Everything You Know About Obituary Writing Is Wrong

Remember those little Magicubes you’d snap onto your Kodak Instamatic? Quaint, right? Except for a few purists, we don’t even use cameras anymore.

Likewise, obituaries have migrated from print to the web. But it would be a mistake to think of online obituaries as the electronic equivalent of newspaper obits.

Technology has transformed length, content, format, and even the amount of time families have to prepare their tributes. So why are we still giving folks 48 hours to produce a 200-word send-off that reads like a LinkedIn profile? Relying on boilerplate templates and applying obsolete rules makes no more sense than advising digital photographers to use their film and flashbulbs judiciously.

Here are just a few reasons why the traditional obits that funeral professionals know and love are ready for departure…

There’s no pressure.

The Grim Reaper keeps the ferries running on time. Likewise, the hometown paper must meet its Friday-evening copy deadline. After all, if a death notice doesn’t appear within a few days of the event, it’s no longer news. But an online obit or memorial can be posted weeks or months after the fact, giving the obituarist plenty of time to grieve, binge-watch This Is Us and Sneaky Pete, consume alarming quantities of shrimp fried rice, and reboot his or her life. If the loved one is cremated and the memorial service postponed, the task of composing an obituary is even less urgent.

The web allows for unlimited real estate.

Save your shoehorn for Twitter. Brevity isn’t necessarily a virtue, and the obituarist now has ample room to wax poetic—or just prolific—about their loved one. The only real length limitation is the reader’s attention span. Spin a compelling story, and we might read 2,000 words. Tell us that your loved one “died peacefully,” “never knew a stranger,” and “would have done anything for anybody,” and we’ll click back to Facebook faster than you can say schmaltzy.

Socializing and selfies are now center-stage.

The obituary remained joyless and breathtakingly dull for decades. But now, egged on by selfie culture, we’re used to oversharing about everything from our triggers to our celebrity crushes. In our social media posts, inconvenient truths—starter marriages, soul patches and tattoo fails—are edged out by revenge bodies, side boob, early adoption, plunge pools, quiffs, and humblebragging about our Uber ratings. It stands to reason, then, that we’d want to curate our demise, and that of our loved ones, with the same attentiveness and social media integration.

Our carefully crafted memorials are selective, to be sure, but they’re far more candid than traditional obituaries. Sometimes too candid. You’re likely to learn things about a friend or family member that you can’t un-know: There’s the pirate wannabe, for example, who “considered having his leg amputated so he could get a peg leg.” Then there’s the cross-stitch enthusiast with a “fetish for vacuum cleaners and white powder donuts.” And let’s not forget the bingo player who was an “active nudist” (hey, I don’t judge). Oversharing: It’s not just for Facebook anymore.

It’s all about the end user.

The web gives us the time, space, and platform to humanize our loved ones—or even craft slightly more clever, better-coiffed versions of them. A written tribute becomes the centerpiece of a nostalgic showcase featuring music, galleries, slideshows, stories, mood boards, timelines, audio messages, avatars, diary entries, genealogy links, and other nifty features. The online obituary has become our last social media platform—the final stop on our curated journey through life. All aboard?

Quick-Start Guide to Writing an Online Obituary

So if obituaries are heading online, how can we, funeral professionals, properly prepare our families for the changing times? Start by giving them advice on how to write an online obituary. This Quick-Start Guide to Writing An Online Obituary (below) is a great step in that direction. Download the guide by clicking the image below, and share it with your families by posting in on your blog, your Facebook page, or even printing it out and handing it to families during your first meeting.

About The Author

Melissa Jayne Kinsey, author of How to Write an Online Obituary: Virtual Memorials Made Simple, is out to prove that good obituaries don’t have to be dull. She has contributed to Slate, Fast Company, and many other publications and is the owner of Nicholson & Stillwell Publishing Associates, a small healthcare content provider and publisher. Check out her website, HowtoWriteanOnlineObit.com, or follow her on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook!

Hey funeral professionals, do you want to make sure that you are giving your families the perfect platform to host their online obituaries and tributes? Click here to learn more about f1Connect’s Social Memorial pages, and why they will be the best thing that you ever do for your families and your business.

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  1. Maura Farrell Miller

    Thank you!