When I Die: The Conversation Nobody Wants to Have


Yeah, I know. What a downer, right? I get it. But follow me on my complicated journey. I hope you'll get something out of it.

This past fall, I listened to Mrs. Casey, wife of GEN Casey, say that she and "George" had a hard time with the subject of death. One day after meeting with Gold Star Spouses at Ft. Bragg, she realized she didn't know where her husband wanted to be buried and that it was past time for them to have the talk. As a result of hearing Mrs. Casey speak about this, I asked my husband where he wanted to be buried and felt so much better after I had the answer straight out of his mouth, and not tucked away, written on some piece of paper I've never bothered to look at.

Fast forward a couple of months when I heard the story of one woman who had no directive from her husband as to funeral arrangements, and who was emotionally battered by her husband's family at every turn as they questioned the decisions she made as to funeral service and final resting place.  I realized then that I hadn't been clear as to what I want. In my outdated will, I had previously left all arrangements up to the discretion of my survivors, so I knew that spelling out exactly what I want would be of great help and comfort to my husband should he ever need it, or to my executor in the event my husband and I were to meet our maker together.

I recently updated my will and had a Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney prepared. My previous will was done without any fanfare, little thought and no discussion with my husband other than the obligatory, here's my will if you ever need it. You get everything (ha, now that's funny) statement. This time was different, though. I didn't just answer the questions and check the boxes so I could get through it as quickly as possible, I actually pondered possible scenarios much more thoroughly than I had before, and this process brought up some interesting scenarios.

For example, my husband will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. As his spouse, I'm entitled to be buried there, too. Perfect for both of us. So far so good. But what happens, I thought, if I die young and my husband eventually remarries? My husband and I have been married a long time, but statistically speaking, he could end up married to someone longer than he and I had been married. What then? Do they evict me from Arlington? Do they bury his second wife there, too? This was just one of the many things I found myself thinking about.

Part of composing a will is trying to think four hundred steps ahead, and I'll be the first one to admit that it's an ugly journey. At some point, you simply have to go with an answer. It's impossible to cover all the "what if" scenarios. Plus, it will truly drive you crazy if you try. But going to that dark place, giving it some thought and spelling out what you can reasonably spell out will one day save someone from having to second guess their decisions while simultaneously grieving their loss.

My husband knew I was updating my will, but we didn't discuss any specifics while I was busy pondering. After ponder-palooza, I told my husband I wanted to sit down with him for a few minutes. He said, "This isn't about the will business, is it?"

Well yes, it was. And I was fully prepared to sit down like two rational, responsible adults and discuss the items of importance to me, but it was clear that my husband would have rather had his eyebrows waxed than talk about our deaths. When he did sit down with me, my strength caved and I found it nearly impossible to discuss the provisions which I had given considerable thought to and had outlined in my will. I couldn't make eye contact with him and ran through my talking points as quickly as possible. It was an odd and uncomfortable experience and although both of us understood the importance of the topic, we were ready to get the conversation behind us.

At one point, I was talking through the logic behind what I had spelled out in my will and we were making sure we were on the same page. When it was time for a light-hearted moment, I cracked, "You don't want to be eternally sandwiched in between two wives, do you?" We both laughed, finished the conversation and it was finally over.

Let's face it, nobody wants to talk about dying, and although our spouses are in a high-risk profession and military spouses are often wrestling with the imaginary grim reaper, it doesn't make the process any easier to discuss, or prepare for. Sometimes, there's a part of us that thinks if we talk about it, we're just asking to be suddenly stricken with some incurable illness. In fact, a terrible thought crossed my mind while writing this. Will I wake-up (or not wake-up) tomorrow and find a headline which reads, "Blogger Writes of Updating Her Will and Dies in Her Sleep That Night."

In all seriousness, I now have some peace of mind that our wills are in order. His is always in order, courtesy of the U.S. Army, but mine was out of date. None of us know what tomorrow may bring, but we can try to be as prepared as possible. If you don't have a will, I'd encourage you to have one drawn up, even if you're very young. And if you do have a will, look it over and make sure it's updated, especially if life circumstances have changed (you've purchased property, had a baby, adopted a child, come into an inheritance, remarried, etc.). Make sure that your wishes are clearly stated. It could save your surviving family members a lot of heartache and trouble when the inevitable occurs.

I now sleep well knowing that I will indeed be buried in my beloved high heels instead of sensible shoes. Gives me an edge in the two-wife sandwich...

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