Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Where There's A Will

Darwin is far from home this week, and by "far", I mean Stockholm, Sweden. This was a trip we knew he was likely to have to make ever since he started his new job in June, but it didn't feel very real until perhaps a week ago. And then I started thinking again about how we don't have a will.

For about a decade, I've made a resolution each New Year that this is the year that we will make wills. As you may have picked up with your excellent reading comprehension, I'm not very good at keeping that kind of resolution, and so, as the years roll by and the children rack up, we have gambled, mostly subconsciously, that the risk of both of us dying intestate is pretty low. As that's a bet we've won for many years now, the idea keeps getting shoved into the background as more immediate concerns will keep popping up.

But a transatlantic flight and a week's stay in a Nordic social democracy will get anyone thinking about mortality. It is time, I said, that we make a will, before you leave, I said. And I took action, too: I went down to the library and had them print off some official-looking will forms, and brought them home. And Darwin and I sat at the table and made wills, as one does, with our children sitting around kibbitzing, as they do. And let me say that some sibling of mine will be very surprised to they find they've inherited seven children.

But making the will is one thing, and making it official is another. Friday, before Darwin left, I was searching around for a notary who could witness our signatures, and striking out on front after another. Finally, after the close of business hours, I found an explanation: notaries are not necessary for Last Wills in Ohio. They can notarize the witnesses signing, but the Will itself is valid even without that.

Saturday morning Darwin had to leave the house at 10am, no later, to get down to his flight. At 10am, therefore, we were knocking at the neighbors' door on the odd errand of getting them to witness our wills, as one does at the neighbors' house on Saturday mornings.

The girl next door popped out her head and said that mom and dad were both out running errands. And Darwin had to take off immediately, and I was left standing with two unsigned wills and a husband gone to Sweden for a week.

Now this takes people different ways, I'm sure, but for me it had an unhappifying effect. And why? If it had been so all-fired important to get this thing done, I would have done it years ago. If it had been a matter of life and death, I would have made it a priority last week, not two days before the flight. Nor is it likely to matter, since the odds of Darwin dying in or en route from Sweden and my dying in Ohio in the same week are infinitesimal. And if only one of us dies intestate, the other is provided for already. Observe, as well, that in the 36 hours that Darwin has been gone, I have not rushed out and gotten my own will witnessed by amenable friends, which argues that my priority here was not simply legal protection.

People with severe medical issues, people who live on life's edges, people in precarious relationships -- they know that everything is balanced on a knife's edge, and that what is now may not be soon. Those of us who live in a more established fashion nurture the illusion that we control a great deal more than we do. No evening is guaranteed to end the way the morning promised. But when, day after day, most things do adhere to a semblance of order, it's easy to fall into the error that not just the order but the ordering is of our making. In this light, a will seems like a magical contract: sign this document, and because you are prepared for the bad thing, the bad thing will not happen.

But right now I have no will, and I'm also left with the unedifying revelation that what I fear is not my children becoming wards of the state. I fear being left alone with a family to provide for and no marketable skills, having just proven that when a paying project did come my way, I failed to apply myself sufficiently to complete it. I fear I have become comfortable and complacent, and that if disaster should strike, I would not be able to rise to the occasion.

It's always useful to write things out and look at them. In the cold light of my computer screen, these sentiments are silly and bathetic, and they're not even what I actually believe about myself and my competencies. But the feelings from which they were distilled are real. How mortifying, to admit that feelings have power! To be weak and vulnerable in such an unreasonable way! To crave self-sufficiency, and yet not be able to attain it! And this is the temptation of Eden, to be like God, not because one is God, but because of a trick, a stratagem advertised to ward off the ills of death.

And how remote all this will feel when Darwin comes back safely on Friday, and our unsigned wills sit patiently in the important papers file in the kitchen until my next New Year fit comes upon me. Until then, I call you all as witness that Darwin is my legal representative, and if we die at the same time or in such a way that no one knows who died first, his will is to supersede mine, even though it's exactly the same.*

*Hey, it's part of the will form, so it must have been an issue for somebody at some point.


Antoinette said...

The most important thing about a will is that it specifies who is the children's legal guardian if anything happens to both of you.

Agnes said...

"I fear I have become comfortable and complacent, and that if disaster should strike, I would not be able to rise to the occasion."
I think it's safe to suppose that this is not true - not the latest part at least, although we all need to pray for this, and very much hope we shall never be challenged that way.

Kelly said...

I think most families struggle with getting a will created. FYI, most banks offer free notary service for their customers. We used this a lot when we were adopting. Also, we have always carried a large amount of life insurance so that if something were to happen to one of us the other would be able to pay off the house and either cover the loss of the main income in my case or pay for all the children/housekeeping/etc that would be lost in my husband's case.