Saturday, September 17, 2011

DIARY 148 - Controlling things from beyond the grave

It's taken me years even to get to this point. Years of reluctance, over an apprehension that writing a Will might presage, or advance the date of my death. As most people die intestate, I assume this superstition is not uncommon as a reason for delay. It's not even a complicated Will to administer. I haven't huge amounts of money,property or investments, my executors will have a relatively straightforward task, disposing of my possessions and sorting out my meagre finances. There has been no substantial reason for my procrastination, other than procrastination itself.

I bought a 'Write Your Own Will' pack a couple of years ago, which then gathered dust on a shelf in a plastic square cut folder. On my solitary in May, I finally made the time to draft it. In the end it didn't take that long. The thing I pondered over most was not who would get what, that was actually the straightforward bit, but the content of my funeral service.

Whilst working in Cambridge Crematorium, I'd witnessed some highly impersonal services, rushed and perfunctory, often glaringly inappropriate. I know that the style of service, the choice of readings and music lies very much in the hands, if not the tastes, of your nearest and dearest e.g. an 88 year old Grandma's coffin can indeed enter the chapel to the raucous metal screech of Iron Maiden! I guess this has informed my intentions with regard to my own funeral service - to not leave nothing to chance and state exactly what I want.

Once I'd written out my Will, decided on music and readings, then I found myself feeling profoundly sad. Here was something, however much I might envisage it in my minds eye, plan or organise it to the minutest degree, I would never see or experience. I'd never hear what people said about me or the service. It was like I was devising this one last theatrical spectacular like some sort of parting gift, to evoke or say something about me, about who I thought I was, what I thought my life was about,expressing, or is it imposing my tastes, refinements or sensibilities on the world. This one concluding show is to sum it all up, and be performed without rehearsal. I can let go enough of it now, to accept that even these best laid plans may indeed very much go astray.

What people say about you at your funeral is out of your control. You hope they'll focus on the good bits, if there are good bits, and gloss over the darker stains on your carpet. Those eulogies are the final testament of the effect you've had on the people who'll survive you. Though even that effect will be brief, lasting only the lifetimes of your close friends, relatives and colleagues. Soon, who you were, what you were like, or what you did with your life, the sense of you as an individual will forever be fading towards complete forgetfulness. Nothing will survive of you for long. Your self possession, and your effect upon the world, becomes revealed as a collective collusion, if not delusion of grandeur.

What moved me most about planning my funeral service was my absence. It would be the one event concerning my life I would not be there to witness, one thing I was bound to miss. So, why was I so concerned about what happened after my death? Was I trying to ensure that in some way my life was not all in vain? For I have witnessed funeral services for people where no one turned up. Where no one alive cared enough to say goodbye, bar the funeral director, a vicar for hire, and if you were lucky a care home assistant who'd nursed you till your crumpled into death. Whilst it's ignoble and humbling, and what no one wants, it does happen. All we can hope is that we'll be too gaga to notice or care that much before we die. Through trying to control things beyond the grave, my ego is trying to fight off the idea that in the bigger picture my life was merely a blip and mattered for nought.

So, though I've written my Will out, in my neatest handwriting, I still have two things to do; confirm who my executors will be; and sign the dratted thing in front of two witnesses. That, I can see, might be worthy of some further procrastination, before I finally set the seal, and let go, of what I want to happen after I die.

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