Updated on 02.23.12

A World without Sarah

Trent Hamm

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows that my wife, Sarah, is not only my best friend, but the rock upon which our family relies in countless ways. A day doesn’t go by when she doesn’t do something amazing for me or for our family, whether it’s finding energy and time to play actively with our kids after a long day of work, giving me a squeeze when I need it most, or simply taking care of something that needs done, handling it quietly and without complaint. I love her more than I ever thought it was possible to love a person.

Yet no amount of love or care can stop a drunk driver from smashing into her as she drives home from work. Nothing I can do can prevent her from getting hit by a sleeping truck driver or having a brain aneurysm.

The simple fact is that she’s human, and humans are fragile. There is some significant chance that she could suddenly pass away or contract an illness that takes her from me before her time. (The reverse is true as well, of course.)

Is there anything I can do now to prepare for a world without Sarah?

Life insurance is the obvious first step. A term policy large enough to make sure that the relative quality of my children’s lives is disrupted as little as possible is a must. We have a policy on Sarah that replaces ten years of her take-home income.

That just scratches the surface, though. I would be left with a home filled with things of hers, many of which I would not want to keep. Yes, I would want to keep all of the mementos and family photos, but what about her old clothes? Her piles of yarn from her crocheting? Her books in genres that don’t interest me?

The best approach is to simply talk about what she would want done with those things. There are items she would like to see donated to charity. Other items would go to specific friends and family members.

These are things that you could write in a will, but even a very up-to-date will is going to miss many items. It’s just as important that I understand what she wants, as well.

I’m in the process of documenting all of these wishes and things, just as a precautionary measure. It’s a painful thing to do because it requires me to think a bit about an inevitablity I dread, but it’s well worth doing.

I remember the difficulties that my grandfather went through when my grandmother died. In a lot of ways, he was pretty much lost. He was overwhelmed emotionally by the loss and the constant reminder of her things was a constant challenge for him. He simply didn’t know what to do with the things, and it wasn’t long before his health began to fail him, too.

I’ve witnessed similar things with couples that had been together for a large portion of their lives. When one of them leaves, it devastates the other in a very deep way.

Our effort in documenting her wishes for her belongings (and my own, regarding belongings and other things she would not want to keep) is as much for me as it is for her. It gives her the peace of mind of knowing that her important things will wind up with the people she cares about.

What it gives me, though, is a blueprint. It gives me a list to follow at a time when I might not be emotionally capable of making good decisions about our items. I don’t have to think about what Sarah would want. I would know what she wanted, and I could just follow the instructions.

I don’t have to wonder what I should do with her clothes or her personal items. I can go through them on my own time and when the emotional wave hits me, I don’t have to make rash decisions. I can rely on the documents I have to guide me to exactly the place that Sarah would want me to go.

Estate planning goes beyond just life insurance and funeral expenses. There are lives that go on after you pass away, ones that will be deeply impacted by the loss of you. They deserve to be taken care of.

It’s a painful task, but it’s one that’s filled with love. I look at these things as gifts that will aid us through an incredibly trying time in our lives if it should ever come to pass. It will keep us from making emotional mistakes and, hopefully, give us something to guide us through those days.

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  1. Johanna says:

    “Yet no amount of love or care can stop a drunk driver from smashing into her as she drives home from work. Nothing I can do can prevent her from getting hit by a sleeping truck driver”

    …says the guy whose wife commutes an hour (?) each way to work so that he can do his dream job from home and still have health insurance.

  2. Raya says:

    Trent, you scared the s**t out of me with that title!

    “Yet no amount of love or care can stop a drunk driver from smashing into her as she drives home from work.”

    Jesus, I thought she was dead! My heart skipped a couple of beats, for Pete’s sake!

    I mean… darn. Don’t do that again, please.

  3. lurker carl says:

    Another critical question, how is Sarah preparing to survive in a world without Trent? Planning must work in both directions.

  4. Melody Bakeeff says:

    I echo the sentiments above – I went to the post thinking ‘NO! Can’t be, really?!’

    I’m very glad she’s still with you, of course!

    This is a painful topic for many because it brings up the issues of our own mortality. We take supplements and get injections/creams/facelifts, etc. all to help stave off the inevitable.

    The fact that you shared with the general populace you are indeed thinking about it and taking active steps is probably one of the better concepts in this column of late. Bravo.

  5. Maria says:

    Johanna you really are a miserable person.

  6. Andrew says:

    Johanna, the drunk driver could be right outside their door. Sarah’s commute is not the issue here.

    Normally I appreciate your comments, find them witty and amusing, and agree with most of them. A lot of times, I wish I had written them. Not in this case.

  7. Icarus says:

    That title did scare me a little. I thought perhaps they were getting a divorce. Which might account for the lack of Trent we were seeing in some of the recent posts.

    @Johanna, I’m a new commentor so I don’t get your style yet. I think that remark was a bit snarky.

    we’ve smeared the line between liability and luck in this country too much already.

  8. Roberta says:

    My first thought was concern that Trent, like JD Roth, sold his blog and got a pile of money and wanted a divorce. Or Sarah did. I’m ashamed of myself for being so negative and glad to see it was about estate planning.

    All of the issues around end of life, whether it is a sudden loss or something you know is coming are hard. It’s a very difficult conversation, but I am happy my husband and I had it with his mother when she was terminally ill. She was living with us by then, and even though she was very resistant, we walked through everything down to the dress she wanted to be buried in and the hymns to play at her funeral. It gave us the knowledge we needed to meet her last wishes, and let us clear out her belongings over time knowing what she wanted us to do with them all. We also sat down together and did the same thing for ourselves so that our children would have the same information about us. Now that it’s done, I’m really happy we did it, discussed it with our boys, and have all the relevant information available to them if they need it.

  9. Tom says:

    My wife and I did our wills recently, and it is really awkward to have that conversation, even with the person you love the most in your life. We’re relatively young too, but accidents happen.

    Never considered what I would do with her stuff or vice versa. This might prompt a discussion later. Good point.

  10. Josh says:

    Johanna, your irrational hatred of men is strong today.

  11. jim says:

    Johanna shame on you. You’re effectively blaming Trent for his wifes theoretical accidental death.
    Its asinine and callous.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    The most specific request I’ve made of my daughter is that she throw away all my undergarments instead of including those items in the estate sale. That’s the most forlorn & too-personal type of item I’ve seen at the estate sales I’ve shopped.

  13. Ro says:

    So very very glad dhat Sarah is alive and well ann that you are not headed for a divorce!!

    I keep asking my mom for us to do something similar…she is 70 and in good health, but at that age, I think these things should be done, but she won’t even let me or my brother know the first thing about her will, much less anything else.

  14. Maria says:

    #7 lcarus
    Her “style” is that she is a man hating Bi!ch.

  15. Julie says:

    I don’t understand why Johanna even reads the blog. She views everything Trent writes in the most negative light possible. Who made her Trent’s judge and jury?

  16. Troy says:

    I’ll defend Johanna, and I don’t even know her.

    T said ” Nothing I can do can prevent her from getting hit…”

    He could do everything in his power to encourage her to take as little risk as possible.

    I encourage my wife to drive as little as necessary for long distances for work. Who wouldn’t. Do you people want your spouse driving FURTHER for a job? Of course not.

    I don’t want my wife driving an hour each day on the interstate for a job. Not if she doesn’t have to. So she doesn’t.

    If my wife said “hey, here is this job 30 miles away that I could take for “fill in the blank” reason (money, benefits, etc) I would do everything in my power to encourage her to not take that job and instead take one closer. Or I would do everything in my power to find a way to make that reason up myself…put it on my shoulders.

    MY points would be…

    Why waste an hour a day in the car for that job.
    Why then have to factor in mileage on a vehicle purchase to commute to that job.
    Why then have to factor in reliability because she is on the road an hour a day for that job.

    1 hour per day 5 days per week 8 months out of the year is 172 hours per year of driving. That’s alot of driving and alot of risk of being in an accident or being stranded in my opinion. Now if that job was a specialized job that paid $100K+ per year it could be justified, but that’s not her job.

    That’s what I think Johanna is saying….just more concisely

  17. Liz says:

    There is a great deal we do not know about Trent’s marriage, or Sarah. Perhaps the job is HER dream job. She may like the commute, or at leastfeel very neutral about it. My ex had an hour long commute, and enjoyed the time to listen to music or books, (and yes, I asked him how he felt about the drive, and he said he liked that hour alone., he had a carhe enjoyed driving, which probably contributed to the experience).

    Criticize Trent for lackluster writing, boring content, or incorrect facts. Unless you have a special window into the dynamics of his persnal relationships, leave it alone.

  18. Vanessa says:

    Ha, you guys are so gullible. I knew before before I read the post his wife was perfectly fine.

    I don’t understand what purpose “documenting” serves that having a will doesn’t. But I guess Trent has the kind of personality that needs to go through these kinds of rituals to feel secure. If this is what helps him sleep through the night, that’s all that matters.

  19. Rebecca says:

    I really wish my husband would at least learn how to do something for himself. He just says “you can do it so much better”. I bluntly asked him, what would you do if I died today? When is garbage day? What bills need to be paid? He just won’t deal with it. Ugh, it’s like having a grown up child in the house.

  20. Julie says:

    #18 Vanessa,

    I have a will and also a revocable living trust. None of it addresses what I want done with my “stuff.”

  21. valleycat1 says:

    Vanessa @ 18 has a point. This is all about what makes Trent more able to deal with the possibility/eventuality.

    Once someone dies, they can’t care or know what happens to all their effects. In my case, I have a few designations in my will. However, my greater emphasis in regard to disposing of the estate (such that it may be) will be for family members & close friends to select item(s) meaningful to them if they wish, rather than my deciding what goes where or who gets what. And my spouse is comfortable with deciding what to do with the rest on whatever schedule works.

  22. Genny says:

    Aren’t many of you on this board all for equal rights? Why should you criticize Trent for staying at home and his wife for driving an hour to work? It does not seem to fit many of the opinions I have seen expressed here.

    Also, I have lived in a small town about an hour away from our state capital. Many residents of the town had an hour long commute each way. They wanted the small town feel as well as the big city paycheck :)

  23. Kai says:

    What on earth makes disliking something Trent does or says into a broad hatred of all men?

    A will usually deals with the big stuff. I think he’s talking about discussing the little things that could make a big difference in coping of the survivor.

  24. Gretchen says:

    What a horrible thread title.

    Knowing what my dead spouse would want to happen to his collection of books seems rather nitpicky to me, but whatever.

    My mom has mentioned to me many times over the years what she wants done with her estate (have people come in and pick what they want), so that’s the other side to that. My father died very young but after a long illness and she threw stuff like clothes away/donated them right away so she wouldn’t have to think about when the right time was.

  25. Alice says:

    The title of the post is unduly alarming and does not convey the idea of *planning* for the worst, it simply conveys the worst.

    The post could have easily been written as “life without Trent” from the point of view of how Trent could prepare his family for the possibility of something happening to him – why would I start a conversation planning for the possibility of someone else’s demise without first organizing for my own possible demise (think about how broaching the idea of planning for spouse’s unexpected death will go over if there’s any tension in the relationship).

  26. Michael says:

    Johanna’s #1 negative reply was anticipated. She has a habit of being the first one to reply, and usually to tear a strip off of something Trent writes. Her disdain for Trent is clear. The irony for me is that she is one of the most faithful readers of this blog. You might suspect that someone who dislikes the writer so much might, I don’t know, stop reading it? No, not her. She obviously gets something out of tearing apart his writing, and, more inappropriately, his character. And occasionally, she’ll make very inappropriate statements like #1 where it can lead other readers to believe that she hates men. And yes, Johanna, I’m judging you, as I highly suspect you’ll bring that up.

  27. Alison says:

    Shame on you.

  28. Rachel says:

    Haha #26 Michael! I love it! Perhaps Johanna can’t get a date, thus having copious amounts of spare time in which to read TSD.

    Flame on, Johanna.

  29. Misha says:

    Below the box I’m typing in, it says, “Constructive comments of all kinds are welcome. Negativity is not. […] Comments that don’t contribute to the growth and thoughtfulness of other readers will be deleted.”

    How, then, exactly, did Maria’s comment at #14 pass muster?

  30. Mark Gavagan says:


    You’re welcome to a free copy of either of my books for doing exactly what your talking about (print or type-in-your-info PDF version).

    Just send an email with whichever book you want and what version and I’ll get it to you right away. I’m always interested in useful feedback and I’m sure it will be helpful to you.

    -Mark Gavagan
    author of “12 Critical Things Your Family Needs to KNow” and “The It’s All Right Here Life & Affairs Organizer”

  31. Dee says:

    I’ve often wondered if Johanna is a shill?

  32. jim says:

    I don’t see how a shill that constantly criticizes would be beneficial to a blog. Some people have the belief that extra commentary helps a blog but I can’t see how lots of negative commentary would help overall.

  33. Kate says:

    Aside from the alarming title (which definitely caught my attention) I have to say that this is a good article. I am a school teacher and choose a long commute for several reasons. I like my district, I like my principal, and I like my coworkers. All those things and the extra expense are worth it to me and Sarah may be in the same kind of position. Johanna’s comment was classic Johanna: i.e., bitter.

  34. Slccom says:

    Really? Bitter? I thought it was more ironic. And a valid point.

    Of course, no place, activity or lack of activity is risk free, and Trent is actually more at risk of an unfortunate occurrence since he is at home all day, statistically.

    Wondering what to do with stuff can be a challenge, and talking about it in advance is a good thing to do. Most stuff I don’t care about, but things that I made by hand had darned well better NOT wind up with my mother-in-law!

    Right now we are wrestling with what to do with our musical instruments. Quite a few of them aren’t really suitable to donate to a school, and we want to have the played, not stuck in closet. Probably selling some of the more exotic saxes and clarinets would be a way to get them to people who would love and play them.

  35. Jacq says:

    My sister actually was killed by a drunk driver on her way home from work. She was 39 years old and left behind a not very competent husband and mildly disabled 6 y.o. daughter.
    Fortunately there was a massive amount of life insurance and they were well off to begin with but I don’t think they discussed many of the things in this post. I know I have with my own kids over the years because of her death and the realization that life can be gone in an instant.

  36. Jen says:

    I like Johanna!

  37. BD says:

    Yeah, I gotta admit. The only reason I read this blog is for Johanna’s comments.
    She’s so hateful and argumentative, and has the biggest chip on her shoulder that I’ve ever seen, that it’s fascinating to me to keep updated here, just to see how low she’ll go. I gotta admit, her comment in this thread is the *lowest* that I’ve seen her go yet. Yikes!

    Sometimes I wonder if she’s here on purpose, as a publicity stunt to bolster readers for this blog?

  38. Johanna says:

    @Rachel: If you feel the need to make things up about my personal life because you don’t like something I said, that says more about you than it does about me.

  39. Maria says:

    #37 BD
    I use to think the same thing about Johanna.
    Then I thought maybe she was actually Trent. Lately, I believe she is just a miserable person that has made some unhappy choices and finds enjoyment sharing her beliefs with her faceless internet “friends”…she obviously lives a separate life after 5:00.

  40. Johanna says:

    Thanks for your concern, Maria. Since you apparently know so much about me, what are these unhappy choices that I’ve supposedly made? I’d like to avoid making them again, if I can.

  41. Emma says:

    Horrible title. What is a meaning of schmattas if a person is gone? Frugality gone wild. I understand life insurance but keeping an acual index of belongins and thinking who is going to get her Jane A. collaction of books or her knitting basket. For a young woman?How about the universal idea that those items would go to whoever needs them? That is sick to me.I have lost my respect for Trent. He values material world more than people.

  42. Maria says:

    Johanna, I never mentioned being concerned about you and probably never will so no need to thank me.
    You and you alone will need to do some sole searching to find out why you are so bitter and the choices you made to cause this bitterness. I can merely convey to you that you have a miserable attitude.
    Seek out professional help.. don’t ask me to help you.

  43. Maria says:

    …..soul searching…..

  44. Johanna says:

    Well, if you’re not acting out of concern for my well being, I guess you’re just motivated by a desire to hurt my feelings. That’s awfully big of you.

    But do you really think you can get under my skin by saying things that obviously aren’t true? What’s next, I eat newborn babies for breakfast?

  45. Maria says:

    I believe they are obviously true.
    As for the eating new born babies thing…. if that is what popped into your head when I called you bitter and miserable… well, as I said above.. seek out professional help.

  46. Johanna says:

    On top of all that, mental illness is actually a real, serious thing. When you call someone mentally ill as an insult, because you don’t like them, you’re perpetuating a stigma that prevents a lot of people who really do need treatment from seeking it out. Are you sure that’s something you want to be doing?

  47. Maria says:

    I am sure that you are bitter and miserable and that there are professional services you can seek to help you overcome bitterness.
    I am also sure that if you have thoughts of eating newborn babies for breakfast there are professional service for that also.
    I have no idea if you have a mental illness, but there are professional service that can help you determine if you are.

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