I have very few memories of the weeks after my father’s
death. It was July in New York City, but I don’t remember the baking heat or
the sweaty feeling of waiting on a subway platform. I don’t remember what I
talked about with the friends who gathered around me or what the sympathy cards
looked like that poured into my mailbox. The details of the investigation into my
father’s car accident are gone. But I do remember my stepmother’s voice on the
phone telling me that my father had never written a will.
“There’s no will,” I repeated to my mother, shaking my head at
her stunned expression.
Numb from shock and grief, I remember feeling irritated by
this news, but not surprised. My father had a habit of avoiding some things he
would rather not confront. How else to explain the fact that a middle-aged man
with two children from two marriages, who owned property and a small sailboat,
who collected books, records, and guitars, who had published stories and poetry
and taught students to love literature, would have neglected to make any legal
provisions in the event of his death?
Don’t laugh. It’s not even at the top of the list of all the
things I swore I would never do. Sometimes adding things to this list feels
like the definition of parenthood. But I am aware that I have a will writing
problem. And I think I’m getting clearer about my mental block. It’s not dealing
with money or stuff, or even thinking about my own mortality. It’s the guardian
thing that stops me cold. How to choose a guardian who would raise my two-year-old
daughter if, God forbid, my husband and I both passed away.
I mean, how on
earth do you do this?
So, I took a small and very unscientific survey of moms, and
I found that I was not alone in avoiding this issue.
Mom of two, Caroline was completely stumped, since she couldn’t
imagine naming any of her “dysfunctional” or “lame” relatives as guardians.
Annabel had settled on a sibling and a best friend to care
for her teenager and toddler, the people who she felt best “modeled” her own
life. But she hadn’t told any family members about this decision, predicting a
total freak out from her sisters-in-law, who think “they invented mothering.”
Kristy’s priority was to find guardians who shared her
faith, and she was struggling because this excluded her parents. She had tentatively
broached the subject with some friends who seemed to be up for it, but they
hadn’t made anything official.
And then there was Laura whose brother had passed away as a
young adult. “I feel some extra responsibility to look out for my parents
emotionally,” Laura said, “I figured if my husband and I both died, my parents
would not be in a good place at all to take care of my kids after losing both
of their children and son-in-law.” Acting out of concern and compassion, Laura
had still worried about hurting her parents’ feelings when she had chosen close
friends as guardians.
It was Lila who summed up my personal hang up. “We need to
trust someone would do their best,” she said, explaining that she and her
husband had chosen his parents to care for their three kids.
But how exactly does one do that?
Of course, no one could be a replacement for me or my
husband. But how do you trust that someone could manage the chaos and grief of
a major tragedy, provide enough stability and care, model something that
resembles your morality, and love your child with even a fraction of what you
have in your heart?
I know I can’t be will-less for much longer and maybe Alison had the answer when she suggested a reward system. “The process
depressed the hell out of me,” she said. “Everyone who schedules that
appointment with the lawyer deserves a cocktail right after.”
I couldn't agree more.
Disclaimer: Names have been changed because, hey, this is personal