Preceded in Death: Meaning and Usage in an Obituary

Published January 11, 2021
Man reading obituary

Writing an obituary for a deceased loved one is an emotional and meticulous task. The obituary acknowledges the loss and captures a summary of the life of the deceased. Several unique phrases are scattered throughout the obituary. "Preceded in death" is a phrase that is used to place this loved one's death into a chronology of the family's life. Here is an explanation of the phrase to help you craft the words used in an obituary.

What Does "Preceded in Death" Mean?

The purpose of the obituary is to capture a summary of the life of the deceased. Speaking of the deceased's closest relatives is a way to identify the role the deceased played in the family. As the obituary comes to a conclusion, the names of the surviving family members will be included. The obituary will also indicate the deceased was "preceded in death" by certain people. This simply means the listed relatives died before the deceased.

Alternatives to the Phrase

The phrase "preceded in death" is synonymous with "predeceased." Many people choose the former because it sounds a little less stilted, while still maintaining an air of formality. A few other phrases that could be used include:

Obituary page
  • Passed away: The phrase "passed away" is often used to take a little of the edge off of the idea of "deceased." In the obituary, this phrase could sound like, "John's wife Jane and his mother Joan passed away prior to John's death."
  • Previously departed: As the relationships in today's families become more complicated, it has become common to use the phrase "previously departed" to identify friends and non-relatives, while still using the phrase "preceded in death" to describe the family members. "Previously departed loved ones included John's significant friend Sally Smith."
  • Religious phrases and symbols: When the loved one has a strong religious background, it is common to use phrases that echo religious sentiments in the obituary. "John is reunited in heaven with his parents, Joe and Mary Smith. He will also be reunited with his wife, Joan, who went to be with the Lord a little over a year ago."
  • Entered eternal rest: Another common religious phrase is "entered eternal rest." In the obituary, it might sound like, "John joins his wife Mary as they have entered eternal rest."

Who Should be Mentioned in the Obituary?

Because an obituary is a formal death announcement, there are rules of etiquette to follow. Although there are rules to follow, it is important to use good judgment and to honor the wishes of the deceased. One area that follows a protocol is the listing of the survivors and those who preceded in death. Usually the list included just the closest family members, but in today's world of blended families and ex-partners, the discretion is left to the writer of the obituary and the sentiments of the deceased. Here is the order for relatives and friends that should be followed.

  • The spouse is always listed first, along with the city where the spouse lives. Use discretion, but a partner who was not a spouse could occupy this position in the list.
  • After the spouse, the children are listed. If the children are with an ex-partner, the ex's name might also appear here.
  • The parents of the deceased also occupy a special place on the list.
  • Extended family members would be included next on the list. The tradition order would be grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Depending upon the size of the family, cousins might also be included in the list.
  • Adding close friends to this list is becoming very popular. These would be listed after family.
  • In today's culture, pets are often treated as parts of the family. The names of pets are becoming increasingly popular.

Crafting the Right Words for the Obituary

For decades and longer, the obituary has used a standard format for expressing the information about the deceased and the family. Tradition builds security and comfort. It allows the obituary writer to follow a pre-determined format. But if phrases like "preceded in death" are too stilted for the personality of the deceased, alternative phrases can be used to make the obituary more personal and meaningful.

Preceded in Death: Meaning and Usage in an Obituary