Given today's ever changing family dynamic, etiquette for even the most traditional societal norms has changed with the times. The writing of an obituary for an unmarried person falls into this category. While in years past the only type of domestic partner mentioned in an obituary would be a spouse, today things are quite different because of growing numbers of couples in long-term unmarried relationships, same-sex couples and high divorce rates.
At the family's wishes, an obituary may include a detailed biography of the deceased, but the main purpose is to provide information to the public. Among the most critical details are the names of the immediate family. The names of the deceased's parents are always included, along with their children and grandchildren.
Married survivors usually are listed with the name of their spouse; for example, "survived by son James and his wife, Ann." Unmarried survivors are typically mentioned alone in the listing of other family members, such as, survived by loving daughter Carol. If the deceased is married, the name of the spouse should be listed at the beginning of the obituary. A common phrasing begins, "John A. Smith, loving husband of Jane (Jones) Smith..." and continues with the other pertinent details.
Etiquette for the Widowed
In the case a person was predeceased by his spouse, it is appropriate to mention this in the first line as well. Phrasing could begin, "John A. Smith, loving husband of the late Jane (Jones) Smith..." This indicates that he was, in fact, married. Because he did not remarry, etiquette dictates that naming the late wife at the opening of the obituary is correct.
Generally speaking, the former spouse of the deceased is not mentioned in the death notice. Some exceptions apply. If the couple was married for many years and had a family together, or if they are still very friendly, it is up to the immediate family of the decedent whether or not to mention the ex-wife. However, she should not be listed at the beginning of the obituary. It would be appropriate to include her name as the former wife in the listing of surviving family members.
Traditionally, the obituary listed only blood relatives and family by marriage. However, this tradition has become altered over time. If the deceased has a significant other who played an important role in his life, the partner may be mentioned in the listing with surviving relatives. While the first line has been a place reserved for a spouse, "survived by partner Linda" has also become an appropriate way to memorialize an unmarried relationship. It is up to the family to decide whether the relationship between the couple has been significant enough to warrant mention of a partner in the obituary, and where.
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