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July 8, 2019 Beyond The Dash

How to Write an Obituary on Facebook

Tips for sharing a life story on a social network

How to Write an Obituary on Facebook
Social media can be used to publish a life story, but proceed with an abundance of caution. (Pexels/Pixabay)

The ways we consume media have changed substantially. Obituaries have traditionally been published in print newspapers as a means of announcing a loss.  But print technology is no longer the most cutting-edge means of distributing information. With social media at our fingertips, we're able to publish our thoughts on any subject at the touch of a button. Life storytelling has taken on new forms, as our digital profiles speak to our lives in real time. But how does social media relate to our expressions of death? 

If you're unsure how (or if) to write an obituary for Facebook or another social media platform, read on!

Print to online

Publishing life stories is a special way of announcing a death, and commemorating a life. For notables and celebrities, this tradition dates all the way back to Roman times. It wasn't until Civil War days that regular folks started being commemorated in published notices. Newspapers were fundamental to this emerging form of memorialization. To this day, it is tradition to announce a loved one's death in the Obituaries section of the local newspaper. 

Today, most print publications also have a digital counterpart. Online newspapers offer many benefits:

  • Less paper waste

  • Instant distribution to readers

  • Greater engagement with content (commenting, sharing and liking)

Cutting out the middleman

Some families prefer to cut out the newspaper's role as a middleman, and publish a loved one's obituary online themselves using social media. There are benefits to posting a life story directly on social media:

  • Free to publish

  • Writer can edit any time

  • Direct control of the life story

  • Greater control over privacy 

However, these benefits also come with some risks. It's important to understand the risks of a social media obituary before you go ahead and post one online.

Considerations to make before clicking "Share" 

Before writing an obituary on Facebook, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the purpose of this story?

The way you tell a story depends on your ultimate goal. Before you begin writing, jot down your hopes for this story. Is it primarily a biography? A tribute? A death announcement? A comforting message to others in mourning? All of these are valid ideals for an obituary—what's important is setting a clear intention for the story you are about to write.

  • Is Facebook the right place to host this life story?

Now that you have an idea of what you would like this obituary to accomplish, consider the types of publications available to you: print newspaper, online newspaper, digital obituary, Facebook, Twitter, somewhere else? There are many options available for getting a life story into the public eye, but some lend themselves better to certain types of stories. For example, if the story you want to write includes many personal details, you may wish to publish on a platform like Facebook, where you can control who sees, comments on or shares the life story.

  • Who should see the story?

Privacy is one of the most sensitive aspects of life storytelling. Obituary writing tends to attract its fair share of family drama. You should never reveal another person's private information, but what constitutes private information? Striking the right balance of personal yet appropriate may be difficult when every family member has a different opinion on what to include in the story. 

Writing an obituary on social media comes with certain risks, but one benefit is that you can directly control the people who can see it. Using privacy settings, you can curate the audience of a post so that all can share anecdotes that are close to the heart. But remember: Anything online has the potential to be shared. Screenshots can be sent to anyone, so share a sensitive post with loved ones only.

  • Can the story be added to the deceased person's memorialized profile?

When a Facebook user passes away, a designated loved one or the next of kin can contact Facebook to turn their account into a Memorialized Account. If this has been done, it may be possible to add this obituary to their Memorial Account as a pinned post. The Legacy Contact cannot log in to a Memorialized Account, read private messages or delete content. However, they can write a pinned post, respond to new friend requests and change the profile and cover photos. 

Tip: Did you know you can designate a Legacy Contact, who can take care of your memorialized profile in the event of your death? In your Facebook account, go to Settings > Security > Legacy Contact section in your account, and choose a trusted loved one to handle your online presence when you are gone. 

  • Is this the centralized place for remembering your loved one?

The place you choose to publish your loved one's story will act as a centralized hub for remembering them. As the years go by, loved ones may use this digital memorial to post messages on deathiversaries, holidays, birthdays and other special anniversaries. 

Ask yourself: Is Facebook accessible for all family members and friends who may wish to visit the online memorial? Think of the youngest and oldest mourners—will they be excluded by publishing on this platform? If so, it may be a good idea to rethink making social media the primary keeper of this life story. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that, aside from a pinned post in a Memorialized Account or dedicated Tribute page, it's not possible to keep an obituary current on a profile's Timeline. As you share new content, the story will move further and further down on your Timeline. If this is part of  your goal for the obituary, a Facebook post should do the trick. If not, consider creating a Facebook Group or memorializing the deceased person's account instead of sharing this obituary as a regular post. 

  • Does the tone of this story match the medium of publication? 

Pick a publication that will support the tone you want to convey. When people are browsing their feeds, they don't usually expect to read of the death of a friend. Reading the obituaries in a newspaper is a different experience. Though there is no way to prepare for the news of a death, the Obituaries section of the newspaper offers context and a warning to readers that the content will be death-related. If this is the initial death announcement, there are several etiquette and timing considerations to keep in mind, before posting. 

Informal anecdotes about their life, short condolence messages and life-affirming memories may be appropriate for a life story on Facebook. However, a solemn death announcement that strikes the more formal tone of an obituary may be better suited to a digital obituary publication or newspaper.

  • Does this story need content moderation?

Though you can adjust your settings to make a post more private on Facebook, most families want a loved one's obituary to be public. A public obituary may be shared with all who knew the deceased person. On Facebook, public posts are open to comments from people all across the globe: Usually that means family, friends and acquaintances, but occasionally also means trolls, scammers and even enemies of the deceased. 

Many people don't expect a person from the past to come out of the woodwork with a nasty comment in the aftermath of a death, but it's more common than you may think. That's why content moderation is so important for an obituary that is displayed online. Most online obituary services and newspapers offer content moderation in their obituary packages.

How to write a life story for social media

Now that you have considered some of the factors involved in publishing an obituary on social media, it is time to start writing. If you have never written an obituary before, it may seem like a daunting task. However, creating a death announcement, obituary or creative life story does not have to be difficult. Use the tips and tools below to craft a meaningful obituary for Facebook.

1. Gather information

The first step of any writing project is research. Before you can begin to write a person's obituary, you need to understand what happened in the course of their life. Gather biographical information:

  • Full name

  • Birth date

  • Death date

  • Place of birth

  • Place of passing

  • Place of residence

  • Name of spouse

  • Names of survivors

  • Names of predecessors

  • Pronouns of those mentioned in the obituary 

  • Details of life milestones, such as a marriage or graduation

  • Level of education

  • Passions, hobbies and talents

  • Funeral location, time and date

  • Any other special instructions to funeral guests, such as a charitable donation

Because a Facebook obituary already defies convention, it's okay to include family stories that share the deceased person's unique spirit, sense of humor or special qualities. Whatever you decide to write about, you must get the facts straight before you can begin. This may mean asking family members, looking through photographs, consulting legal records, or making some calls. 

2. Draft — quicky!

The faster you write your first draft, the better. Even if this version is rife with errors, getting the base of the story down in words is the hardest part. You can always edit for grammar, spelling, accuracy and form later on. 

Do whatever you can to get your draft on paper quickly. Beyond the Dash has many obituary writing resources available for anyone who needs help or inspiration. You can also use an interactive obituary template to generate the foundation of a life story in real time. 

Use Interactive Obituary Template

3. Edit for structure

Now that you have a draft of your initial thoughts and points to include, it's time to review it for structure. Many obituaries begin by announcing the death, then proceed through the deceased person's life from birth chronologically back to death again, noting funeral arrangements at the end. Depending on your loved one's life story, a different structure might be more suitable. Think of how you can deliver this story to readers in the most engaging way. This might mean trying out a few different ways of arranging information. 

4. Fact check

Your draft is probably starting to look more like an obituary by now. This is the perfect time to go back over the information you have included and ensure that no errors have crept in. Dates, spellings of names and events can change when you're making structural changes. Ensure everything still makes factual sense and is accurate before proceeding. 

5. Get outside help

An obituary is often a family affair. Let others read the story you have drafted. They can act as a second set of eyes when it comes to facts and accuracy, but they also have more ideas for the story. Family members will help you point out issues before the story is published. This can help mitigate complaints later on. 

6. Choose a photo 

Choosing the right obituary photo is one of the most difficult parts of telling a life story. It may seem like there are too few or too many to choose from. You should select a high-resolution photo that portrays the deceased person in the best possible light. Here is a more detailed explanation of how to select the perfect photo for an obituary. 

7. Proofread 

Proofreading involves carefully looking at the entire story for grammar, spelling, spacing, format, accuracy and tone. This is your last chance to verify the obituary before publishing. In this step, you can make the final decision about where to publish the story. If Facebook doesn't seem like the best place to publish this story, consider a free online obituary provider, like Beyond the Dash.

Create an Obituary

8. Publish

Publishing may not be as easy as hitting 'Share'—first you must investigate the settings you have in place for posts. It's a good idea to first scroll through your Friends list to ensure that all who ought to have been notified personally have been informed of the death in a more sensitive manner than a Facebook post. Make sure the post settings are consistent with your privacy goals. 

Facebook also offers a preview feature that allows you to view your story as it will appear before publishing. If everything looks good, you are ready to share your loved one's story on Facebook!

Share memories with loved ones 

A digital memorial can provide space to share memories, offer condolences and pay tribute to a life well lived. Posting an obituary on a social media platform is not without risks, but this method of sharing life stories is possibly the most accessible to all. 

Many families will also create a free digital memorial with a reputable online obituary provider, and then share that story on social media as a post. This can help with issues of content moderation, as a good obituary service will offer guestbook post moderation. Publishing on a reputable platform can also assure readers that the content is true and trustworthy. 

Wherever you choose to publish a life story, what matters is timing, tact and respect. As long as you hit these marks, the obituary story can be a centralized place to remember your loved one for years to come.

Your loved one had a remarkable life. Tell their story, and we’ll publish it online for free.

After creating an online memorial, you can also publish in print in any of over 6,000 newspapers across North America.

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