The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Should she send former stepkids old photos of their dad?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My first husband and I divorced 30 years ago, after a 10-year relationship and marriage. His children and I weren’t close, and I was wife No. 2 of 3 or 4. In all the years since, my stepdaughter emailed me to tell me her dad had died, 10 years ago, and nothing since. We didn’t have a great relationship, they lived far away and only visited in the summer through our marriage.

As I age, I realize I have pictures of their dad and a couple of things their paternal grandmother had given me. I am trying to downsize and let go. Should I send these items to the kids? Or should they go in the donation box?

— Wife No. 2

Wife No. 2: Putting myself in the kids’ place, I say box up whatever you have and send it with a nice note that you found these mementos and thought they might want them. The substance matters, not the source.

Basically, I don't see the harm in sending a box — but I do flinch at the idea of someone throwing away photographs and other artifacts from my late parent's life that I'd love to have.

I'm also interested to hear of others' experiences.

Re: Pictures: I agree with sending the items. Last year my stepmother called me to pick up some things of my father’s and grandmother’s when she was moving into assisted living. This was almost 45 years after my dad’s death. I was a little resentful that the items had been sitting in her basement all that time when I would have treasured them, but mostly just glad to have them.

— Mostly Glad

Mostly Glad: I hope in time you were able to let go of the resentment. I could see myself having a 45-year standoff with boxes in my basement. Going through stuff is the worst, and it’s possible to forget or not even know about what’s in there.

Re: Photos: I have a relative I haven’t seen or spoken to ever, really, and they said they “felt weird” emailing me to ask if I wanted something of my grandfather’s — I guess they were just hoping to go through my father and avoid talking to me directly. I was happy they asked, appreciated the gift, and said if they ever want to email me in the future they’re more than welcome to.

— Grateful

Grateful: So many communications don’t happen because someone “feels weird,” and it’s understandable — if we could harness the power of awkwardness, we could end fossil fuel use tomorrow. But it’s still such an unforced error, especially when the whole transaction can happen unawkwardly by mail.

Re: Dad’s stuff: Please send it to them! My dad’s long-term girlfriend and I did not get along, but when he died, she took me to lunch and gave me a bunch of stuff. It was unbelievably kind because she did not owe it to me. And that is how I remember her.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: So powerful, thank you, that one selfless gesture overwrote an entire relationship.

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