How — and why — to tell your own story

By Ted Ayers | January 1, 2023

“Yours Truly,” by James R. Hagerty (Citadel Press, 2023, 202 pages, $25.00)

This book is subtitled “An Obituary Writer’s Guide to Telling Your Story.” However, don’t let that dampen your interest or spirits. This book is lighthearted, encouraging and delightfully written. “Yours Truly” made me chuckle out loud on several occasions.
Author James R. (Bob) Hagerty is the lead obituary writer for The Wall Street Journal. Hagerty has enjoyed a distinguished career in journalism over the past four decades, working as a reporter, editor and bureau chief for the Journal and International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong, London, Brussels, Paris, Atlanta and New York. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Dakota.
As Hagerty notes in his introduction, obituaries “remind us that even in the darkest times, people with a strong dose of optimism, tempered by a realistic assessment of human nature and their own abilities, have found ways to flourish, recover from calamities, earn a living, fall in love, and discover the joys of sharing any windfall that comes their way.”
Using chapters that offer practical step-by-step tips, he encourages the reader to think about the “final story” that gets written about most of us — and consider doing it ourselves. He believes “writing your life story is not painful, not morbid, and not a sign of vanity. Instead, it is an exercise that will enrich your life and the lives of those who read and learn from it.” As illustrative guides, Hagerty includes numerous summaries of life stories that he has written or that have been written about the famous and the not-so-famous.
Hagerty’s book is full of cleverly worded incentives such as:
“Write your own story while you can. Don’t leave it to family members, who are almost certain to make a hash of it.”
“Don’t assume that your family knows all your best stories.”
“If an obituary can’t be fun, what’s the point of dying?”
And my personal favorite:
“Talking about sex doesn’t make you pregnant and talking about death doesn’t make you dead.”
Hagerty reminds us that no one knows their own personal story better than we do. This book will help you reflect on your life’s journey and memorialize that journey for yourself and those you love.
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