I don’t want to die. I am healthy and active and merely 61-years-old. My 86-year-old father is a nationally ranked tennis player, reinforcing the belief that if I keep eating and living well, my genes will take me past 90. So, until now, I felt justified in postponing writing a will. Everything involved in creating one seemed hellish to ponder.
I have some money saved, but my biggest asset is the coop apartment I own in NYC. It is my deep love and my sanctuary. Once I’m dead, it will be instantly transformed from a beloved home into a series of onerous chores for others; someone has to clean it out, sell my stuff, list the apartment for sale, and distribute the proceeds.
Sell my stuff? Who am I kidding; my things are of no monetary value to anyone but me. I think of myself as a curator of found objects, carefully choosing and displaying old discarded items in ways that please me when I look at them: an old Duck Food sign, a red tin bucket, 15 broken clocks, a child’s toy sewing machine, a 1962 pennant from the Grand Canyon. Each thing is a memory or treasured fantasy to me, but their value surely dies with me.
I am no better at thinking about people who will survive my death. My son will turn 22 next month; he is a mercurial artist whose entire life has been a hopscotch board of crises, a third of which have been life threatening. Who will run or fly across the world to save him when I no longer can? My partner has three children of his own and lives out of state with them. If I imagine him re-marrying, I am filled with resentment. When I imagine my friends getting together without me, I am filled with FOMO.
Then, two weeks ago, a Facebook friend posted a link to a blog and I immediately recognized the face in the photo as belonging to my dear friend, Jo. She was forced to move back to the UK after the immigration laws tightened here post 9/11. We ultimately lost touch about 10 years ago. In that time, I now learned, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and is currently fighting for her right to die with dignity, at her own hands, in her own time frame. Soon. I reached out and we reconnected instantly.
Yes, it’s an odd time to (re) find a friend, as she is in the process of dying and leaving me again, but our interactions have been profound and I am incredibly grateful for this time together. In sharp contrast to my whining about my death and the subsequent poor fate of “my stuff”, Jo is focused on her survivors. Her heart breaks for the pain her illness causes her mother, and she has planned a death scene that she hopes will soften the grief for her sisters and friends. (She spoke eloquently about this on British television the other day.)
Jo’s courageous fight for her death woke me up to the responsibility I have to those I love. Although, today, I have no idea when I will die or how, I owe it to my son and my partner, family and friends to make plans, to make a will. It is an act of love for them, not a befriending of the grim reaper.
I called Carrie and Elisia Ross-Stone, the two lawyers who own Rainbow Law, and asked for their help. I knew that they started the organization in 1999, soon after President Clinton signed DOMA, to help all LGBTQ people get their legal “ducks in a row”. They still give away advance directives (DPOA, living wills and medical powers of attorney) for free, and offer 6 basic legal document packages — specific to state laws — designed to fit a variety of circumstances and queer family types, all for insanely low fees. It’s possible to fill out most of the required information online, but I decided to call and have them hold my hand through the decision-making.
Planning my will wasn’t fun, but neither was it difficult. I faced all the odd facts that are my life, including who most needed my financial help, who could be trusted to climb the paperwork mountain that being an executor might be, and how to honor, in will-language, the many people who have loved and supported me throughout my life. Carrie and I spoke for an hour. She had a way of making something scary and legally daunting into a gentle, intimate and kind conversation. Based on what Carrie told me, I probably should have set up a trust, but I think I reached my planning limit this round.
I am waiting for the rough draft of my will to arrive by email. I already think there are some changes I want to make before I sign it, and I know Carrie will be fine with that. Once it’s complete, I plan to tell Jo that she has inspired me to think of my death and take care of my survivors. Her plan, assisted suicide, is illegal in the UK and in 45 states here, all the more reason to take advantage of the legal tools we do have. I did it: I made a will.