Man in the Middle – Chapter 5: The Will

A middle aged man decides his elderly mother can no longer cope alone. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No.5: The Will

Since my father died, I’ve been trying to persuade Mother to make a will. It’s been a decade long guerrilla war fought on behalf of the principles of Good Sense and Forward Planning. But I’m making no headway. She’s deep down in a trench and any attempt to parlay about the future is greeted with outright rejection.

‘No. No. No,’ she repeats, like Margaret Thatcher asked to return the British EU Rebate. ‘I do not wish to make a will. Or talk about it.’

She has many arguments for this. She pretends there’s no point in making one because she has ‘nothing to leave’. She rejects the process of making a will as ‘vulgar’ and complains that she ‘hasn’t spent ninety years counting every bean I have. I’m damned if I‘m going to start now’, like a Dowager Princess.

Wife calls this on-going farce the ‘War of the Wills’.

I suspect the real reason is she doesn’t want to confront the finality of dying or the choices which making a will imposes. Wills are not just about allocating assets; they’re about allocating affection, too. She realises writing a will is a risky business easily open to misinterpretation, which can’t be corrected. Why would she take that risk at this stage of her life?

I don’t want to force her to confront anything she doesn’t want to. But everyone – including my accountant – tells me it is the responsible thing for her to do. What they don’t know is that she is as stubborn as a silver backed gorilla. And gorilla trumps guerrilla in the war of the wills.

One day, I find her in her sitting room putting a white sticky label onto the frame of a painting. I look around the sitting room and see that everything in the room has got a white sticky label on it: tables, sofas, vases, pictures even the carpets. The flat looks like an auction house in which every object is labelled ‘Sold’.

‘What on earth are you doing?’

‘My will,’ says Mother, feverishly.

‘Putting stickers on things isn’t making a will.’

‘It’s my will and I’m doing it my way.’

I realise Mother has tagged every object everywhere in the flat with the name of one of the family. It’s so we can each see what she wants us to have when she dies. She’s been so thorough that even our family cat has a tea saucer with his name on it.

‘When did you decide to do this?’

‘I listened to a phone-in on the law of ‘Bona Vacantia’. It is an ancient law that gives the Royal family the right to take control of your things if you die without a will. It all goes to the Duchy of Cornwall. Or Lancaster. Or maybe the Queen.’

I don’t know if Bona Vacantia is real or even applies anymore. But this is not the time to correct any misunderstanding. If an irrational fear of the Royal Family getting their hands on her tea cups and cutlery gets her to make a will, then the end justifies the means.

‘We need to put all this down in a proper will, too.’

‘Yes. Yes. Whatever,’ she says still slapping stickers onto things.

The war of the wills is at an end. The gorilla has decided to surrender.

First published in Age Space

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 6: Shopping with Mother

Read the previous one – Chapter 4: The Kettle

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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