This week I’ve chosen to expand on a previous column about writing an Ethical Will. The reasons for investing the time and energy to create one are numerous and significant. It allows the writer to make her deepest wishes and values known. To leave a tangible legacy behind as a way of being remembered. To confront mistakes and regrets; to inventory our lives; to help us age gracefully and celebrate life even when the end may be grim. To offer our wisdom and life experience to our survivors.
The birth of our second grandson, Kade Ryan on the 19th was a blessing that emphasizes the continuity of life. An ethical will is a labour of love that will help this small boy learn over time who his grandmother is and was. It gives the writer a voice and a platform that might otherwise be hard to manage in today’s busy lives. It also allows us to tell our story in our own way and our own words.
Because it is our final gift it will be as different as we are. The solo man in the small class I attended scanned photos of old girlfriends (and wives) and added captions explaining what influence each woman had in his life. Other photos showed schools he attended, bands he played in. Isn’t that a helluva lot better than leaving behind boxes of loose photos with no names, dates, or details? One of the women has been collecting letters, programs, and other mementoes that will surely become part of her legacy. She treasures letters written by her mom that reveal the (non-mother) person she was. How often do our kids think of us in any terms other than parent, chauffeur, banker, babysitter, or disciplinarian? Do they know what our peers think of us? What we’ve accomplished in the larger world? The struggles or challenges we may have hidden from them? What our top ten pieces of advice would be?
What I envision for mine is a personalized one for each kid. It will be a combination of typed and handwritten parts done on archival paper and largely housed in an album. I will adopt the scanned photo idea. I will also include ephemera I may have saved or created during my lifetime. Since I’m a painter, incorporating images seems a no-brainer. Another idea that appeals to me is creating a PowerPoint presentation saved on a zip drive. As much as that is of the moment, we do have to wonder just how long that technology will exist. The written word, on the other hand, is forever. Packaging all this in a beautiful suitcase or treasure box would be the final special touch.
Addressing broad topics like personal information, personal happiness, the role of others, life advice, forgiveness, and final wishes provides the structure of the ethical will. It also makes what could be an intimidating and paralyzing job doable in bite-sized chunks, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites..