Hearing someone you know has passed away is never easy, especially if that person is a close friend or relative.

That’s why it’s better to learn about it first from a close friend or relative, ideally while you are somewhere quiet and comfortable - like home. Before making any announcements on social media or submitting a death notice to the local newspaper, let close family and friends know first. The best thing to do is see people in person. Failing that, a phone call will do.

Be direct and respectful, avoiding overwhelming emotion if you can help it. As someone sharing the news, you’re likely close to your loved one as well, so this can be difficult.

When speaking with people, you should also let them know to avoid posting anything on social media until everyone has been informed. It can be crushing to learn of the death of a loved one on a channel like Facebook before hearing it from a relative first.

Spreading the word

When it comes to letting the extended community know, you have a few options.

It’s important to remember that none of these are required. You aren’t bound by any laws to share an obituary or death notice. It’s entirely up to you - as well as your budget. There are costs associated with posting death notices and obituaries in local publications.

Posting death notices and obituaries vary widely by publication and the length of time you want the notice to appear. Costs also vary depending on the length of the obituary and whether or not you want to include a photograph. In general, bigger cities and bigger publications mean higher costs. Costs can range from $150 to $1,500, depending.

If you have concerns about privacy, it’s also worth noting that obituaries, funeral home notices and death notices are often search indexed. This means they can be found using a simple Google Search for the person’s name. This is common, but may be something you want to take into account if you don’t want any search-indexed records of your loved one’s name.

Death notice: A death notice is a short, to-the-point announcement of your loved one’s death. It includes their full name, age and date of death, as well as any funeral details you might have at the time. It’s typically issued the day following a death. Often, the death notice is replaced by the obituary once one has been written.

Obituary: An obituary is a longer form, more personalized announcement. It is often used to memorialize the person, sharing details about their life, family and community. Obituaries can vary in length, with an average of 200-250 words. Depending on the story you wish to tell, some publications will take obituaries with up to 450 words.

Funeral home: The majority of funeral homes have websites where they post funeral details and death notices for their clients. Some even have memorial walls where people can write in and share tributes. Typically, the family will instruct the funeral home to include the death notice or obituary, alongside an image of their loved one, for people to see. If you are having a private funeral with no visitation, be sure to make this clear in the posting.

Social media: Social media has been used as a reliable way of spreading the word and letting people know about major life events - death included. After loved ones have been informed on a more personal level, you may choose to let your social media connections know. This often involves sharing some heartfelt feelings about your loved one, along with a photo of the two of you together. You may also choose to link and share the obituary or death notice so others are kept in the loop about funeral details.

Sharing the news on social media is entirely optional and depends on your comfort level.

Some tips for writing an obituary

Every so often, you see an obituary go viral on social media. Often, they’ll go viral because they are either uncommonly funny or especially poignant. One more recent example is that of Marilyn DeAdder. Her son Michael, a cartoonist, wrote a long obituary studded with both humour and deep admiration for his mother.

Obituaries are best when written from the heart. Of course, not everyone is a writer. Nor should everyone have to be. The great thing is, though, that there are standard details found in every obituary that you can follow.

Here are a few key elements:

  • Full name, date and location of death.
  • Manner of death (occasionally detailed)
  • Predeceased and surviving family members
  • Community associations and clubs
  • Funeral details and memorial details
  • Personal stories and personality traits (occasionally detailed)

The personal stories and personality traits are where creativity comes into play.

You don’t need to write with the aim of going viral. Look at what your loved one was best known for - something most people who knew them would say.

One of the best ways to gather details for the obituary is by asking questions to those who were close to your loved one.

You could ask questions like:

  • What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ______?
  • What is something ______ loved doing?
  • What will you miss without _____?

You can make the research process a bit easier by sending out an email to request responses to your questions, or start group chats on social media with select groups of friends or relatives.

Be sure to paint a complete portrait. If your loved one had a long career or active community life, take that into consideration while you write. Chances are, there are members of their extended network who have stories to share or know things about your loved one you may not have even known! If your loved one was passionate about their job or community work, be sure to include a mention of those in the obituary.

Lastly, ensure you get a second, or third, set of eyes on the obituary. Feelings can be hurt if a relative is left out of the surviving family list, or if someone’s name is spelled incorrectly. Always save time for editing.

Do what feels right

Think about what your loved one would have wanted. Were they a social person, with a long career and a wide network? Chances are, they know people you’ve never even met before who might like to be kept informed about the news and funeral details.

Were they more private and reserved? Was their death a tragic one? You and your family might choose to be a bit quieter with the announcement and keep things private.

How you choose to notify people is up to you and those closest to your loved one.