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My Brain Does Not Like Some Possibilities
red river hog

I mentioned we're putting together wills. This means I've been thinking about what to do if I die a lot lately. I noticed something weird. My brain is perfectly happy to consider things like "What if I'm hit by a bus and die?" or "What if the plane to Hawaii goes down and we all die?" or "What if a giant meteor hits the house during Sunday dinner and we really-all-all-of-us die?" and various other permutations of accidents.

It won't think about what happens if anybody gets sick and dies.

It occurred to me on the way home that getting sick and dying is in fact more likely than being hit by a bus, but my brain just kind of skips right off. Getting sick and dying is not on the table here, for my brain. A certain amount of long-term, "Okay, thirty years from now Andres' risk of heart attack will be a lot higher," yes; "What if I get cancer?" no.

I think this is throwing off my risk assessment. I keep fretting about only having two spaces on the little will questionnaire for primary beneficiary and if-that-one's-dead beneficiary. Because I have thought beyond that point -- I haven't quite hit "What if Yellowstone goes and EVERYONE IN NORTH AMERICA dies?" yet, but I can account for what I want to have happen in quite a number of combinations of dead family members!

But really. We're likely to go one at a time. I can rewrite the darned thing in between. It is not like my wishes in situations beyond those presented in the document will be unclear.

(It's okay, really: I'll stop fretting Thursday evening when we've seen the lawyer. Until we're getting ready to have kids; then we'll have to do this again.)

(And when the giant meteor hits the house, remember: I PLANNED FOR THIS! IT'S NOT MY FAULT THERE WASN'T SPACE ON THE FORM!)

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In some ways we're "lucky," because timprov had already nearly died of a chronic and (at the time) undiagnosed condition when we got our wills made, and we had already had a brain cancer scare for me. (Note: as little as I agree with your governor, it was not, in fact, a tumahhh.)

I would not really recommend doing things our way. I think in some ways being able to not think about what happens if anybody gets sick and dies is better.

Y'know, that's one of those forms of "lucky" that... needs the quote marks, yeah.

Ugh. My brain is strange like this too. Yes.

I think I'm kind of lucky in that my first will was done while I was in the Army and about to be shipped to the Persian Gulf* and I was too young to take it all in. After that, it wasn't the first, so...

Anyway. G'luck, and good on you for planning.

* (didn't actually go)

I remember in one of my Psychology classes we talked about this phenomenon. When asked to write an obituary for themselves a huge majority will predict death by accident. A very small percentage will predict old age, but pretty much nobody will tick the box beside "sick and die."

Similarly, more people can imagine being killed in an accident than being paralyzed or losing a limb.


I wonder why?

I have a theory: So far, the times I have noticed I was in fact close to death have all been because of accident. (There was one time I had a really nasty stomach bug and realized I would not, at that point, mind dying, but I wasn't dehydrated long enough for it to actually be life-threatening.)

Also, accident and old age have in common that one doesn't think, "If they think that's how they're going to die, why don't they do something about it?"

If I wrote an obit where I died of heart disease, a person could think, "If she thinks she's at risk for that, why doesn't she exercise more and eat better?" Or if I said breast cancer, they could say, "Get regular mammograms if you feel you're at risk for breast cancer." But there's nothing they could do to tell me not to be on the road if another driver who was a stranger to me had been drinking, or not to keep getting older if nothing else happened.

Also, accident is a major cause of death for people in their teens and 20s, particularly men in their teens and 20s, so one's first experiences of peer deaths are statistically very likely to be accidental--and I think from a child's perspective it's very easy to blur "so-and-so got sick and died" with "so-and-so was old and got sick and died," even if they weren't very old from an adult perspective. And I think some parents encourage this by way of trying to ease their children's fears of death.

Hm. My first experience of peer death was leukemia. I didn't know him well, though; I was more affected later when my friend's father was struck by a train.

That's a good point about dying-of-old-age and dying-of-being-sick kind of blending together.

My first experience of peer death was leukemia, too, but statistically that's not the way to bet.

"If they think that's how they're going to die, why don't they do something about it?"


I think it's also because most people would prefer the "quick, and I never know it happened" or the "die in my sleep" to the slow and perhaps painful.

When I think forward I'm mostly okay with my body going. What frightens me is what I saw happening to my grandmother. Being aware of my mind collapsing one bit at a time. *shudder* Even being "trapped" in an old and ill body is better than not being me.


This is one of the things my grandmother has hung onto hard this year about losing Grandpa: we lost Grandpa when he was still Grandpa. He never got Alzheimer's or had a stroke or any other source of senility/dementia. Grandma keeps repeating that over and over again, how much he would have hated it, how glad she was he never got to that point.

We joke that we want to die together, in a fiery, sex-related accident, but the odds are we'll die of some disease or other. I don't feel all that emotional about it one way or the other.

I don't feel upset by thinking about the disease option, but it's hard to think about for more than a few seconds. My brain is like "Could get sick... hospital... OH LOOK A FLOWER WHAT SHALL WE HAVE FOR LUNCH TODAY?"

If there isn't enough space on the questionnaire, you just tell the writer that.

My will is basically "everything goes to cattitude. If he dies first, it is divided equally between these three people or, if they are also dead, any descendants of theirs. [That last part was the lawyer's idea.] At this point we're already past one and one alternate. If they are all also dead, it is divided between these two relatives. If all of the above predecease me, it goes to the Bronx Zoo." (The lawyer, again, suggested that I pick a charity to put at the end of the if-then clauses, and I figure I like them and they'll still be around.) With lots of legalese about paying off my debts, and that for the purposes of this will, a common accident will be treated as the other dying first.

As you say, if at some point I see I have outlived several of those people, I can and will redo it. Most of the complications is for the mutual-fatal-accident situation: if I outlive Cattitude, I'll want to redo it, once I get over the worst grief and the more immediate financial and practical issues.

I've been putting off having a will made for many of the reasons that you mention above. I don't want to think about getting sick or needing to have that power of attorney set up.

I have a solution for your brain, once you're done this exercise.

Now you have to write a document for yourself in the case that you all live forever. What needs to get done? Do you need to learn Japanese? Do you need to see Italy? In case of everyone all living forever, you'll clearly need to find a house that will fit you all comfortably. These are critical details! How will other people know what to do, in case you start living forever? I think a really-living document is just as important to write as a will. (An unliving will might also be interesting to write.)

In case of everyone all living forever, you'll clearly need to find a house that will fit you all comfortably.

I'm not sure that's the case. We might start collecting them, though, so's to have some options. The thing about living forever is that compound interest is a wonderful thing, so eventually, if you've got enough income to support you coming in in the meantime, you have some serious capital to work with. It's like being a corporation.

An unliving will might also be interesting to write.

"If I come back from the dead, gimme my stuff back."

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