The Story of Your Life: Evolution of the Obituary

by Amy L. Silva Rigtrup

Obituaries date back to ancient Rome, where metal or stone slabs inscribed with announcement of a death and details of the funeral would be hung on a wall in the forum for all of the citizens to see. A community was provided a general space for citizens to share community announcements.

Newspapers, from the beginning, took on the role of the forum, providing that general but local place where people could share their loved one's passing. Staff writers would compose appropriate and dignified obituaries - and due to the long period of newspaper affluence - these obituaries were news pieces and free of charge. From the 70's up until the late 90's there was a mutually beneficial compromise. The obituary was free and somewhat formatted, while the details of the funeral services became a (reasonably priced) classified ad called a Death Notice. 

With the presence of the Internet, everything started changing. Online obituaries bring life to the obituary, adding capabilities for the community to engage with the bereaved family in a variety of ways. Many predicted, quite prematurely, that newspapers would become obsolete. Yes, newspapers have fewer subscribers, higher overhead and less staff, but the fact remains: Newspapers are not going anywhere. Newspapers still provide the valuable "Forum" - the general place with the greatest community reach to share the news of somebody's passing. It is the reference point that people immediately turn to when word of mouth alerts them of a death, but they need to find more information. Most of that information is what leads them to the funeral home's obituary.


My incredible guest on this week's The Silva Lining was John Heald, Vice President of Funeral Home Business Development for, the largest obituary network in the world. John has an extensive background in the funeral industry and his ahead-of-the-trend accomplishments with and have given him valuable insights into the needs of three affected parties that don't usually connect; Funeral Homes, Newspapers and grieving families. John and I discussed some wonderful examples about the potential power the obituary can amass when newspapers and websites are used hand in hand. There are also options available to optimize both mediums on any budget.

We also talked a bit about personalized obituaries and I wanted to share my Aunt Ana Larrivee's obituary as an example of truly injecting the essence of a person into their tribute:

"A sixties flower child turned earth mother; Ana was a natural, fun-loving beauty, a great friend to many, always young at heart and full of life. A positive energy, she enjoyed music and dancing, and good times were sure to be had when she was around."

Here, I'd like to share with you a collection of interesting and unforgettable obituaries - my favorite is #2! CLICK HERE to read the article from Huffington Post. It really highlights the different ways obituaries can be written and even the phenomenon of people self-writing their own obituaries.

So here we are. Newspapers and the Internet. Newspapers are charging anywhere from $200 to $1500 for obituaries. Funeral home websites provide a free alternative for families to create an obituary but lack the reach of the newspaper. The key is this. Regardless of budget needs, utilizing both newspapers and the internet is the best way to make the most out of the obituary that portrays the way your loved one will be remembered, the lives touched and left behind, the love shared, and above all, the call answered to gather all of those who will provide love, support and cherished memories with the family.

To learn more about please visit their website where you can search for obituaries around the world by name, location, newspapers, etc. and find amazing resources about creating obituaries, funeral etiquette and grief support.

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