A primer on leaving a legacy to children and grandchildren

WRITING PRIMER: The cover of "Yours Truly: An Obituary Writer's Guide to Telling Your Story" (2023) by James R. Hagerty. Citadel Press 

Dear Loved Ones …

That's a good start to a long story, isn't it?

Those three words leave a lot of space for family tales and sharing the awkward, funny, happy and horrible things that you remember. But though there's room for questions, answers and emotions, you write Dear Loved Ones … and you're stalled.

So, now what?

In “Yours Truly” by James R. Hagerty, it's time to pick up a pen.

What will people say about you when you're gone? If you're rich, famous, powerful, or important, you probably don't need to worry. Someone like Hagerty, who creates obituaries for a living, will do a quick internet search and write a few glowing words about you. But if you're like most folks, one of your grieving relatives will dash off an obit that, well, let's face it – it'll be boring.

You can do something about that now, though. You can write your own story.

An obituary, Hagerty says, can be short or long. You don't have to follow a template or formula. You can use humor in it. And you can write it now.

To begin, ask yourself three questions: What have you been trying to accomplish with your life? Why? And, how did that work for you?

If you're not used to doing so, Hagerty says to set a small amount of time aside for writing – maybe 15 minutes a day. Keep a notebook handy for things that pop into your head quick, and jot them down. If writing seems like a burden, record your words digitally. But don't try to do it all at once or you'll burn out and miss some recollections.

Include your date of birth, siblings’ names, what your parents did for livings, your early hobbies, how you met your spouse, military service, things you hated to do and all the stories you loved to tell throughout your life. Give details, but don't boast. Ask the deep questions. And finally, be brave and include embarrassments. Says Hagerty, “Admit that things didn't always go as you had planned.”

James R. Hagerty

AUTHOR: James R. Hagerty, who writes obituaries for a living, author of "Yours Truly." Photo courtesy of Lorraine Li-Hagerty

Chances are that most people will pick up “Yours Truly” as a sort of primer on leaving a life's legacy to children and grandchildren – which is good. That's how this book is meant. But while you're learning how to preserve your stories and write your own obituary, author Hagerty gives you something else to do, too. He'll entertain you with dozens and dozens of obits from above-average people.

Don't be surprised, in fact, if you somehow forget about penning your own story while you're reading about the lives of everyday people like you. Those folks lived their best lives unremarkably. And though their tales aren't earth-shattering, they come in waves of irresistibility. Hagerty hints that the everyman tales are here to serve as examples and you should take them as such.

You should also take them to a comfortable chair, along with a pen and paper or a recording device. Read “Yours Truly” for yourself. Do it for the ones you love dearly.

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