My wife and I have been updating our wills and the financial and legal documents that go along with them. It’s a strange, awkward process. We discuss a scenario in which dying triggers a whole series of events from which one or both of us will be absent. No surprise that our language often starts out euphemistically—“when I pass…,” “when you’re gone…,” and then gets blunter. Financial and legal people, for whom nothing personal is happening in these conversations, are blunt from the beginning: “… so when you die, this will happen….” Throw in a few “predeceases” and “survives.”
I have mixed feelings about all this. I can see why many people just put it off. The conversations are grim in that they’re about death, but the main event is only a turning point, without any content of its own (which in a bizarre way is accurate; death is an absence of event). Maybe a stronger reason why talking about wills is tedious is simply that it is difficult—complex (the financial and legal details are often beyond me), sensitive, and with perhaps long-term consequences for people. And it’s unpleasant—a real sense of mild disgust—that the event of such deep personal concern to me generates so much specialization and imposing paperwork because it’s about money.
At the same time, though, the process is an odd relief. It is a mode of preparation for dying without having to get too gritty and mournful about the whole thing. It’s numerical and clean. The money takes over as a surrogate for the person. It will, years from now, be a stand-in for me that others will presumably have some interest in, a quantity that will likely be more easily and happily managed than the old man himself was at the end. In that way, at least, the process is not a bad deal.