What if you go first? If I remarry? What if I get sick? If you're crippled? What if we die together? If we all die? What if… What if… What if… We both want to be cremated, that's a given. He wants to be scattered at sea. I don't. Too wet. Not to mention cold. Brrrr. Somewhere dry, please. Somewhere warm. Actually perhaps a beautiful antique urn upon the mantelpiece. That would be nice. Except it wouldn't be, would it? Not really. You'd miss me, wouldn't you? I know I'd miss you. It would suck. Life without you. Life without me. I can't even begin to fathom it, can you?
We have been rewriting our wills, revising our life insurance policies. Tedious tasks. Cumbersome chores. The kind of jobs you put off. Dread. Rail at. The kind of jobs a major life change will finally impel you to tackle. If you were on a Caribbean cruise and, after one rum punch too many, you went overboard, so your husband jumped in to save you but sadly you both perished in the shark-infested waters, who would you want to look after the kids? They are the most painful scenarios to imagine, the grimmest conversations to have and yet, partly because solicitors and insurance brokers are trained in the art of rendering hypothetical tragedy and trauma innocuous, cloaking your potentially miserable fate in legalese and complex equations, and partly because no one really believes anything so shitty will ever befall them, we have found it oddly enjoyable. If your husband was hit in the head by a golf ball and required around-the-clock care for the rest of his life, how much financial freedom would you hope to have?
After our last appointment with the lawyer we went out for lunch and deliberated at what age we'd like our children to receive their inheritance were we to die prematurely (18? No, madness. 30? Too harsh?). Cheers! Here's to us! We laughed ourselves silly over decisions made in earlier wills, over my outrageously generous bequest to a charity now besieged by reports of sexual misconduct in developing countries. Only inserted, I pointed out, in retaliation for his various bequests to random people from his past. We marvelled at what on earth we were thinking when we named her as an executor. Her! We hardly even speak anymore.
Lying in bed this morning I leaned over and murmured in my husband's ear, "Tonight, sweetheart…" "Mmmm," he said. "Yes, my love?" "Tonight, sweetheart, we need to redraft our memorandum of wishes." "Great," he said, "can't wait," rolling away with none of the anticipatory vigour with which he had rolled toward me. "It's vital we do it," I said. "In order to be prepared."
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But are you ever really ready for your own end? Years ago I judged an older family member who died angrily, fighting against it with his very last breath, as having been ill-prepared for what I saw as his inevitable passing. I considered it undignified somehow. I get it now, though. Even if you believe in something else, something afterwards, death still means that this life, in all its messy ordinariness, in all its horrible wonder, this life is over.
In the face of someone else's need, I asked last week, are any issues you may have invalidated by your relative good fortune? Lesley, whose current living circumstances are causing her untold stress, said she holds on to an older friend's advice: "Darling, you are allowed to feel exactly how you want to, it's free, you know." Victoria says she sometimes wishes we weren't so conditioned to politeness. "Being grateful for what we have is important but I think it should be okay to have a meltdown now and again and say what we really think and feel without being judged by others or ourselves." Mark says he shares many of my misgivings. "If everything in my life was going swimmingly I'd probably have the time to donate some effort to a worthy local cause, like helping homeless people, [but] all my energy at the moment is taken up with my family and my job." Lisa had this gem: "Every time someone says 'First World problems' in response to any of my troubles, I curtly remind them I do, in fact, live in the First World." And Rachel this one: "Single people have single people problems, married people have married people problems, poor people have poor people problems, and wealthy people have wealthy people problems."