How Funeral Directors Can Help Families Create Incredible Obituaries

Posted November 22, 2017

5 min read

“We are not the names of people we have left behind. We laugh. We weep. We love. We are brave and we are afraid,” says Petra Lina Orloff. Orloff is President and CEO of Beloved, a company that produces custom, personalized, handcrafted obituaries and eulogies. “We are charming, yet surly, and grumpy, yet loving. We are plumbers, teachers, housewives, CEOs, nurses, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers,” says Orloff when talking about celebrations of life, storytelling, and the importance of obituaries.

“We are human. We have stories. We have legacy,” continues Orloff. “And obituaries are not about death. Obituaries are about life,” she explains.

We spoke to Orloff about how to create and use obituaries so that they can help families celebrate a loved one. Certainly, there are no rules to memorializing a loved one, but here are some of her top tips to remember.

Obituaries Are Another Place to Uniquely Celebrate Someone’s Life

Obituaries should celebrate someone’s life, rather than mourn their death, argues Orloff. “Like the funeral industry itself, the form and function of the obituary is changing as well. Obituaries can no longer be just a paragraph with some family names, a few dates, and the funeral information,” she says.

Instead, people are much more than that—and families are craving much more than that, too.

“Death is just one moment, but life is a collection of innumerable moments, filled with memories, tastes, sounds, friends, family, lovers, and everything else that is human and real,” says Orloff. Knowing that memories keep people alive, says Orloff, we should be “celebrating and memorializing a lifetime of our loved ones, not just consigning them to a few lines about their death.”

Creating a More Meaningful Obituary

Whether it’s a funeral director or a family member crafting the obituary, spending just a few more minutes can help it to read like a life story, says Orloff.

Here are her other tips to create an incredible obituary that truly honors a person who has passed:

Get specific. “The personal details really count,” says Orloff. Even if there are just a few of them, it can beautifully transform the whole piece. Details and specifics are what are going to make people smile as they read and pass along the obituary. When possible, ask open-ended questions of families and see what stories come out.

Think of what they loved. If you aren’t sure of where to start, consider listing out the person’s “favorites.” What did they enjoy doing? What were their hobbies? What kinds of stories reflect those favorites? Thinking along these lines can help to add detail and can help uncover great stories. “A simple list definitely constitutes a true obituary,” says Orloff.

Start sharing stories. Ask family members and loved ones to share stories, if they haven’t already. You can even have an obituary that is an assortment of anecdotes, says Orloff.

Describe an exceptional moment. What made this person distinct—or what happened, at any point in their life—that is still important for people to know about today? What do any of their high points or successes reveal about their craft, or how they made people feel, or their relationships, or their family? In other words, start with something interesting about their life and expand on that story. “Compiling a collection of moments that define the beloved’s character and illustrate their life also makes for a compelling obituary,” says Orloff.

Don’t be afraid to add in humor. “Above all, don’t be afraid to be lighthearted or humorous,” says Orloff. It’s a message that can be passed along to the family, if appropriate, as they craft the message. “Remembering our loved ones through a smile is the very best way to remember.”

A Powerful Question for Funeral Directors

One of the most powerful things a director can do: shift the focus and provide quick guidance. “Funeral directors hear a lot about how a person died, so I would encourage these directors to ask the simple question: How did your loved one live?”

As simple as the question may be, it’s effective in shifting the focus of the conversation from death to life. Doing so can help provide much more valuable information to create and bring together stories that will help families celebrate a life.

“The director can also tell the family, ‘Hey, that’s an incredible memory, be sure to include more of those in the obituary. Write it down just like you told me.’ The results from that bit of instruction would certainly produce something beautiful of which the family would be very proud to share.”

Put More Time Back In Your Day

CRäKN allows us to, at any time, log key information. We may be out in the field, or at home, but it’s a big game changer for us to be able to enter information from anywhere.” —Denise Mercier, Funeral Director at Geo. H. Rohde & Son Funeral Home

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