How To Write A Meaningful Tribute

It is an emotional process writing the final record of a person’s life. Even those who write regularly get writer’s block, lose motivation and procrastinate. It is even harder to write when announcing the death of a loved one. Not only are dealing with grief but you are feeling rushed.  Nevertheless, many find writing a tribute to be a positive, therapeutic experience.

Our hope is this guide can help with the challenges of writing a tribute, so you can focus on your loved one and the special life they lived.

Step 1: Assemble basic information 

In times like this, it’s helpful to discuss the details with close family members or friends. You may not recall all the pertinent details right now—where your loved one was born or when they graduated or received their degree. When you are grieving, your memory may not be at its best. Consulting others who knew them will help confirm the information you need to tell their life story accurately. 

Start by gathering basic information like:

  • Full legal name and any nicknames
  • Birthdate and date of death
  • Birthplace
  • City and state of residence at death
  • Name of spouse or significant other
  • Name of their children
  • Names of those that preceded them in death
  • Names of those still alive

Step 2: List major interests and milestones

Make a point form list of their family life, interests, and major events. Start from the beginning and include the important events along the way. 

You can include such things as:

  • Childhood 
  • Education 
  • Military background 
  • Honors and awards 
  • Marriage 
  • Children 
  • Grandchildren 
  • Employment 
  • Extra-curricular activities 
  • Retirement 
  • Home life 
  • Special pets

Step 3: Look at obituaries in your local paper or other tributes on our website

Before you start writing, read a sampling of tributes written by others. This will give you a guideline to follow.  Most tributes begin with the basic information and  follow with a summary of the loved one’s life.

Step 4: Start writing

As you begin to write about your loved one’s life, go into as much or little detail as you like. Don't worry about length. It is usually better to write more at first and cut once you have finished your first draft.

Your loved one was unique so include things that made them special and add the touching details that your reader might like to know. Include interesting tidbits, something the reader might not have known about your loved one. Don't be afraid to include humor. Sharing little known facts about your loved one with family and friends gives them something to smile about and lasting memories to cherish. 

If applicable, remember to include information about the date, time and location of any memorial service or celebration of life. If the memorial will be private, note that instead.

Step 5: Be sensitive about tough issues

If you need to address difficult questions about the cause of death, relationships, identity, and family conflicts, the most important thing is what the deceased preferred and what is least painful for their surviving loved ones. Here are few situations to consider:

Sexual Identity - If the deceased was born with one sex, gender, or name and made a change later in life, it important to accurately represent the way the deceased preferred to be known when they were alive. If they were transgender, went by a different name, or used non-gendered pronouns, respect that in the tribute.

Sexual Orientation - If the deceased preferred to keep their sexual orientation quiet, it's best to respect that by not including the information in a tribute. An tribute is not the place to disclose any secrets or private information. If the deceased was openly gay or lesbian and had a partner, the partner should be mentioned by name even if it might make other family members or friends uncomfortable. The tribute is about the deceased's wishes and desires, not the preferences of the community.

Ex-spouses - If the deceased remained close with their ex or they had children together, it's important to include the ex-spouse in the discussion of what the tribute should say. Leaving them out can cause unnecessary feelings of hurt and alienation during a time of grief.

Suicide or drug overdose – Including the cause of death is a very personal choice. A death can be doubly hard on a family if they feel that the deceased will be judged or shamed. However, some families may want other people in similar situations to know that they are not alone. Some families might feel more comfortable with a euphemism such as, "died unexpectedly”. If you prefer to be more direct, something like, “chose to end her life”, is better than “committed suicide".

Step 6: Avoid common mistakes 

Use this list to avoid common mistakes and to make the task of writing the tribute a little easier:

  • Don't make the tribute about those still living—make it about your loved one. 
  • Include information about your loved one's life, not just the funeral details. 
  • Avoid abbreviations or terms that everyone may not understand. 
  • Write in the third person. Refer to them by their first name rather than mom or dad or our son or our daughter.
  • Consider your loved one's wishes—not your own.
  • If they loved flowers, then allow people to send them. Remember that friends and distant relatives are grieving too and the act of sending flowers can help them deal with their grief. 
  • Don’t request donations for a cause your loved one didn’t support unless it is related to their cause of death like the Cancer Society or similar organizations

Step 7: Proofread, proofread, proofread 

Once the initial draft is complete, ask someone else to check for spelling and grammatical errors. Double check the spelling of names and make sure you didn’t  leave out family members or other important details. 

Step 8: Delegate

If all the above seems overwhelming or you just don't feel up to it—delegate! Writing the tribute shouldn't add to your stress. If you don't feel up to it or you aren't confident in your writing ability, pass the task on to someone who enjoys writing or that is good at writing letters. You can provide them with the information, make suggestions, and they can take notes. Make this easy on yourself.  Don't feel guilty about passing the task along if you are not up to it. Friends and family are glad to help in times of need.