How to Handle Delicate Issues When Writing Obituaries


The circumstances of someone's life and death are not always easy to talk about. Especially in an obituary that could be the only article ever written about someone, and used for generations to come for genealogical purposes. What do you say?

What is an Obituary?

An obituary is a notice that announces the death of someone with a description of the person's life and list of family members. The obituary is often written by the funeral home or mortuary, but many people choose to write an obituary for their loved one that is published in the newspaper and included in the funeral program.

An Obituary is Not Where You Reveal Family Secrets

Writing an obituary brings up many questions about the deceased, the way they lived and the way they died. If a person writes his or her own obituary, these questions are not an issue. But what if there are certain circumstances that make people uncomfortable, or are family secrets, how do you deal with that? The appropriate answer is an obituary is not the forum for airing your views of the deceased, nor is it a place to reveal long held family secrets. Those are best left to conversations, letters and counseling. Find out how to write an obituary at

But What About Certain Delicate Issues?

If you are not sure what to do, like in the case of a traumatic death or if the person had a particularly difficult or unacceptable lifestyle, the best thing to do is to ask the people involved, no matter how hard it may seem. Some delicate issues are:

  • Cause of Death
  • Suicide or Murder
  • Surviving Family
  • Marriage or relationships

Cause of Death

It is quite acceptable to completely omit the cause of death if it is particularly difficult for the family to discuss for whatever reason. For posterity and to keep communication open a brief mention of what happened is also acceptable. Some families like to keep things quiet, while others prefer to have everything out in the open. That is for you to decide as a family while keeping the wishes of the deceased in mind.


This is a very delicate issue in an obituary. Again it is up to the family how they wish to proceed, but the number of suicides and murders is so high in the world today that briefly mentioning it as the cause of death may go a long way to helping future victims cope. And mentioning that donations can be made to the local suicide help center is also helpful to those who may be considering suicide.

Surviving Family

Who do you include and whom do you leave out? If there are estranged family members, or divorce and remarriage there can be a long list of relatives. It is best to sort all of this out and make sure that everyone is either included or excluded. By that I mean, include everyone, or draw the line at just immediate family.

List the names of mom, dad, brothers, sisters, their spouses (past and present) and children then just mention aunts, uncles and cousins.

Marriage or Relationships

Every family has one relative that married someone that no one approved of or is in a gay or lesbian relationship or has been living common law for years. They may or may not be married, but relationships like this can make people uncomfortable. If the deceased was in a relationship like this, speak to the surviving partner and ask how she or he wishes to be mentioned. In long standing relationships that traditional marriage cannot define, it is best to leave the terms to the people involved.

Remember that the important issue is that the deceased is remembered the way he or she wants to be remembered in the obituary. You are not writing it to make yourself or your family look good, you are writing it to remember the deceased and to honor his or her life and memory.

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