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August 14, 2019 Beyond The Dash

How Late is Too Late to Write an Obituary?

Writing an obituary weeks, months or years after a death

How Late is Too Late to Write an Obituary?
Many people regret not publishing a life story for their loved one. Fortunately, it's never too late to pay tribute to a special person with a digital memorial. (Getty Images)

When someone dies, their closest loved ones are suddenly responsible for planning a funeral service and handling the legal arrangements. Shock and grief can cloud the entire funeral planning process. Even anticipated deaths can be surprisingly painful when the time comes. Meaningful memorialization is important, but can fall by the wayside in the bustle of funeral planning. 


Time crunch


Among the many tasks that must be done is the writing of the obituary. Because obituaries are often also used to announce the date, time and place of the memorial services being hosted, it is important to write and publish the obituary story within the first few days following the death. It's a writing task that carries emotional meaning for those who are grieving as it is one of the main ways we as a society memorialize our dead. 


With all the pressures of grief and funeral planning, it comes as no surprise that many families skip the obituary story. 


Can I publish my loved one's obituary long after the death has occurred?


Short answer — yes


It's never too late to write a tribute in honor of a loved one who has passed. Grief is an ongoing journey. For some, it can take years to feel better. Part of the process is going through old photos, reflecting on the person's life and finding a way to pay respects to them. An obituary can help with this long after the death has occurred.


However, a death notice is time sensitive, and needs to be published prior to the funeral. 


Death notice vs. obituary


While the terms death notice and obituary are often used synonymously, they actually refer to two separate (but similar) forms of life story notice. Both can be valuable tools when a loved one has passed away.


An obituary is a notice that is published in a newspaper or online to commemorate the life of the recently deceased. This notice will announce the passing, briefly describe the life and character of a person who has passed, and provide all pertinent funeral service details so that loved ones may plan to attend. 




  • Death notice 




A death notice purpose is to let the community know of a death before the funeral service. Because of this, death notice are much more time sensitive than obituaries. Luckily, they also require less writing, editing and fact-gathering work to publish.


A death notice should be published at least two days prior to the date of an open-invitation funeral, so that all who wish to attend can make plans to do so. If the funeral is invite-only, publishing a death notice is a way of making this boundary clear to all.


Below is an example of a standard death notice. Where an obituary would go into detail about the life of the deceased, listing survivors, predecessors and funeral events, a death notice simply announces the death and provides funeral service details. 



Mrs. Roxanna Smart, 75, of Tampa, entered into the sunset of life on July 20, 2019. Home Going Service, Sunday at 3:00 P.M. at Brewer & Sons Funeral Home. 



When there is limited time to produce a full obituary before the funeral, a death notice is a helpful intermediary that can do the job of announcing the death, without the pressure of writing at length.




  • Obituary




An obituary is a more detailed version of a death notice. While many families use the obituary notice as their way of announcing a death, the whole life story does not need to be rushed in the days following death. Doing so is hard on those who are mourning the loss and busy with other arrangements. 


As long as the death is able to be confirmed via a funeral home or death certificate, an obituary may be published any time, be it weeks, months or years later.


Using an interactive obituary template


Writing is hard. Writing the life story of a loved one within a week of their death is even harder. Read up on how to write an obituary before you begin. You may also use this free Interactive Obituary Template to generate the life story of your loved one within minutes. 


Use Interactive Obituary Template


A therapeutic exercise 


There's no denying that writing a life story directly after a death is a difficult and often unwanted chore. But remembering your loved one as they were in life can also be the first step in healing from grief. There's something therapeutic about reflecting.


In many ways, an obituary acts as a modern-day permanent memorial in honor of someone who was loved. Those who place a loved one's life story in their local newspaper may clip and save the story as a record of the written tribute. Others who create a digital memorial have a centralized place to visit the life story, share memories, post photos and offer condolences. A digital location means you can visit the life story and memorial, no matter where in the world you happen to be. A digital memorial can also be shared with friends and family, reaching loved ones in a way that no other type of memorialization can.


An obituary need not replace a tombstone, plaque, memorial bench or other permanent memorial, but it can complement these memorial structures.


A death notice, obituary, or a combination of the two, can help you honor the life of your loved one—no matter how much time has passed since the death. Click the button below to get started on a free digital memorial. 


Create an Obituary

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