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May 22, 2019 Beyond The Dash

How to Write a Child's Obituary

Learn to write a tribute in honor of a child who has passed

How to Write a Child's Obituary
The death of a child is a life altering event, that will also shake your sense of self. Writing an obituary tribute in honor of their life is a first step in memorialization, as well as the grieving process. (Getty Images)

The death of a child is a loss like no other. Not only do you mourn for the brief past you shared, but the future the child never got to experience on earth. It can feel like you've been robbed of your own future, too.


A detailed life tribute will usually cover some of the main milestones of a person's life: birth, education, career accomplishments, most important relationships, and death. When writing a child's obituary, it's easy to get hung up on the fact that these life milestones were stolen from your child. How do you even begin to write the obituary of a precious child who was taken away too soon?


1. Shift your perspective


First, remember that no two life stories are identical. You may have imagined your child reaching life milestones such as graduation, marriage or other successes, but these dreams are now going to go unfulfilled. Disappointment, uncertainty and a shaky sense of how life will possibly go on may be clouding your ability to write this life story.


It can be helpful to shed any ideas you have of what the child's life should have been, and focus instead on the actual life that they lived. The life story of a child is going to be very different from the life story of an adult.


2. Begin at the beginning


You may start a child's obituary the way you would begin any: with the announcement of the death, a summary of their birth, parents' names and place of residence. Depending on the age of the child, you may also wish to include the name of the school they attended.


You don't have to include the cause of death in the obituary. Most obituaries keep this information private. However, some families do include cause of death in the life story in order to provide more context for readers who don't know what happened, particularly in the event of a sudden or unexpected death. Providing this information may keep well intending busybodies from asking too many questions of those who are deep in mourning as well.


Example:



It is with great sorrow we announce the passing of our beloved Hannah. Hannah Chow passed away on April 24, 2019, after a 10-month battle with pediatric cancer. Hannah was born on January 7, 2012, to parents Donald and Trisha Chow, in Danville, Illinois.



3. Accomplishments


In a child's obituary, it's important to highlight the best moments that made up their life. Rather than focus on traditional adult milestones, you need to narrow your focus to the actual accomplishments of the child that has passed away. For children, accomplishments might mean a good grade on a test, learning to ride a bike, or being a good friend. These milestones are a precious part of childhood.


The childlike memories you include may seem to be at odds with the format of an obituary. Though most of the stories you read in the classifieds section of the newspaper may seem more mature than the life story you are crafting, remember: It's okay that a child's obituary seems different than those of the elderly! Your heart may feel like it is in the grave, but it's important to remember that this written tribute doesn't have to be completely solemn and dry. Readers will be most touched by a story that is honest, genuine and detailed.


Example:



Hannah loved reading about science, insects and especially butterflies. Her favorite time of year was spring, when she would 'discover' new species of insects, and show her collection to all who would look.



4. Impact


Even though death has come too soon, all life leaves an impact. Did their life or death teach people valuable lessons? If you are writing a detailed life story, discuss the ways the child benefited the world even though their time here was cut short.


Example:



Hannah faced pediatric cancer with a resilience and fortitude that inspired all who knew of her story.



5. Favorite people, pets toys and places


What did your child love the most? Special relatives or friends should absolutely be mentioned in the obituary. Some parents also mention their special bond with their child. You may also include the toys the child loved, their favorite color or an activity they enjoyed.


Example:



Though she faced a myriad of challenges that set her apart from her peers in many ways, Hannah made friends everywhere she went. She loved spending time with special friends Kiera Hartley and Sam Miller.



6. Survivors and predecessors


Most obituaries will list the deceased's survivors (loved ones who outlive the deceased) and predecessors (loved ones, usually family, who passed away before the deceased). This is a traditional part of obituaries, as it allows readers to draw connections about people and families that are linked. Because of this, obituaries are a valuable resource for those who study genealogy and create family trees.


Example:



Hannah was predeceased by maternal grandparents John and Cindy Hawke, paternal grandfather Wilson Chow, and aunt Tuca John. She is survived by her parents Donald and Trisha, brother Doug, and a host of family and friends.



7. Funeral arrangements


One of the main purposes of an obituary is to announce the date, time and location of any funeral arrangements that are being hosted in honor of the person who has passed. If the ceremony is to be invite-only, there is no need to publish the exact details of the service. However, this information is usually included so that those who knew the deceased person can make plans to attend memorial events.


Example:



Sunset Funeral Home has been entrusted with the funeral arrangements. A Celebration of Life will be held at Sunset Memorial Park, located at 3901 N. Vermilion Street in Danville, at 10:00 am. The family encourages all who knew Hannah to attend to share memories and celebrate her life.



8. Charitable donations and special requests


If your family has any special requests that guests should be aware of, it's appropriate to note them at the end of the obituary or death announcement. The most common special request is to donate to a charity in lieu of flowers, but you can make any kind of special request.


Example:



In lieu of flowers, Hannah's family asks that guests donate to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. The family will be wearing purple to the Celebration of Life, and invites guests to join in wearing Hannah's favorite color in her honor.




The grief of losing a child can feel unbearable. An obituary helps mourners remember their story, pay tribute to the life that they lived and let readers know their impact on others. If writing the life story proves to be too difficult, don't hesitate to use any and all tools that are available in order to write an obituary. Here are some tools, templates and resources to help you write this important life story:


Interactive Obituary Template


Video: How to Write an Obituary Using an Interactive Template


Obituary Writing Toolbox: Template and Samples


Coping With the Death of a Child


Create an Obituary


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