By Francine & Byron Pirola

We were taking a vacation to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. As we settled in for the long flight, my husband pulled out the documents he had been working on – our wills. Apparently, leaving the family for ten days inspired him to update them as they were well overdue. I spent the next two hours sobbing as we worked our way through how we wanted our children to be cared for, how to distribute assets and wind up two lives of 47 and 53 years. By the time the plane landed, we were emotionally rung out. We emailed the updates to parents and siblings (goodness knows what they thought getting that email in their inbox!), and proceeded to have a lovely renewal of body, soul and love.

One of the most common regrets we hear from grieving spouses and family when a loved one dies, is that they didn’t have time or didn’t have the courage to say all the things they wanted. They are left with nagging doubts and ‘if onlys’ as they struggle to make sense of their loss.

Thinking about death, our own especially, is scary and upsetting. It’s hard to face into it without becoming emotional and so naturally we avoid discussing the possibility. We’ve had a couple of conversations along these lines and athough it’s awfully painful, it is also very valuable time together.

We have a renewed sense of togetherness after these conversations and a deeper gratitude because we have reconnected with our most important values, which easily get overlooked in a busy life.

So here are a couple of questions to kick start your conversation. Our advice: take your time on this one. Set aside an hour or two, and isolate yourselves from distractions – no phones, email or children awake. Spend 30 minutes writing a love letter to your husband or wife answering the questions:

  1. If I only had a week to live, what would I want to say to you?
  2. How would I want you to remember me?

Then, come together. Take a long hug. Just breathe deeply for a minute or two and let the tension dissipate. One of you read your letter out loud, then let your spouse read it again silently. Then swap roles.