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July 15, 2019 Brigitte Ganger

What to Write in an Obituary Guestbook (With Examples)

Signing the digital funeral register with memories, condolences and meaningful quotes

What to Write in an Obituary Guestbook (With Examples)
Signing an obituary guestbook is your way of letting the family know that you care. Don't let writer's block prevent you from leaving heartfelt condolences. (Getty Images)

Not sure how to phrase your condolences? You're not alone. Many people struggle to put their thoughts into words in the aftermath of a death. Read this article to overcome writer's block and offer comfort to others who are mourning a loss.

Digital memorials connect loved ones

A digital obituary offers many advantages for a grieving family. Not only can they edit and add to the life story, but it's also possible to receive condolences in the obituary guestbook. The guestbook can become a centralized place for everyone to read the life story, share thoughts and keep the memory of the deceased person alive. 

Overcoming writer's block

Though many people offer their thoughts online everyday, the weight of a death can make it more difficult to leave a message in an obituary guestbook. You may feel pressure to say the perfect thing—something that will comfort the bereaved, compliment the deceased and convey your relationship with sensitivity and tact. This overwhelming sense of responsibility leads to writer's block. If you let it get the best of you, writer's block could prevent you from ever leaving a message of condolence.

Before you begin, remember this: Nothing you can say will make this tragedy better. However, there are ways to show your support. Your goal is not to heal grief, minimize the tragedy or fix anything. Even the most grandiose, heartfelt, well worded message can't change what has happened. Realize these limitations before you sit down to write a message of condolence.

Writing a message of comfort

There are many traditional and creative ways to sign an obituary guestbook. Think of those closest to the deceased before beginning to write. If they are more on the conservative side (or if you don't know the family well), err on the side of caution in the words you share. Otherwise, it can be meaningful to write informally, from the heart. 

  • Sign the guestbook with your name

The obituary guestbook is a modern version of a funeral register book. These books are sometimes displayed at funerals to keep track of those who attended. Traditionally, guests to a funeral or memorial would sign their names in the register book, and briefly note their relationship to the deceased person if this was not clear. 

In grief, it's not unusual to become forgetful. Certain moments become burned into a grieving person's recollection forever, while other moments in time vanish from the memory permanently. The register is a tool that allows the family to recall the events of the day.

This tradition doesn't have to go by the wayside. Many people simply sign their name in an online obituary guestbook, to let the family and other mourners know that they read the life story. If you have no words of comfort, consider typing your name as a sign of support to those in mourning.

The digital guestbook is a modern replacement for the funeral register book. While it's appropriate to sign your name to acknowledge you read the story, a longer tribute can be more meaningful. (Getty Images)

  • Share a story

There are some stories that are told and retold in families for generations. If you have a story that shows the deceased person's character, sense of humor or important relationships, consider sharing it in the obituary guestbook. Online stories can be read by loved ones all over the world. Those who don't live close may enjoy catching up on the special moments they missed. Taking the time to write about times spent with the deceased will be appreciated by those near and far.

Tips for storytelling:

  • Choose a story that is likely to be well received by everyone. 

  • Avoid writing about the circumstances of the death.

  • Focus on celebrating life, rather than the tragedy.

  • Both solemn and lighthearted comments are appropriate—just remember to be respectful of all you mention. 


One year on our annual hiking trip Dad found a litter of kittens that had been abandoned on the side of the highway. They were in rough shape, barely alive. We canceled the hike, took them home and he spent the next week or two nursing them back to health. I'll never forget the way he took care of those kittens. He was a compassionate man who now lives in heaven with God. RIP Dad.

  • Offer simple condolences

If you want to offer more than just your name, but lack the words to write a detailed message, it's acceptable to include one simple line as your guestbook note. A short-but-sweet sentiment can accomplish your goal of showing support and offering comfort. 

Try to be sincere. Rather than posting generic phrases like "RIP," or "thoughts and prayers," try rephrasing a simple condolence into your own words. 


My family is thinking of you at this time. 

We loved Chris! I was so sad to hear of this tragedy this morning. Sorry to hear of your loss.

  • Write a longer tribute

If you knew the deceased person very well, you can write a full tribute to their life from your perspective. This format of guestbook message is more like an obituary, as it will detail certain parts of their life that you are most familiar with. If you plan on doing this, don't repeat what has been said in the main obituary story. Rather, highlight areas of their life that close family members or friends might not know. 


I am really shocked to hear this sad news. I worked with Tina at the ARF for over 2 decades. Tina was an exceptional work colleague. It was so pleasant to work with her. Always in a good mood, positive and very professional. She really had a way with people. Everyone loved her. She was laughing all the time. Thinking of Tina, we immediately see her beautiful smile. She was both a valued colleague and a true friend. There are some people that make work worth it on the dreariest of days—that was Tina.

  • Include special memories

Listing your most memorable moments with the deceased person is another way to frame your message in an obituary guestbook. You don't have to tell every story in detail to evoke the memory of a time spent with someone special. This kind of message is especially meaningful when other visitors to the guestbook were involved in the memory you are sharing. Reminding people of the good times is a great way to soothe grief. 


Thinking of all the times we got milk shakes at Moe's, and those nights at the cabin sleeping under the stars...I'll never forget you! 

  • Poems, quotes and scripture

If you are struggling to find the right words, consider using the words of another. If the family is faithful, it can be meaningful to leave a religious message or quote from scripture. If the family is not religious (or if you are not sure of their faith), it's best to avoid sharing religious messages as this can be a sign of disrespect. 

There are many thought-provoking quotes from poets, lyricists, and other great literary minds about death that can be comforting to a grieving family. Choose thoughtfully, and let the eloquence of famous thinkers speak for you. Just remember to attribute the original author.


"The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?"

—Edgar Allan Poe

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35, 37- 39

  • Family connections

Many people use the obituary guestbook as a means of connecting with friends and relatives from the past. If you come across an obituary of someone you knew, or someone related to a person you know, you may feel compelled to reach out in the guestbook. It's appropriate to do this, but remember not to reveal any of your personal information online, such as your address or phone number. 


Is this the same Lou Borgen that went to Danville High? It's been so long since I've heard anything of my old friend, and I'm heartbroken to hear that Lou has passed. If anyone in the family wants to contact me, I have some old photos that you might enjoy. 

What not to write

It should go without saying that an obituary guestbook message should be written with an abundance of tact and sensitivity. Your message can be personal, positive, or even humorous—as long as it is appropriate. Here is a list of the kinds of messages not to leave in an obituary guestbook.


  • Complain about how the death or funeral was handled.

  • Complain about the list of names included in the obituary.

  • Air any family drama.

  • Discuss anything pertaining to money, inheritance or legal issues.

  • Accuse anyone of criminal conduct.

  • Describe the death or medical circumstances leading up to the death.

  • Self-promote.

  • Express suicidal ideations (contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255).

  • Mention of the cause of death or other private health matters.

  • Threaten anyone.

  • Post religious messages intended to convert others to that religion.

  • Contradict or correct the published obituary story

  • Use language that could be offensive to others reading the guestbook.

Remember, your message in an obituary guestbook is a formal record that you read the story. It is your published note of condolence. What you write may stay online for generations as a family record, so make sure your final submission is appropriate, compassionate and thoughtful.

Reactions to condolences may vary

Even if you leave the most heartfelt, well worded tribute to a life well lived, there is no guarantee that it will be well received—and that's okay. When a loved one passes away, those closest to them sometimes resent the condolences they receive. Tired of having others tip-toe around them, they may not appreciate messages or gestures that remind them of the death. The thoughts and prayers of even the most well intended loved ones can seem insincere and meaningless. 

As a person offering comfort, don't expect those in mourning to thank you. Whether or not your sentiments are appreciated now, it is still worthwhile to share a message of condolence. When the family looks back on the obituary guestbook in the years to come, they will be more prepared to appreciate the thought. 

Create an Obituary

Sometimes there are no words

Sometimes there are just no words. When a loss occurs, those who were closest to the deceased person are inconsolable. Only time, introspection and emotional work can heal the pain of grief. These labors must be undertaken by the grieving person, with support from their family and friends. 

Having trouble writing an obituary? Try our free interactive obituary template.

Fill in some information about your loved one, and we'll generate some text that you can use as a starting point for your online memorial.

Try now
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