I had never wanted to write a will. There had been a dull sadness to thinking about it, the feeling of a premature jump to the end heightening my awareness of having reached the “halfway” point without some of the signifiers I’d hoped for by this stage. The absence of children and my current lack of a partner felt sharper in this context.
To consider the end forces an honest look at the now and all that has led to it. I’d fallen in love in my 20s and again in my 30s, but somehow had loved at the wrong time. A blend of the way things unfolded, of not taking a chance to go abroad with a man for whom I realised my feelings too late, and the misguided idea that the opportunities of those years would continue indefinitely meant these relationships hadn’t been formalised. When that possibility had come close, I had been looking in the other direction.
Now that I’m in my mid-40s, the not done has felt almost comfortable for being unconfronted. It still allows me the occasional thought that my life is about to start. But formulating a will, setting out what I leave behind, formalises the childlessness, which still feels like an emotional bruise. It forces to the surface my sadness that it took me until the age of 40 to focus on the question of a baby; too late for a baby within a relationship. As a passionate person, it seems I’ve needed the drama of the “almost too late” to take action.
Until very recently, when the idea of a will registered more sharply in the weeks leading up to an adventurous holiday, I’ve followed a routine of asking friends and colleagues what they have done, and received assurances that the process is simple enough.
Those who are single have tended to say that they are also mindful of the need to write their own and have not quite got round to it but must. The parents say, “It’s done but needs updating.” It seems that those with families act to protect what they have, whereas I would enshrine what I have not. The sheer act of airing my intention has stood in for further action, leading me to put the idea down again – in the way of a goal achieved.
But further delay began to feel like an indulgence, and a cliche. Terms such as intestate carved a deep hole of anxiety and my failure to act removed the care I could give to this by thinking it through. I needed to consider what I leave behind. And, more recently, there had been less comfort in sitting on the fence. My regrets, where they surface, are not about accepting the end but of making consequential the actions not taken. Perhaps in taking this step, I will arrive at peace of mind.
A representative from a firm that drafts wills came to talk me through the process. It was like being ushered through the last piece of homework I’ll ever have to do. I am its object as well as its subject. Dimly I imagine being rewarded with a special pencil or teddy bear for facing up to my mortality in this way.
But what strikes me about this whole endeavour is that it is an opportunity to honour friendship. It elicits a picture in my mind’s eye of my two, cherished godchildren; their parents are friends I can’t remember not knowing. Their gesture, in asking me to be guide, counsel, fun and friend to their child is somehow all the more precious for them not being family.
I think I am perhaps of the last generation in which friends were physical presences at a formative time in life before screen-to-screen social media became a mode – if not a demonstration – of friendship. They’re a framework that has given me the feeling of being surrounded by family. There is honesty, criticism and belief. And they know why Neil Diamond is a choice for funeral music.
Writing out the names and addresses of the relevant people seemed like a mix of a gift and an invasion. There was a discipline and perhaps a small vanity to making these gifts; to think what will have resonance. I’d like to bring about a continuation of the way I feel when I hold in my hands the piece of jewellery left to me by my much-loved aunt, my father’s sister, who died when I was in my early 20s. I can remember the way she was and the last time we spoke, which was over the phone, when I was studying in France. Equally, the first-edition Byron, given to me by my mother when I swam across the Hellespont 200-odd years after he did will, I hope, hold remembered as well as monetary value in its marbled pages.
I’ve got more comfortable with the terminology. I’ve located the various papers; the numeric paraphernalia of life, routine for those who note it, and for which those who don’t need to feel an edge of ending or anxiety. I have chosen my executors.
My life, without the children I had imagined having, has a type of sense. And further thoughts bring the idea that this action, now, caters for what would happen were I to stop tomorrow. It doesn’t cause me to stop.
I’m left with the shape I occupy in the world; a map of what I am for, or what I have been for. It’s not so bad, really. We’re told it helps to know where we’re from to know where we’re going; conversely, it has been valuable to me to know what my going (were it in my control) entails, for who I am. Now I can go back to living it.