There were a couple of times last year when I thought I might die. A medical event here, an Arctic shipwreck there. Amid it all, I downloaded an official Quebec last will and testament form, but did I print it, fill it out and sign it? No. I’ve been trying to convince myself I’ve avoided it because it is stultifying, like doing my taxes; I’m digging in my heels out of a fear of boredom. The problem is, once you pass this deadline, no late fee can make amends. I learned too that in Quebec a spouse is not automatically entitled to one’s assets after death. So I decided that today, day 13 in my year of resolving to daily do something I’ve never done before, I would do something about making a will.
After I brush my teeth, make a nice café au lait with the lovely mocha pot I bought on St. Denis, and write a thousand words of my comic murder mystery, I told myself, I will look up and phone a Montreal lawyer who does wills.
On second thought, I mused, after the coffee and the writing and a second brushing of my teeth, maybe today should be the day when I go shopping for that wooden foot massager I have been promising to give my dad.
And so it went, until, in front of the mirror brushing my teeth yet again, I was forced to confront the fact that writing a will fills me with dread. I thought I was unafraid of mortality, but it turns out I’m not. Beginning the process of writing a will is to step over a brink. It is to admit, without a doubt, that you are going to die. Death is not an imaginary state. It isn’t a thing that visits some but not others. It will not pass you by. Your body is going to rot in the grave, or be burned, and there will be all sorts of things you have left unfinished, and while you may have thought at times that oblivion might turn out to be a sweet thing, you do not want to write a will and invite that sweetness.
I remember the day youth left me. I was sitting in St. John’s, on Duckworth Street, and a young couple with a baby walked past me, and I realized for the first time what youth had been to me: it had been my element, and it had felt effervescent; a pulsating element in which I moved without knowing its existence; an enlivening force, made of hope, chlorophyll, sky and dreams. Youth had rain in it, and golden edges of light, and suppleness, and the moment I recognized this, I recognized that it had departed. It was, as Dylan Thomas wrote, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. And that same force, he wrote, is my destroyer.
The acupuncturist I saw yesterday told me that some people grow old and reach new levels of enlightenment, but others simply grow old. I have realized, since I glimpsed that young couple the day my own youth departed, that if you live long, you are old for much longer than you were young. Part of me is learning to love the idea of attaining greater wisdom; the notion of age being a desirable stage of life.
But the part that remembers youth balks at writing a will. We don’t know what death brings, no matter what kind of faith we profess to have or not have. Will I, upon dying, have to meet the old, dead husband I used to know? Will he be there waiting to accuse me in death as he used to love to do in life? Wasn’t I glad when death parted us! Who knows what death brings? Then there are the people you leave behind: the beautiful daughters, the beloved companions. Who did I think I was kidding when I claimed death didn’t bother me?
Still, today, I have decided to face death in this one little way; the way of making my will. I did not take a big step, but I did take the small step of writing to a friend whom I think has the right connections, and asking her to recommend me a Montreal lawyer who can help me do it properly. As one reader has pointed out to me, some of my daily doings here will take more than a day to accomplish. When I get the will signed and sealed, I will keep you posted. In the meantime, it’s Carpe Diem, isn’t it.