Open When letters are also called Future Letters, and Read me When letters. They’re usually a series of letters that are meant to be read later by the recipient. Often given for major life events like someone being deployed in the military, moving to a new home, having a baby, graduating from school, etc., they can also be used for general encouragement and declarations of love.
It’s not unusual to die suddenly. People do it every day. I fact, I did it on February 10, 2019, at 1:30 am.
I should have died that night at the age of 57, but luck was on my side. I woke up on the couch where I’d fallen asleep while binging a Netflix show. I chose to go upstairs and tell my husband I felt “weird,” even though I wasn’t so worried that I did the dishes first. Within minutes of waking him, my heart started beating erratically and I went into a full cardiac arrest.
It was lucky that my husband was home that night and that he has 40 years of emergency medical experience as a Fire Captain. That we live in the Pacific NW where county police carry AED machines and two cared enough to show up at our house after hearing the call. That we have a manned fire station less than 2 minutes away and a Medic One Unit just a few miles further.
It took all of these people, equipment, and drugs plus 45 minutes, a central line, and three defibrillator shocks to bring me back to life. Most people are not so lucky.
After spending 16 days in the hospital, half of which were in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, I realized that had I not been revived without any damage to my brain or heart, my family, and especially my husband would have been planning my funeral instead of watching me struggle with seven broken ribs.
The practical stuff my Spouse/Significant Other needs to know when I die
While I’ve prepared for my death in the practical way – leaving a notebook of logins/passwords, bill pay information, end of life instructions, and how I want to be buried, it felt incomplete. What I really wanted to leave my husband is some comfort with the assurance that I loved him and I knew I was loved by him.
What I want my Spouse to know after I die
I decided to write Open When letters. They’re more often used for friends and family who are experiencing life changes – moving, going off to college, new baby, military separation, etc. They’re meant as a pick-me-up when the receiver is having a hard time. For example, Open When You Get to Your New Home, Open When You Miss Me, Open When You’re Homesick, etc.
While most people opt for a single letter to leave behind when they die, I chose to use the Open When format so that throughout the first year, my husband will have several short notes from me to help him through.
What’s great about this short letter format is that it’s not time sensitive and doesn’t have to be updated. They’re notes of encouragement on sad days, reminders of what I loved so much about him, and some of the memories we shared.
Open When I Die Letters to my spouse (or significant other)
While I tell my husband often how much I love him and what he means to me, I want to leave him a meaningful group of letters to open when I’m gone. It’s what I would want to comfort me should he die first.
Open When I Die Letter Ideas for a Spouse/Significant Other
- I die (tell them it’s going to be okay, where you left the notebook of important information, and include an intro to the letters and how they work – see letter above for a sample – and why you left them).
- When you worry that you didn’t get to say goodbye (you don’t always get the chance – use this letter to tell your spouse what you’d want them to know if you knew it was your last kiss, last hug, last goodbye).
- You plan my funeral (thank them for taking the time to celebrate your life or make it funny and remind them of the life facts you don’t want them sharing)
- Write my obituary (similar to funeral planning, but include what you want the world to know about your life – or not know!)
- You wonder if you should get rid of my stuff (disposing of the property of a loved one is hard and fraught with guilt – leave a letter telling them how you feel about it)
- You’re lying in our bed (remind them of the good times, funny experiences, etc., you had together there)
- You are lonely (share all the reasons you loved being a couple and then all of the wonderful attributes that they brought to your relationship)
- You’re mad that I left you behind (anger is a normal feeling when someone dies – words of encouragement and a reminder that life is beautiful can do wonders).
- You feel guilty for being happy (feeling joy in the middle of a loss can make a survivor feel guilty. Encourage them to embrace joy and happiness)
- You think of me when you watch “our” show or hear “our” song (both can bring a flood of tears, especially if your spouse is caught off guard – let them know you love being a happy memory for them and you would love to be there with them to enjoy it)
- You wonder what I loved about you (include details from all stages of your romance and life together).
- You’re thinking about asking someone on a date (a chance to encourage or discourage your significant other about dating)
- You miss my cooking, oil changes, etc. (did you have something special you did? Or a confession? Was the cheesecake he loved made from a mix? Funny or serious, but be sure to include why you loved doing this task for them and how it made you feel).
- You’re scared (what scares your spouse? Mine hates spiders and change. Address your significant other’s fears and assure them they can handle it even if you’re not there).
- You are thinking about ending your life (sadly, depression and suicide after a spouse/significant other dies happens. This letter can remind them what you loved about life, your life together, and to get help because they still deserve to be happy).
- You need to be reminded of how wonderful you are (share when your spouse made you feel great about yourself, what made them a fabulous spouse, etc).
- You feel abandoned (no spouse wants to be the one left behind. Remind your significant other what you would have missed if he/she had gone first).
These are just a few examples of the Open When I Die Letters I wrote to my spouse. It’s okay to add/remove letters over time as your relationship changes, but leaving behind notes is one way to make sure that you leave this earth without any unfinished business.
Open When Letter Kits
I chose to write my own letters and decoration so I chose a blank card set with matching envelopes.
However, there are complete kits available to help. From basic sets with minimal printing and suggested topics to fill-in-the-blank letters. All have matching envelopes and some with presentation folders.
Write letters to your children, spouse, mother, father, and more for most any occasion. While there are spouse love kits, I’ve never found one specifically to be left behind after a spouse dies and I think they’re important letters to write.
Don’t wait until you have your own near-death experience to write these important letters. If you do, please share some of the letter Open When prompts you used.