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The Vine: May 7, 2014

Submitted by on May 7, 2014 – 4:20 PM29 Comments


I have a question for your readers about jewellery inheritance.

It has always been my assumption, based on the precedent set within my family, that a mother's jewellery passes down to her daughters after her death. The only real example in my lifetime, though, was my maternal grandmother's death. I understand my mum received her share of her jewellery at the "sorting out the estate" stage relatively soon after death. Her father was still alive at that point and I believe was the executor of Grandma's will. Mine is not a large family and, apart from my dad, the boys are in the younger generation, so I don't know what would happen in that case, but I had always assumed a boy child would receive either items of similar value or a cash equivalent, as my uncle did when Grandma died. But the items of jewellery go to the girl/s.

I'd be interested in your readers' thoughts on this because I am discovering that the men in the family (namely, my dad) have a very different mindset about this than the women.

To try and keep the backstory short, my mother died very unexpectedly almost two years ago. Her will left her estate to my father and when he dies, the combined estate will be split between my sister and I. There are no other siblings, half- or step-, so it is about as straightforward as it can get. Like lots of little girls when we were little, we would look at Mum's jewellery and try it on and she would say that it was for us when she died. In particular, she had two rings that she inherited from her mother and it was always understood between the three of us that I would have the yellow one and my sister would have the purple one. We had no idea of their value or even what the stones were, we just thought they were pretty and loved the idea of having something of our long-dead grandmother's.

As it happens, Mum did not specify anything about her jewellery in her will and I can only assume she expected Dad would give it to us, or let us work out who gets what piece.

We understand there are some quite valuable pieces that he bought for her and to date, they are being kept where they have always been kept. About six months after her death, my sister and I were spending the weekend with Dad and we decided that since Dad had not mentioned Mum's jewellery at all, we would ask him if we could have the yellow and purple rings to remember her by. I figured that since he had not bought them for her himself perhaps they held no real significance to him, so it would be a safe bet to at least ask. I decided I would accept a "no" since legally, they belonged to him now, but it was important enough to me that I would at least make my case. It took a considerable amount of explanation to get through to Dad that these rings had enormous sentimental value to us and he eventually conceded to let us have them, only after saying a rather pointed "well, if that's all you're after…" which has not been forgotten.

By asking for the rings, we must have come across as money-grabbing bitches out for whatever we can get from him and that was not at all our intention. He has previously said if there is anything of Mum's we wanted we should ask, but the examples he uses are things like her food processor, because he would never use it. Needless to say, we have not raised the issue of her other jewellery since we figured he is not ready to let it go yet and it's perfectly safe where it is. Plus, we are not money-grabbing bitches and we have our own food processors.

My position is that legally, the jewellery is part of her estate and it is now part of Dad's estate so we have no claim on it until his death. This sits quite comfortably with me, but less so with my sister, even though she agrees with me in theory. I have stipulated to both of them that 1) he knows where her jewellery is — and there has been a bit of doubt about one particular favourite ring of Mum's; 2) it is kept securely and is insured properly; and 3) should he decide to sell it or give it to someone else (i.e. a new wife) he give us the courtesy of discussing this with us first. My feelings of the kind of woman who would accept the dead wife's jewellery as a gift are, well — let's just say if I was offered my partner's ex-girlfriend's jewellery I would be quite insulted. At this stage, that is not on the cards. The only thing I really wanted was the yellow ring and I have that now. As you can probably tell, there is a LOT I'm not saying about the last two years, but that is not what this letter is about.

Our grandmother (my dad's mother) recently asked about whether we had received Mum's jewellery and was quite shocked that we had not. In a separate incident, my dad's stepmother also asked about it and expressed the same sentiment. Yesterday, Dad made a passing comment that he "needs to do something about Mum's jewellery at some point" with absolutely no mention of it being divided between us. For the record, I don't believe he is evading the issue to avoid starting some kind of bitch fight over it between my sister and I, because that would indicate a level of sensitivity that I have learnt over the past two years my father does not possess. Nope, I honestly believe it has not occurred to him that an option for Mum's jewellery is to give it to us.

So you can see the disparity between the way the women think about it and the way he does. And my question for your readers is — is the sentimentality behind a daughter inheriting their mother's jewellery just a girl thing? What do guys think about it? The guys I know don't seem to have a view either way and say it's up to Dad to do with it what he wants (which is of course true), although they do express an ick factor over giving it to a new spouse and seem to figure if the daughter wants it then just give it to her. But in my family, it has been made clear there is a difference between asking to have it and having it offered to us, as the Ring Incident attests. I'd be very interested in what you and your readers have to say.

I'm being more specific about jewellery in my will

Dear Spec,

I'm sorry for your loss.

I wouldn't say that it's a gender issue. The disparity, to me, is between how two mothers-in-law think about it and how the widower does, and he may think — not consciously, probably — that every thing of your mother's he gives away, every item that finds another home makes her death more final, or is a betrayal. The things of the dead are not just things, and our ways of thinking about them have their own logic.

What I think, overall, is that what (you think) you aren't saying is what's really going on here.

that would indicate a level of sensitivity that I have learnt over the past two years my father does not possess

…Okay then!

the kind of woman who would accept the dead wife's jewellery as a gift are, well — let's just say if I was offered my partner's ex-girlfriend's jewellery I would be quite insulted. At this stage, that is not on the cards. The only thing I really wanted was the yellow ring and I have that now. As you can probably tell, there is a LOT I'm not saying about the last two years, but that is not what this letter is about

I mean…first of all, "late wife" and "ex" are not equivalent. Second of all (but not unrelated), if it's not on the cards, why make the comparison at all? I get the distinct feeling something, some betrayal of your mother, is in play here that you haven't mentioned. I don't know what it is, I don't know if it's a real violation of the family (i.e., he cheated on her), or he's not acting the way you think he "should," or you just feel alienated from him because he doesn't grieve the same way you do — but the yellow ring was not "the only thing you really wanted" by some stretch, or you wouldn't be writing.

And the lot you're not saying is exactly what the letter is about, but you didn't say it, so I can't really help. What you really want to hear is that you're right, but I can't really assess that, and if I could — so what? I don't think that gives you what you need. You want your father to guess your heart; he's failed at that, as most people will, so if you think he's being a shit about the jewelry or just in general, or you need him to be there for you more substantively in your own grief, you need to go on the record with that.

All I can really tell you for sure is that, whatever the jewelry is about for you, it is not about that for him, and he can't read your mind. Think about what's actually going on here, because it's not in this letter.

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  • Sue says:

    Being in the same position as yourself (my mother died not quite two years ago), my sympathies indeed.

    One of the things that we did in the period afterwards was to take an inventory of her jewelry. It had been understood that certain pieces would come to me, and certain pieces would go to my brother and his wife. This hasn't come to pass just yet although certain pieces have been given to me either as an engagement or wedding present.

    My father is having a hard time coming to terms with his loss. Part of that has been to cling to certain items, while others he has given away quite easily. This has included jewelry to family friends, her goddaughter, etc. He didn't discuss this with us at first, and he was surprised that we (my brother and I) had expected him to consult us on this. Likewise, he seemed to think that her "everyday" jewelry (necklaces, primarily) were not pieces that anyone would want. I explained to him that I did, as I'd either bought those pieces for her or had bought them with her.

    So, fathers are not the best judge here, is what I'm saying. I would encourage a direct conversation with him, emphasizing your appreciation of these rings for their sentimental value. And that other jewelry would come into that category as well – prized for their sentiment, primarily. It won't be a fun or easy conversation, but they rarely are.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    Wow, I had to read the letter twice before I twigged that IBMSAJIMW actually ended up with a ring. That said, I think Sars is right–you and your dad see the Jewelry/the Ring Incident two different ways. My suggestion would be to sit down and write your father a letter thanking him for giving you the ring and explaining to him how grateful you are to have the ring, what it means to you, why you cherish it, what memories/stories it has for you. That's it, nothing else in the letter. If your mother left her entire estate to him, it is his to do with what he will. If he mentions "doing something about mom's jewelry" again, you can ask how you can help him, sorting, cleaning, inventorying, whatever. That would be way to open the conversation that you and your sister would like to have some of the pieces.

  • Allie says:

    Speaking as a woman, I have no idea what the LW is talking about in regards to "the sentimentality of a daughter" etc. When my grandmother died, the oldest sister decided she got first pick of jewelry–and probably everything else–because she was the oldest daughter, except she was taking for herself and her younger daughter, and taking a lot, so that didn't go over well with her sisters, especially the ones who had taken care of Grandma for the last decade or so of her life. It was less about sentimentality than fairness vs perceived entitlement. It would have been so much easier if everything had been written out or dealt with earlier (when my grandmother stopped wearing the jewelry?). Your signature is spot on.

    Also, I wear my husband's ex-fiancee's engagement ring as my wedding ring. He'd packed it up when he moved, meaning to sell it one day, and didn't unpack it until years later when we we're engaged. The ring was, of course, worth very little in trade-in, and I think it's lovely, so I wear it.

    My mother owns no jewelry (full stop) or anything else that I feel I should be in possession of if she dies. She also doesn't have a partner, so it could just be the scenarios and people involved are far too different.

    All that said, I agree with everything Sars and Nanc said.

  • MizShrew says:

    My sympathies on the loss of your mother — and my empathy on the estate issues. My mother died just over a year ago, and my brothers and I are still dealing with the estate stuff. What I've learned from this is that you simply cannot make assumptions. Doing so will only lead to misunderstanding and resentment. If it's not written down, then it needs to be discussed. Clearly, and with compassion. Especially when both the monetary and the sentimental value are high.

    Sure, it's possible that your father is obstinate, or angry at you and your sister. But it's also possible that he's attached to the jewelry in ways he can't quite deal with or process just yet — his mention that he needs to deal with the jewelry "at some point" may be a hint of that. My father died years ahead of my mom, and she never dealt with a single item of his, however often we offered to help. She just didn't have the emotional energy or will for it.

    Don't know what to say about the angle of "giving it away to a new wife" when it doesn't appear that this woman even exists yet, but the reference seems too specific for this person to be entirely hypothetical, either. But in any case, don't buy trouble that's not on the shelf yet, you know?

    Ultimately, you need accept that the jewelry is now your father's, to dispense with as he sees fit. So by all means make your wishes clear, and help him understand why you feel that way. But after that all you can do is accept that it's his decision to make, and try to understand that it may be awhile before he can let go of some things — even when he says he's ready he may not be. Good luck.

  • drsue says:

    My mom loves jewelry and my dad buys it for her pretty frequently, so she has quite a lot, but nothing that is incredibly expensive and nothing of heirloom quality. My mom came to the US as a child and was dirt poor growing up, so there are no family heirlooms.

    Now, I can appreciate nice jewelry but rarely wear much of it myself, to my husband's frustration. When my mom's time comes, I expect that she will leave everything to my dad, and i am totally fine with him doing what he likes with it. It's THEIRS, not mine. If he decides to let us choose if we want it, fine, but if he wants to sell it to a gold dealer and take a golf trip with the proceeds, well, more power to him. As the eldest, I don't feel i have a "better" claim to it than my sister, either, and I am sure my sister and I can come to terms if that comes to pass. To be fair, we both prefer white gold and platinum so I couldn't see a fight breaking out over my mother's yellow gold, extensive as that collection may be.

    I don't think that my dad would NOT ask us to take what we want of my mother's things, though, so I guess I am not sure what is going on with letter-writer's dad.

    If it is about money for some reason, her father could see how much he could get for the pieces, and the daughters could buy it from him, if it is about the sentiment and wanting to keep the pieces in the family that may be the way to go. It may seem silly, but maybe her father has an idea of what he wants to do with the money (college fund for grandkids?). If you don't ask you won't find out.

  • Kari says:

    Besides what everyone else mentioned, I wanted to address that question at the very beginning and say that I think this is not a gender thing. My brother's wife wears a ring that came from my family, and when the time comes I think my brother should have his share of whatever of our mother's that he wants, whether it's jewelry or furniture or whatever. The jewelry won't automatically go to me just because I am the daughter and it would not have occurred to me that that was an expectation.

  • Maria says:

    BTDT with my mom dying first with no allocation of things. It doesn't really matter how my sisters acted over it as every family reacts differently. As you've noted, the words that are said in the aftermath can hurt. It's as if you're finding out you don't have the special position you always knew you did in the family. I think that's where your hard feelings are coming from, especially in worrying about a new wife who would inherit everything unless he writes a detailed will.

    I think it's easier for your dad to hear his elders and peers than his children where inheritance is concerned. He may not have really observed how things are divided or why, but my guess here is that parting with her things make her feel more gone to him. Maybe you never asked him his feelings about his loss, or maybe he just won't go there. I think you did good by talking to the ladies about it. Write the letter, and just give your dad some time. He sounds like a good man who is in over his head as a widower.

  • Penguinlady says:

    Estate stuff is hard. Very hard. My family was pretty good about it when my mom passed away, and even then, there are hard feelings and grudges. My brother got the house and everything in it, my sister got something I can't even remember, and I wasn't mentioned in the will (therapy for that, thanks!). But my brother pretty much let my sister and I, and aunts & uncles take whatever we wanted. When I go to visit, I still bring things back that are unused (scarves embroidered by my Gram mouldering in a box? Not on my watch!) and I have a list of things I need to get now that we're closer.

    Long and short: it's his property, express your interest in what you want gently & respectfully, and be as fair as possible. And after all that, forgive & forget.

  • Jennifer says:

    Yeah, it sounds like your dad felt like the request was taking away another memory of your mother and that's what's going on here. However, I think you need to work out something with him, formally if necessary. I have heard enough stories of new wives ending up with everything of the family's to think that this needs to be taken care of before your dad finds a new wife–and he's an eligible widower, so the odds of that are HIGH. I probably shouldn't fearmonger, but…it happens a lot.

    I think you might want to sit him down and say that you want whatever of your mother's things, but arrange for them to be formally left to you after his death if it upsets him to hand them off now. Just don't leave it to "well, hopefully."

  • Jen S. 2.0 says:

    Me: younger of two sisters with both parents still living, so haven't dealt with this.

    But dealing with the actual question asked in the letter, I feel like I wouldn't make such a distinction about "jewelry" versus "items of your mother's that mean something to you."

    That is, I don't think I'd outright assume a daughter would get a mother's jewelry, but it does seem more than reasonable to me that a child would be asked whether there is anything of his or her deceased parent's s/he would like to keep. THAT step seems to be what's missing here.

    Indeed, it might so happen that a girl might have more affinity for her mother's antique silver earrings versus her Swiss Army knife and a son might have more affinity for his father's pipe collection versus his watch, but that's not an automatic.

    All of that said, I agree with Sars that A) LW likely wouldn't be asking these questions in the first place if she was satisfied with the resolution, and B) the part LW skipped seems to be the REAL issue. Grieving father and grieving daughters seem to have said and/or done things in this process that were very hurtful, and that's — rightly — coloring this whole shebang.

    **giggle** @ "Plus, we are not money-grabbing bitches and we have our own food processors."

  • Lizard says:

    I agree with Sars that there's something else going on here. I can't say I've ever heard of daughters automatically getting their mother's jewelry. In the case of my paternal grandmother, yes, my aunt got most of her mother's jewelry, with my father (her younger brother) requesting a few pieces for me. That situation was ironic because 1. it was as much about my aunt being the older sister and my dad being the "little brother" with no claim to the jewelry – and not about mothers and daughters; and 2. my aunt and her mother despised each other for most of their lives, and my aunt gave away most of the jewelry anyway. Which….nullifies the sentimental value.

    In the case of my maternal grandmother, my mother didn't have any claim on the jewelry; my grandmother's will specified that her engagement and wedding rings go to my sister, while my brother and I received cash equivalents as bequests. My mother's own will doesn't specify that jewelry go to either daughter, simply that her estate be divided between the three of us. Very similar to my late father's will.
    That said, I am sorry for LW's loss. I've only lost my father, but I do realize that arguments over a parent's belongings aren't really about just the sentimental value.

  • CanuckMom says:

    I don't think it a gendered thing. I think unfortunately, it is more of a 'nobody really knows how everybody else is going to handle this crap' kind of thing.

    When my Nanny passed away the jewelry part was actually pretty easy. Grandpa put everything out on a table and all the family members (boys and girls) got to take turns and pick pieces that we liked to remember her by.

    We had a much tougher time when Grandpa passed away because it turned out that all the kids (mom and her brothers and sisters) had different ideas of what should happen to the furniture etc. Some wanted to do a similar "pick what you like" thing, others wanted to sell stuff and split the money and one brother wanted to take pretty much everything for his daughter on the theory that 'the rest of you aren't going to use it'.

    Still hurt feelings years later. Yuck.

    The funny thing is, the main thing I have to remember Grandpa is this ridiculously warm fleece blanket he bought. He bought them for EVERYBODY in the family one Christmas (I believe there was a sale somewhere) and they have hideous patterns on them but man are they warm. Whenever its winter and I'm bundled up, that makes me think of him and smile.

  • Kat says:

    I've been through this at least three times myself, and the "female jewelry goes to the women/daughters and male jewelry (rings, watches, etc.) goes to the men/sons" practice is definitely a thing. My guess is that maybe it's a cultural practice, though I couldn't tell you which culture if you paid me. It's definitely been the standard in both mine and my husband's families, and we come from separate cultures. Mine, US southern; his, Jewish and Mormon.

    That said, Dad's "at some point" comment definitely strikes me as not ready to deal. My dad made that comment for the better part of 14 years before he was ready for and encouraged me to take the family jewelry I'd inherited from his mom through him.

    My mother-in-law has been making that comment for about 10 years now, while there are granddaughters waiting for this or that piece of jewelry their grandma promised them. She lives with her daughter, so after years of broaching the topic and getting brushed off, last year my sister-in-law began quietly sorting through the jewelry on her own and passing pieces to her various cousins that had been waiting for them. Not for everyone, believe me, but it ended up working for them.

    And as for the new wife bit…the "At this stage, not in the cards" comment and the surveying others about how jewelry should be handled in that situation lead me to believe that there's at least someone angling for the position of new wife and that our correspondent is not a fan. There's no expiration date on grieving, but two years is definitely enough for women to see a widower as eligible again and start pursuing him. It sounds like that's happened, and that it's definitely made the grieving process harder on both dad and his daughters.

    As for how to broach it… Other commenters have pretty well covered it. Let Dad know the jewelry has a lot of sentimental value to you and your sister. Tell him the stories about you all playing with her jewelry with her, so that her understands that it's actually sentiment and not money grubbing. And let him know that when he's ready to "do something about it," the two of you want to help him with that. This doesn't need to all be one conversation either…it might be easier and more empathetic if it's not.

  • Ange says:

    Thanks to an evil second wife that my mother's father chose (is THAT what's going on? Is dad dating?) nearly everything my mother's parents acquired was sucked into the gaping maw that was the step-family. My mother has one book of collected pennies and two cheap pieces of furniture, that's it. She was VERY specific in her will about who gets what.

  • Sarahnova says:

    FWIW, in my family there is a tradition of jewellery being handed down in the female line. My mother has an extensive collection of jewellery, including pieces from her own mother, grandmother and aunt, and has shared with me and my three sisters her plan for how we can choose the pieces we most like after her death. I wore a bracelet that originally belonged to my great-grandmother on my wedding day, lent from my mother's collection. However, not every family has this tradition or expectation, and in my family I don't think we assume that male heirs will have a cash equivalent, since the tradition is that the jewellery is kept and worn, not sold. Short answer, I wouldn't assume anything is standard.

    That said: I'm with Sars. The jewellery has become an emotional symbol of whatever else is going on between the LW, her sister and her father, and I frankly have no clue what that is exactly.

    LW: does your father know that your mother told you and your sister she wanted you to have her jewellery? That said, even if he does, it is in fact his now. I think it would help you all to try and work out what the issues are that you're using the jewellery to represent/act out. At the risk of laying a mawkish guilt trip on you, and assuming (as you imply) that you had a good relationship with your father before, I would hate to see your grief drive the three of you apart rather than together.

  • Angharad says:

    First off, my condolences. Losing someone – and the estate nightmare that follows – is never easy.

    In my family, a bunch of my grandmother's jewelry did end up going to male relatives – her sons and grandsons – with the idea of each branch of the family having something of hers. But my grandmother's will did spell out what each person received, so it wasn't exactly difficult to get everything sorted.

    There's something about your letter (and I'll apologize in advance for this) that bugs me a bit: It seems like it is about the monetary value, at least a little bit. It's likely my own bias, knowing what some relatives did with their inheritance, but it seems like you keep going back to the money issue as well as the legality of whose jewelry it really is. As I said, I apologize and that's likely not the case. If it's coming across in a letter, though, there's a chance it could be coming across that way to your dad and only complicating things.

    In regards to the 'new wife' scenario: This actually played out in my own family. My grandmother married again very late in life. They had both been widowed. While her husband had distributed the sentimental items of his late wife, he brought some of the newer jewelry he had bought for her to his relationship with my grandmother. He and his late wife had discussed it as they knew she was dying. Everyone involved felt that it was something of a tribute, and the jewelry went back to his family upon my grandmother's death. It can be worked out.

  • attica says:

    It might be something as simple as Dad wants it to be His Idea. Which is not the weirdest thing in the world, but also not without being a source of annoyance.

  • Amy says:

    Maybe its cultural, but I have always thought jewelry goes to the daughters, and watches(or cash) go to the sons. My mother has always promised that her engagement ring will go to me to 'stay in the family' and get handed down the female line so that in the event of a divorce a family piece wouldn't be lost.

  • Jessica B. says:

    As an estate attorney, I can share the perspective that parents often are very sensitive to feeling as if their children are acting entitled to an inheritance. The parents' perception of this may not be fair, but it still often exists. My advice would be to keep the focus with your fathe ron the memories of your mother, and the objects associated with the memories, not on who will receive the objects and when. This may allow for more natural conversations with your father, and maybe you will be able to learn more about his perspective and memories as well.

  • Jessica B. says:

    One more thing: My mother-in-law died of cancer several years ago at age 53, so I've seen some of these issues play out in my husband's family. Your father is moving from sharing a day-to-day life with someone to now living life on his own. This is a huge transition. I would encourage you to offer him your unconditional support and love and leave some of these issues for later.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    My folks have been doing some heavy-duty will making of late, and I know that I'm in line to get a lot of my step-mom's jewelry since I'm the only girl, but she's yellow gold heavy and I look awful in it, so I'll probably wind up doling it out to the 3 million little cousins who idolize her for good reason and keep one or two sentimental pieces (or have something reset in something that I'll wear). This is all stuff that they have laid out in advance, though.

    If your dad's maternal units are also wondering about the jewelry, why don't they broach the subject with him? That way it won't come from you or your sister and be possibly seen as a money-grab, and they can emphasize the sentimentality aspect and let him know that it's not an immediate thing, but a "in the very end they should get this stuff" kind of thing.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    IBMSAJIMW, I realize my comment yesterday was pretty brusque. First, I'm sorry for your loss. Death is never easy to deal with and unexpected makes it tougher. The reason I suggested a letter to your father is he might have an easier time processing his feelings (and yours) by reading rather than hearing the details. Everyone absorbs info differently and I'm definitely on the visual beats audio information processing team. Give me a list, a brochure or written directions any day! Sending your dad a letter gives him the chance to read it privately and think about the info. Heck, he may even write back and the conversation may take place that way. @Jessica B. has some great insights to folks in this situation and it might be worth your time to talk with a grief counselor or group and have some outside input into the situation.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Ugh, there's nothing like sorting the possessions of the dead to realize that the deceased person, while the same person, is someone different to every member of the family.

    Daughters see wanting the rings they grew up trying on, talking about, sharing special times with their mother around as a loving tribute and symbol of their mom. It was clear to them, and according to LW, their mom, that they were to have these rings. To be called (or have it insinuated) that they are money grubbing would be incredibly hurtful.

    Dad has lost his wife, his life partner. His home is now a shell filled with her things and she's not there. Each thing is a ghost. A solid one, one you can pick up and wear and polish and store and give away, but a ghost of the woman who once got this ring for their first Christmas, wore that necklace on their last anniversary. To have anybody not "realize" that to ask for a ghost is a body blow must be incredibly hurtful.

    And so nobody talks about what's actually hurting them. They make oblique references to getting around to "dealing", to so far non existent new wives/girlfriends, but never actually putting out their hands and touching the ghost of a missing, loved woman.

    That's what's going to have to happen, before pain and misunderstanding lead to words and scenes you can't take back. Go to a neutral spot (not the family home) and commiserate on how much you miss her, and want her back. When that's done, ask calmly to start thinking as a family about how to think about your mom's things. You don't have to rush right to the safe deposit box and start sorting into piles, but it's time to refocus the conversation.

    Your mom won't disappear when her things are handled, talked about, distributed. But your memories of her might get detached a little from all this undiscussed pain.

  • Jo says:

    I don't think "daughters get mom's jewelry" is automatic, but I think it's reasonable for the surviving spouse to ask his children if there is anything they would want to remember their mother by — sentimental things, not the food processor he won't use.

    It sounds like mom never thought she needed to discuss with dad that she wanted to give certain pieces to the daughters.

    However, the spelling of "jewellery" and "mum" makes me wonder if the letter writer (or her family) are not American. Is it possible that the automatic expectation of "daughter gets mom's jewelry" is more prevalent where the letter writer lives?

  • clobbered says:

    Just to address one minor point. If I died and my spouse found someone as awesome as me or, hopefully, even awesomer to be with, she would have my ghostly good wishes and I would not have a problem if she was gifted something that was of sentimental value to me (like jewelry, though I don't have any) that she would also appreciate. I mean if he likes her that much I would probably have really liked her too. So it's not a 100% guaranteed ick-factor situation, though I can understand than in practice it would be for a lot of people.

  • Letter Writer says:

    Hello and thank you everyone for your replies. I read this again now and realise of course it shows there are bigger issues at play. I didn’t at all mean to paint my Dad as a bad guy because he is not at all. Mum’s jewellery was very important to her. She wore it often and to us it was very much a part of her. You see, she died while on holiday and we never saw her again or had a chance to say goodbye. So to have a piece of her or at least know we will at some point has taken on some significance. Dad just hasn’t realised that it was not just his wife that died, but our mother, even two years later. I can name specific incidents that have occurred that I have had to deal with and accept as part of who he is, like failing to mention me in his 40 minute eulogy at her funeral, or suggesting to my sister and I that he’d spread her ashes in the company of his friends and that we probably wouldn’t want to be there (despite the location of her ashes being spread being one of the few things specifically mentioned in her will), and I could write in for advice about it, but I already know the answer. He is who he is and it just takes time and acceptance. I’m sure he could write in and tell you about what a pain in the ass his daughters have been too, but that is just what happens when the glue in the family disappears. We have had to realign our family dynamic and we are getting there slowly.

    I talk to him about it occasionally, but he doesn’t really listen. I should say he never really listened to anything he didn’t want to before Mum died, she used to complain about it all the time! Ultimately, he is my Dad and I love him and his life has irrevocably changed. I can’t imagine what it must be like for him to lose his whole future. I just wish he’d at least acknowledge how hard it is for us too. I am still trying to accept that my sons will never know their Grandma and how cheated I feel because of her death.

    Anyway, I appreciate the stories about inheritance, it is good to know it can be complicated. Since I wrote in, we did have a breakthrough of sorts in helping Dad understand the great sentimental value of Mum’s jewellery to us. After his uncle died recently, his stepmother called him up to tell him that she was intending to leave him all his father’s war medals and journals when she died. He was incredibly touched and I think it was the first time he was able to personally relate to the emotional significance attached to certain belongings. This helped spark a conversation about Mum’s jewellery and we came to an open-ended understanding about it. And that is all I wanted, was for him to acknowledge that it was important to us. So thank you again for your thoughts.

    For the record, he does have a ‘lady friend’ (his words) but the ‘second wife’ issue was included because of a family friend’s circumstances. We have not met her, but we are happy that he is at least getting out and about and has some companionship.

  • SorchaRei says:

    My mom died about 18 months ago. It hurts. It was a huge loss to me. I miss her a lot and find myself thinking, "oh, Mom will love this" or something, and feeling the loss all over again.

    However, much as it hurts me, it is a far bigger loss for my father. He's lost everything. And as we all deal with the aftermath of her death, it's clear how pivotal she was in keeping their life working, in practical ways. On some occasions, his grief has gotten in the way of his being able to see clearly my grief or my brother's grief. And you know what? I'm okay with that. They were married for 57 years, and suddenly she is gone. I expect him to be lost for awhile, and to find himself thinking "oh, Rosemary will want to see this" only to be hit all over again with the enormity of the loss.

    At the celebration of my mom's life (which she asked for in preference to a funeral), he was on the edge of tears the whole time. If he'd forgotten my name that afternoon, I wouldn't have taken it personally. Grief sucks, and much as I know he loves me, some days, grief has been his whole world.

    As it turned out, for most of her things, he was eager to,get them into the hands of her children, nieces, and nephews who would value them because we all loved her so much. What he did with most things was to let my brother, his wife, my partner and I sort out what, if anything we wanted. Then he offered it to his nieces and nephews. There were a few things my mom had designated for someone in particular. So when it came to the jewelry, my partner and my brother didn't want any. My SIL and I went through it all and each of us took a few pieces that we especially wanted. I insisted on getting my greatgrandmother's engagement ring, but otherwise, we were more often urging one another to take things.

    It was sometimes hard to see him so hellbent on giving all her stuff away, but that was his way of dealing with the loss: to make sure all the people she loved had something concrete to remember her by. If he'd ended up dealing with his grief by holding onto all her stuff, that would have been disconcerting. My mother died. Whatever happened next was bound to be disconcerting.

    One thing that has been very helpful to me in navigating all this loss has been remembering The circle theory. Sometimes I've wanted my dad to be more present to me, because after all, he's my Daddy who can kiss a scraped knee better, and I would love his support. But he's in a smaller circle than I am, so it's my job to be there for him. And remembering that makes it easier not to take it personally.

    Death and grief and all the transitions that come with them are hard enough to navigate. Assuming my father has the best of intentions, and that he hurts even more than I do, has been so helpful. As it happens, we got him through the early days, and then through a life threatening illness of his own, and then moved out of the house they'd bought in 1962 (another loss, although he was right that he didn't need a 5 bedroom house, and we were right that we'd be better able to support him if he didn't live 1000 miles away), and starting the next phase of his life. AND, most importantly, we all still like one another. I feel blessed by that, but I also feel partly responsible for that, because I've been super careful not to let myself expect more than he could reasonably give.

    Sorry it's so long, and deepest condolences to everyone in this thread who has suffered a loss.

  • WordMaven says:

    My mother passed away 20 years ago at age 73. It was not entirely unexpected, as she had COPD. I had been out to visit her a couple of times in her last year, and she gave me a large velvet bag with all her jewelry stuffed in it, and a handwritten paper that listed all of it, and which pieces were for me and which for my younger sister. Like many of the commenters, my sis and I had grown up trying on Muth's gorgeous rings, etc., watching her get dressed for a night out, and they all had sentimental value for us. I was a bit taken aback when she pressed that bag of jewels, including her wedding rings and the 5-carat emerald she had worn every day for decades, into my hands, but I flew back home and tucked it all away. She collapsed and died a couple of months after that, and when we four children gathered at their Massachusetts home, my father requested that we draw up what we dubbed "the trinket list," to designate which of the many treasures our parents had brought home from their years of travel and living abroad each of us wanted to have. For all their wealth, Muth was almost casual about some of these things, and let us take the ivory carvings and lacquerware and such down from the shelves and play with them on the floor. We four shared several of bottles of wine and pulled an all-nighter, sifting through memories as we compiled our list. She died in September, and in December, my husband and I drove down to their Florida home so he wouldn't have to be alone at Christmas. Imagine our shock when we discovered Dad's mistress of many years was installed in that house! In the guest room on the dresser was a large box filled with mementos of their relationship dating back to when this woman was a personal assistant to our father at his company in England. Turns out she is 2 years older than me. Ack! My dad is 94 now (I am 67, the mistress is now 69). Dad and our mother had been married over 50 years when she died. (!) But he has been "with" his British mistress for 45 years now. (!!) When my parents retired in MA, he bought the mistress a condo in NY. She now lives in a house in Shrewsbury that he bought for her. They do not live together, though they annually take at least 2-3 high-end 10-week long cruises together and they summer in Provence. Needless to say, I am so glad my mother thought to give me and my sister all her jewelry in advance, since the "Trinket List" is useless now, as the mistress has all of those memories of ours in her house now. What a soap opera! The moral of the story is: put things in writing, make your wishes clear and official. And another takeaway is that there's nothing wrong with being direct and proactive and giving some of your special things to those you want to have them "early."

  • Kristin says:

    @SorchaRei – Everyone who loses someone they love should have to read your letter. Amazing.

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