it’s completely acceptable if you want to skip the tradition under the circumstances.

At Chapel Ridge Funeral Home and Cremation Centre we offer non-judgemental assistance to all of the families we deal with. All deaths are sad, but some make people more uncomfortable than others and we respect your need for privacy if that is what you want.

Contact us and we can have a confidential conversation about your needs and we will do everything in our power to make you as comfortable with process as possible.