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Writing an Obituary

Families and friends grieving the loss of loved ones are often challenged by the task of writing an obituary. It's the last word and they are anxious to get it right. Make writing the obituary a group effort where family pools and collects the information they want to include. The level of detail varies. For example, the obituary of an elder often includes a list of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, if there are any, but not the names of deceased parents. The obituary of a young person may include the names of grandparents, as well as parents. These are guidelines, not rules.

Obituaries often include the following information, in addition to the full name and title, and birth and death date of the deceased.

  1. The place of death and cause. For example, "died at home after a valiant battle with cancer" or "died at Stanton hospital after a brief illness." The level of detail about the illness is whatever the family is comfortable with.
  2. Immediate family who are experiencing the loss, including spouse or common-law partner, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings and parents.
  3. Depending on how large a family is and how close, obituaries sometimes also include aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
  4. Significant family members who have died before the deceased, including a spouse, children, parents or siblings.
  5. A brief narrative of the deceased's life, including major milestones such as completing education, years worked and where, or moves. For example, "J. finished obtained his medical degree in 1987 and arrived in Yellowknife to practice medicine at Stanton Hospital five years later."
  6. A few lines about the deceased's accomplishments, awards, professional activities, volunteer roles, interests, and passions. This information gives the reader of the obituary a sense of the person who died.
  7. Details about the funeral or memorial service or celebration of life, including time, date and location, along with a location for the reception, if there is one.
  8. If the family prefers donations to a favorite charity in lieu of flowers, give the name of the charity, or a website address.
  9. Find a recent picture of the deceased to include with the obituary.


Q. My dad was married twice and both women are alive. How do I word that?

A. List the person married to dad at the time of death. Consult her about listing his first wife as "the mother of his children" or leave           her out.

Q. I have a brother who wasn't adopted but we all consider him a brother. Should I include him?

A. Don't worry about the legalities, think about the relationships. If this man called your dad "dad" you should include him.

Q. I don't want to tell people how my brother died. Do I have to?

A. Not at all. If you are comfortable giving a cause of death, do so. If not, then leave it out.

Q. My grandmother has 12 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. Do I have to list them all?

A. You can, or you can note the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren your grandmother had without naming them.

Q. My sister was just an ordinary person. What should I say about her?

A. Mention where she worked, if she worked, and you think that's relevant. If she liked to do needlepoint, say so. If she ran marathons, mention that.  If she liked spending time walking her dogs, put that in.  The idea is to convey a sense of the deceased to people who are reading about her.

Q. The only picture I have is the paper kind. How do I get that in the obituary?

A. Take it to your funeral director and ask him/her to scan it and give it back.

McKenna Funeral Home, Yellowknife, NT 867-446-0411 or toll free 1-855-446-0411 
Hay River Funeral Services, Hay River, NT, 867-875-0411