Nothing says “romance” like writing a will with your Husband.
In our life together, a will was something that Husband and I had always discussed with the same kind of bored disinterest that we had when saying things like, “Do you want to eat chicken for dinner tonight?” or “When do you think one of us going to break and pick up that sock that’s been in the hallway for three weeks?” Making a will was an Adult Thing To Do, and we never really felt pressed to do something about it. For the eight years of our marriage, we had never really sat down to do the thing because, well, if one of us died, well…hey, does anyone want chicken for dinner tonight?
The extent of our discussion was generally self-limiting. Husband has rolled his eyes at my (pathetic and absurd) Family-Circus-esque view, which means that I will haunt him, much in the same way that the creepy grandma in the comic haunted all the kids all the time. (“I wish Grandma was here.” “I am.”) I’ll always be there, even when he ends up making it with some semi-attractive woman with a cat with a kidney problem (because somehow that always happens; when women die, the husband always ends up in a second marriage to a woman with a cat with renal failure).
But now that we have children, the issue of our deaths becomes much more complicated. Because it’s not just about Husband or I being alone and heartbroken, sifting through boxes teeming with the letters, photographs, detritus and mementos of our romance and life together, sorting through clothes that smell wonderfully like one another, lying awake at night wanting to share thoughts or stories that only the other would understand. There’s Eliana and Lila to think about, who will also be alone and heartbroken. Children who, hopefully, won’t get totally messed up just on the off chance that both of their parents die—perhaps simultaneously—in their formative years.
So it was with a trembling sense of our own frailty as humans that I made the call to Herb the Lawyer about making a will. When he came to our house to discuss the will, a mere two days before Eliana was born, Husband and I sat in the kitchen, sipping coffee and eating bagels as we cavalierly discussed our immortality. My belly had grown obscene, and in my final nesting instincts, it seemed extremely important to map out what would happen to our children if we both died. Call me an optimist.
Herb the Lawyer went through the questions clinically. Who would the kids go to if we died? (My parents.) What would happen if my mother and father couldn’t care for our children? What would happen if only one of my parents were living; would we want the children to go to the one surviving grandparent? What if both my parents were dead? Which sister would get the kids? Who would control the money for the kids? When should the kids have access to the money? What if we both died, and our children died, then who would get our remaining assets?
Each question was nauseating. I mean, I love bagels, but sitting at a table contemplating the people I love in my life dying and the emotional and financial ramifications of those deaths—well, it put a damper on my cream cheese and lox. It really did.
And of course, the most fun was coming up with the living will part. As in, let’s say I’m a vegetable. What do I want Husband to do? (Answer: keep me alive for as long as possible through feeding tubes no matter what/no matter how miserable an experience this is for my surviving family members or me; if possible, cryogenic-freeze me until science has caught up to cure my vegetableness. When I have been unfrozen, get me awesome plastic surgery so that I look like a Brazilian supermodel.) If Husband is a vegetable, what would he like? (Answer: Husband Unplugged.) With horror, Husband and I realized simultaneously that, in the case that one of us is left a vegetable, the other would likely want to do the exact opposite of the vegetable’s wishes.
And unfortunately, vegetables can’t voice dissent. Which means that I’m probably gonna get unplugged if the situation presents itself, and Husband is going to live forever and then get plastic surgery so that he looks like a Brazilian supermodel.
After Eliana was born, the envelope with The Will came in the mail.
Husband and I both avoided it—as if making eye contact with it would somehow kill us. It sat on the island in the kitchen for days. Then weeks. Then months. We avoided confronting our mortality like it was that sock in the hallway.
Then the Lawyer started calling. We thought, at first, that he cared about our well-being and our comfort level with the documents. Or that he wanted to see if the baby had been born. Or that he wanted account numbers or something like that. As it turned out, he just wanted to get paid. And he wanted us to sign the wills.
We couldn’t avoid it any longer. When mortality stares you in the face, eventually, it’s mortality that wins that staring contest.
We made our appointment to drive to north Jersey to sign the papers. It was a rainy day– the kind of gloomy, depressing day that seemed just cinematic and perfect for signing a will. As a family, we drove to drop Lila off at nursery school together, with Eliana in tow. As we drove, Lila whined about not getting jellybeans, which she now seems to think are “owed” to her for doing normal things like brushing her teeth, getting dressed, and generally acting like a normal person. She whined for ten minutes and then cheerfully bounded down the hall of the school into her classroom, without looking back. As I watched her light brown pigtails dance behind her as she skipped on her merry way, I thought about how nice it must be– to be three, and to truly believe your are invincible. I remember feeling that way once.
Husband and I got back in the car. The large envelopes with the wills sat between us like grave markers. Eliana snored lightly in the back seat as rain streamed down the car windows.
As we pulled out of the nursery school parking lot, I asked Husband, “Do you think we should read these? Like before we get to the office?”
“We’ll probably look like idiots if we don’t. Yeah, why don’t you read them while I’m driving, and we’ll write down comments or questions.”
“Okay.” I opened the sealed envelope and tried to relax. “Well, this is fun, isn’t it?
I slipped the first will out of the envelope and started reading it. As I read the words, “The Last Will and Testament” and then my husband’s name, I felt a sob well up in my throat.
And no one was even dead yet.
“You know, the next time this document is out, only one of us will be reading it probably.”
Both of us went quiet.
“I don’t want you to die,” I whispered. Tears welled up in my eyes, as if I was already in mourning, already drowning in a sea of loneliness. Husband’s eyes began to water, too.
In sympathy, Eliana started to cry in the back seat. I unbuckled my seatbelt as we drove on the highway, turning around from the front so I could give her a pacifier.
Sweetly, Husband commented, “Try not to die before we sign the wills, okay?”
Finally, still intact, we arrived at the lawyer’s office– a sad-looking, dreary place with mustard-colored carpeting and ripped orange leather chairs. Herb walked us through the wills and then invited two witnesses who worked in the building into the room to sign the wills with us.
And that was that. We were all set to die. Yippee! We wouldn’t have to look at those documents again until….well, until.
As parents, we don’t get a whole lot of time for reflection. The moments that we get are few and far between– a minute in the shower, thirty seconds in the car before someone cries out, when you sign a will, and in the dark of night as we try to sleep but worry instead. Life moves forward at a frenzied pace when you live with a baby and a three-year-old; it’s time to get dressed, time to eat, time to go to school, time to have a snack, time to play, time to do work, time to clean up, time to pump, time to go to the supermarket, time to take a bath, time to sterilize the bottles, time to go to sleep so you can do the whole thing over again ad infinitum.
After writing our will, I can’t say I’ve wanted to make time to think about my own or my husband’s mortality. In fact, our deaths still fall squarely under the heading “I’d rather lick my kitchen floor than spend my free eight seconds of the day discussing/thinking about this.” But whether it’s subconsciously or purposefully, since we signed our wills, I’ve found myself making more of an effort to enjoy the time that we have together. Yes, it is hard to enjoy when you find yourself fighting a war with a three-year-old about why the shirt with the bunny on it wearing a tiara is in the wash. Or why there are only Oreos in the car for snack, not White Cheddar Cheez-Its. And it’s not easy to enjoy when you’re up at three A.M. trying to get a cranky, coughing baby to go back to sleep when you’re so tired yourself you feel like your eyelids need scaffolding to stay open. And there’s just no denying that parenthood and adult life just plain suck when your child staunchly refuses to listen to you, or when you feel so overwhelmed that even making dinner that does not include a chicken nugget seems like a Herculean feat. But these moments are just that– they are moments. They are seconds in the flip book that is your life and your family’s life together. That frustration you felt welling up inside you dissipates, and the days go on, with that familiar rhythm that is known only to your family. But one day, it will happen– you’ll notice that you’re still Mommy or Daddy, and you’re still wearing the same clothes, eating the same foods, telling the same jokes, making the same plans, and you haven’t changed all the much, but suddenly, your three-year-old is using words like “enormous” and “actually,” and your baby is squealing with laughter, or trying to roll, or is she really reaching her arms out to you or are you just imagining that? Your eyes catch Husband’s, and though you say nothing to each other, you can tell from the smile in each other’s eyes that you know you’re thinking the same thing at the same moment: “We’re just really unbelievably lucky, aren’t we?”
So yeah, we’re “ready” now– in the financial and legalistic sense– to die. But in this moment as a parent? I’m ready to live and savor the seconds that we have together– the bad and the good– before they get lost.
Because where there’s a will, there’s a way.