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 In my outdated will, I had previously left all arrangements up to the discretion of my survivors, so I knew that spelling out exactly what I want would be of great help and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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About the Author


Andi is married to an active-duty soldier and is the founder and former editor of SpouseBUZZ.

She is the founder of the Annual MilBlog Conference. The MilBlog Conference is the premiere event of the year for military bloggers. President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, GEN David Petraeus, LTG Mike Oates, LTG William Caldwell, RADM Mark Fox, MG Kevin Bergner, MG David Hogg and The Honorable Pete Geren have addressed previous conferences.

While living in Washington, DC, Andi was the Ambassador to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for Sew Much Comfort, a non-profit organization which makes and delivers, free of charge, special adaptive clothing for wounded service members. Andi has worked with several non-profits to help our wounded heroes and their families. She finds that work to be the most rewarding and meaningful of all.

Andi strives to find humor in the good, bad and ugly of life and is a firm believer that laughter has the ability to cure most ills.

  • DL Sly

    “Gives me an edge in the two-wife sandwich….”

    Or at the very least, the fancy toothpick that holds the whole thing together.

  • Ari Macias

    My husband just find out that his ex wife is receiving a check from VA , he divorced her a year ago and as soon as he got divorce (two years ago) he sent the form to VA to update his information. VA said they did not recive those papers. My question is why did she take that money, knowing that she was not entitle to no money from her ex husband ? How is going to be responsible for paying taxes on that mony she took? help please.

    • Tom Brooks-Miller

      Your husband’s ex-wife will be responsible for paying, the money she received from the VA, back. She knew when she received it that she was not entitled to it and should have returned it then. The fact that she continued to receive it for two years might very well make her subject to federal prosecution for theft.

      Does your husband’s current checks reflect you in their current aount?

  • Stephanie Lynn Homan Billings

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to update ours. With dh in the position (rank etc..) with the AGR program he hasn’t deployed in a while and that is usually when we update our wills. We have had alot happen. We also have huge age differences in the kids. In our last one we no money was disperesed to any of them until the youngest child was 18. We needed to make sure our kids were all taken care off. Our obligation is to our minor children, not our adult children.

  • MrsHelotrash

    Just one other thing to add to this great discussion .. is guardianship for minor children. It is my understanding that a Will is not enough to stand up in court. At this moment .. I was looking for my durable power of attorney, will, trust and whatever that other document we created that pertained to guardianship .. but grrr .. I can’t put my hands on it ..hazard of moving but will now be on the top of my list to find ASAP>

    Andi .. This is indeed an emotional and painful exercise … I cried at the attorney’s office — but now I sleep in relative peace knowing I have done everything I can to set things up the way I want them to be and not rely on a judge I don’t know to make decisions on my behalf.

  • D. Brown

    Great discussion! I have been widowed for 4 years. My husband, a retired Army officer died a year after he retired. I had no idea where his Will was although I knew he had one. Of course my state of mind upon his passing didn’t help matters. Why didn’t we place a copy in our safety deposit box, safe, or designated area? We had casually discussed what type of funeral and burial he would have liked, with no mention of where he’d like to be buried. He even threatened (jokingly) to haunt me if I opened his casket or cremated him. Was it really a joke? In all seriousness, his mother made it clear she wanted to see her son and I would have that casket open. Of course my grief was too great for me to battle anyone. An updated, accessible Will surely would have helped me with his family and there demands (and there were many).

  • D. Brown

    Bottom line, I completed estate planning. My wishes upon my death are clearly stated. Should I die before my now 7 year old son reaches adulthood there is legal documentation awarding appropriate guardianship and to provide for him financially until such time he is able to draw on his trust fund. There is a copy in the safe, my safety deposit box, and with the attorney managing my estate. One more thing, Beware of Death Tax. Seek legal guidance. Get it done! NOW!

  • MrsHelotrash

    Correction to my ealrier comments .. I found my documents and it is clearly stated in my Will that I made a nomination for guardians of my child.

    Ditto to D. Brown’s comments .. Death Tax is attrocious as well as probate .. Seek leagal advice .. no matter what your assets are! We did a all in one deal .. set up a Trust, Will, Durable Power of Attorney and a Advanced Health Care Directive .. frustrating to have to pay money to protect what’s yours but I see this as one of those necessary evils in life. Thanks again Andi for raising awareness!

  • Army wife

    In having all property, insurance and everything in a Trust, does that bypass probate and death taxes?

  • MrsHelotrash

    With the Trust you do bypass probate but not the taxes …

  • AGW

    I have tried numerous occasions to get GI Joe to tell me what he wants, his response: “whatever you want babe.” Ok, but I know I am not going to be in any state of mind to deal with it. We have 2 children I will probably be concerned about and while I do not anticipate any issues with the inlaws, grief can make people do crazy things.
    When my father passed away from , he left one of my sisters, all 4 of us agreed which one, as POA & executor of the will. Of course we made decisions together, but she was in charge…it helped that we discussed what he wanted & had everything written down and plans in place. One of my Aunts, Dad’s sisters, threw a royal fit because we did not do what she wanted, which would have gone completely against his wishes. The other Aunt was ready to join her until we showed them both his wishes, then it was just the one Aunt being bitter. I don’t want to deal with anything remotely like that.
    GI Joe was astonished when I came home from church one sunday with a “planning your funeral” guide, they had them in the lobby with other resources and I thought what a great way to have it written down. But alas, I cannot get him to sit with me and discuss it.
    Thank You Andi for bringing this up, a difficult but needed topic.

  • Ari Macias

    Hi Tom

    We just married a week ago, he found out when he put me in the VA family beneficiaries. VA received a copy of the decree a year ago when he divorced her.

  • I am living with a sometimes devestating, life threatening chronic illness and am married to an AGR pilot. Thank you for the reminder that I need to update my will. I guess tonight will be a long “talk”. Good for you for choosing to be buried in high heels! I’m thinking maybe my favorite slippers.

  • james f carberry

    I lot of verry smart people on here , I do have a qustion ? and hope someone can answer it, My qustion , To start I am 100 % service , and i am dyeing , a short time to go .[ My girl friend and I have planded to get marriaged for a lone time, I have no aries, she will get what I have ,[ WILL SHE DRAWN ANY OF MY CHECK V.A.] ?? JAMES in Tn.