Advertisements

#881: “Does privacy exist after death?”

Dear Captain:

My parents get along pretty well with my father-in-law, let’s call him Peter. He is a widower so they usually invite each other to visit, my husband and I included. We usually have lunch, some bottles of wine and everyone has fun. Last time my parents visited Peter my mother stumbled across an old newspaper. It had a eulogy for my mother-in-law (let’s call her Nora). She was a great woman, a social worker and activist. Unfortunately, she passed away before I met my husband.

After my mom read it, Peter came back with some printed documents and handed them to my parents. They were some poems written by Nora, that he found after her death. My mom started immediately to read them and after finishing the first page said if I wanted to read them too.

Peter and Nora had had problems during their marriage. By the time of her death, they barely speak to each other, and were practically divorced. For that reason I think Peter probably didn’t know what Nora wanted to do with her writings.

So I said “Thanks, but I don’t want to, it makes me feel uncomfortable.” And everyone asked why. So I said “well, because I don’t really know if Nora wanted them to be public. Maybe is personal stuff, and it feels wrong.”

Awkward silence ensued and then they replied the following:
Mom: “It’s no big deal sweetie, I’m sure Nora wouldn’t mind”.
Peter: “Well, it doesn’t matter much because she’s dead”
Dad: “But the only reason people write poems is to be published, isn’t’ it?”

They insisted, but I kept firm and refused to read anything. But as my parents read them and I didn’t, I was the one that ended up feeling out of place. (In case you wonder, my husband was taking a nap and missed the conversation.)

I’m super defensive about my privacy and the idea of being exposed terrifies me. My mom and I used to have big arguments about this topic. Some of the things she did include: Throw away T-shirts claiming that they made me look fat. Open bank slips with my name on it. Go to my University and asked my teachers about my grades. She finally stopped doing these things long time ago, but I still feel threatened when she starts asking me personal stuff or comments on photos or personal things I have around in my house.

And I also used to write a lot during my twenties. I have at least a dozen handwritten notebooks, with tons of personal stuff: poetry, therapy tasks, ideas, cooking recipes, drawings, rants about people, etc. I really would hate if someone reads them but I don’t have the courage to toss them.

So, I honestly don’t know if I did the right thing or if I just got defensive and missed a chance to get to know Nora better. Would you please give me your advice and opinions? And also, what can I do with my notebooks? Any ideas?

Thanks a lot.

Privacy Champion.
(she/her pronouns)

Dear Privacy Champion,

You don’t have to read the poems if it makes you so uncomfortable.

However, however their marriage ended, absent a record of Nora’s stated wishes on the subject, Peter (and your spouse & Nora’s other children, if any) have the best right to decide what happens to her poems and other writings. There’s one story where this is a violation of Nora’s privacy, and another story where Peter shared something beautiful she made with you and your parents so that you could come to know her a little bit. And maybe also share his own surprise and wonder at finding these things he’d never known about when she was alive – there are the poems themselves, which are hers, and the mystery and feelings that sprung from finding them, which are his. He’s not exploiting the poems for financial reward or broadcasting them widely, he’s sharing them at home with family. We don’t know Nora’s true intentions for them (maybe she would be horrified, maybe she forgot about them completely, maybe she tried to have them published and was rejected and would be glad someone is reading). She’s not here, and whatever you would want in her shoes, she’s not you. Their marriage was imperfect, and Peter is an imperfect steward of what she left behind, but he is the steward you’ve got. Doubtless he has his own history & ethics around grief, death, and privacy.

Were your history with your parents and strong feelings around privacy important in that moment at Peter’s house? Of course, they’re your feelings, and you can’t really stop yourself from having feelings in the middle of having the feelings. Your parents were wrong to encroach on your privacy that way when you were growing up. You have good reasons for both having your shoulders up around your ears and the ethical stand you took about reading the poems.

Were those feelings the most important things in that moment (more important than Peter’s feelings)? That’s debatable for me. If your relationship with Peter is important to you, the episode might warrant an apology to him along the lines of “I realize you had only good intentions in sharing Nora’s writings with us. In the moment it bumped up against some of my own family history & fears about my private writings in an unexpected way, and I overreacted. I still don’t feel right about reading the poems, but I’m sorry I made things so uncomfortable that day.

As for your own journals & writings, here’s what you do to make your wishes explicit:

  • Store that stuff in a secure place.
  • Find someone you trust.
  • Tell that person that you’d like those writings to be destroyed, unread, in the event of your death and ask them to agree to handle that for you.
  • Spell out those wishes in your Last Will & Testament. “In the event of my death, I would like (designated person) to be in charge of destroying my journals and other personal writings, stored (in location)(clearing my internet browser history)(resetting my cell phone to factory settings). Privacy is very important to me, and these are private things that I never wanted to be seen or published.

If you don’t want to destroy your writings while you are alive, that’s probably the best you can do to protect them after your death. It’s not perfect, but we all die in the middle of having other plans.

Advertisements
112 comments
  1. LW doesn’t read as overreacting, to me. Not the way she tells it, anyway. I don’t think she owes anyone an apology. (An apology might be tactically wise, but not owed.)

    She describes her first reaction as “Thanks, but I don’t want to, it makes me feel uncomfortable.” That should have been the end of it. The rest follows from her family pressing the point with her.

    I think this is the kind of situation where people read “I’m choosing not to do X, because it makes me uncomfortable” as “I’m judging *you* for doing X.”

    So as soon as LW says “I’m not comfortable reading these poems”, her family hears “You shouldn’t read these poems either. You’re bad people.” And then they get defensive.

    • JenniferP said:

      Fair point, and I agree that once you say “Thanks, but no” that should be the end of it.

      Also, I don’t think an apology is owed, but I do think “I don’t think you had bad intentions by showing us the poems, the whole thing ran into a lot of feelings I have about privacy that you had no way of knowing about” would be a kind thing to say to Peter. Even if the end of the marriage was unhappy, he stands closer to Nora & her wishes than the LW does, and she *was* appalled that he was showing them to people at all.

      • *Do* you have a script for saying “I’d rather not” without people hearing “And you shouldn’t either”?

        Because I’ve seen people offer every kind of assurance that choice-for-me isn’t meant as judgment-for-you, and it never works.

        • Ainomiaka said:

          That is a fascinating question, and I wish the captain would do a whole post on it. Though I do kinda feel that for this post the author DID mean “and you shouldn’t either.”

          • I’ve just always fallen back on something like, “Sorry, but it’s just the way I am. I have no problem with you [doing x], but I just don’t feel comfortable /it’s not for me/etc.”

            Especially if there are people who know you, they shouldn’t get offended by a simple explanation that puts the problem back on you.

            Any sort of conversation like this, I keep 3 things in mind: 1. Make it clear you have not problem with the others doing it if it’s something minor like this. (Obviously, there are extremes where this is not the case.) and 2. Keep it about you, not them, and 3. Keep any explanations/justifications as short, simple and concise as possible. The more you explain, the more opportunities you give them to bug you about it.

        • JenniferP said:

          “Please, enjoy!!! I prefer not to.” There is no magic way to get people to back off, though, if they are determined to press the boundary or feel aggrieved.

          The LW here *did* think (& communicate, when pressed) “It feels wrong” aka “and you shouldn’t either.”

          • Hindsight being a fantastic thing, another response might be “no, I feel x way about perhaps private writings, but do tell me about her and your thoughts on who she was.” If the beautiful thing about the poems is to know something of this person and to share that with others, perhaps that can be done though his story of finding the poems, seeing something before unseen in them, and thinking anew about her life. All that can be done without reading the poems but listening to a story that is entirely Peter’s making. Perhaps that might have filled the awkward silence while others read.

            Heck, that might even be a nice thing to work into a polite apology: “I would love to hear more about this lovely woman from your stories and memories.”

        • Turtle Candle said:

          I’ve had luck with a two-part response.

          Part one is some variant of “I’d rather not, for idiosyncratic personal reasons.” (Or “weird personal reasons” or “me stuff” or whatever, depending on context/audience).

          Part two is some variant of “But please, have fun!” accompanied by a sincere smile. (Or if it’s not a “have fun” type thing, “please, enjoy!” or “please, dig in!” or “please, go on without me!”, again, depending on context/audience.)

          I think both halves are important. Part one is an explanation-without-explaining (and I specifically don’t explain, even if asked; I just keep repeating that it’s a personal thing) that makes it clear that it’s a me-thing, an idiosyncratic personal thing, not a blanket judgment. Part two has to be sincere and sincerely said with a smile, but its purpose is to explicitly make it okay for them to do/read/watch/eat the thing.

          (The place where this comes up the most for me is non-sustainable seafood, which I choose not to eat but feel I can’t judge others for eating, because certainly there are other parts of my diet that are deeply unsustainable themselves–I choose to prioritize sustainable seafood, other people might choose to prioritize ending factory farming, etc. So when someone is pressing, say, maguro nigiri on me, which I adore but choose to no longer eat, I’ll say something like, “Oh, I’m staying away from that for idiosyncratic personal reasons, but please have my share!” or whatever.)

          Obviously this only works if you really DO just feel like it’s a personal “thing” of yours and you really DON’T judge other people for doing/reading/watching/eating the thing. If you can’t honestly say the “please enjoy!” part, then yeah, it gets a lot more complex.

        • Duly Concerned said:

          What I would probably say is “I’m not interested right now, I want to take a moment to (fill in the blank).” The reason I don’t leave it at the “I’m not interested right now” bit is so that the other party (or parties) will not feel pressure to postpone what they are doing in order to entertain me.

          This has worked in the past for me when I have been offered the chance to do something I just don’t want to do. For instance, while I know the rules of playing various card games, I don’t really enjoy them so I turn down the invitation while assuring those who do want to play cards that they are not abandoning me to boredom.

        • Leonine said:

          “That’s not my jam, but for real, you do you.” In other words, keep it light but sincere. The real key, though, is that after you say it, cease to care. You’ve politely made yourself clear, and that’s all you have to do or indeed can do. Their feelings are their problem.

        • Blue Meeple said:

          I’ve never come up with a better way than some form of “I don’t do it/want to/etc, but it’s fine if you do”. This comes up every time I throw a party, since I don’t drink alcohol but I don’t mind if other people drink it around me (unlike, say, dairy, which makes me sick so don’t bring it into my home please). It…depends a lot on tone, I think? Miscommunication can easily turn into a “the lady doth protest too much” situation, unfortunately, which can get unpleasant.

        • HannahS said:

          I’m a really big fan of a breezy “Not for me, thanks, but please enjoy/go ahead.” I think that saying “I’m uncomfortable (with this action/conversation/substance use/etc.)” actually does include an implicit “Stop doing that/change the subject/put your drugs away.” I don’t even think it’s always about others ascribing judgement or self-righteousness, but about ambiguity.

          To take an example, I don’t drink. If I’m with friends, and someone says, “Hey, let’s grab beer. Want to, Hannah?”. If I say, “No, I don’t want to, it makes me uncomfortable,” my friends can’t be sure if I mean, “No, the presence of alcohol makes me uncomfortable and if you want me to feel comfortable, you should stop” or “No, I don’t drink, and if you want me to feel comfortable, offer me juice instead.”

          If I’m dealing with well-intentioned, reasonable people, in all probability, they WANT me to feel comfortable, and asking “Yeah, but do you care if we do?” after someone says they’re uncomfortable comes off as uncaring. So…yeah. Not applicable to the OP’s situation, because she was uncomfortable with the action itself, but for low/no moral stakes, that’s what I use. I really dislike it when people reassure me that they’re “oh-not-judging-me-at-all”, or use its cousin “this-is-just-me-it’s-my-personal-choice.” Regardless of intent, I find it condescending.

        • aebhel said:

          Honestly, ‘I’d rather not’ is probably as good as you’re going to get. Once you start justifying your choice not to do something, it often comes across as judgement of people who *do* the thing.

          I think the problem in this case is that the LW seems to be taking a broader moral stand than her own discomfort; once you go beyond ‘I don’t feel comfortable reading something like that’ and into ‘but really, do you even know if she wanted people reading that?’, there is a moral judgement implied.

        • As someone who often gets asked why they are a vegetarian while sat at the dinner table – everyone else with hunks of meat in front of them and me with no wish to ruin their meal – it’s something I come across quite often.

          I usually just explain that it’s wrong for me / something I can’t bring myself to do, but “that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you though!” I say something about respecting everyone’s views as long as they come from an informed place. Or sometimes (eg at a restaurant where I’m clearly veggie & server isn’t sure if hubby will be sharing with me) I’ll make a comment to the effect that while I feel it’s wrong for me personally to eat meat, it would be just as wrong for me to stop someone else from doing so. And do so in a lighthearted way rather than a sombre one. (Hey! It’s cool, it would be just as wrong for him to give up meat as it is for me to eat it!” kinda thing.)

          I guess that tactic of “It’s not for me, but hey, I’m just one person and what’s right for me might not be right for you” can be translated into other subjects and circumstances, like this one.

      • Ainomiaka said:

        I think this is a beautiful way of putting it. She may not owe anything, but can extend an olive branch if desired.

      • Leonine said:

        I’m not sure about that. That little moment of silence followed by her mother’s assertion that it wasn’t a big deal could be read a few different ways. Did the LW say her piece calmly and her mother reply by pressuring or condescending to her? Or did the LW speak hotly and the mother attempt to reassure her? Based on the other details, I feel like it’s somewhere in between. I want to be clear here that I am not blaming the LW, and I don’t think she needs to apologize (I wouldn’t want to read the poems either, especially without warning, especially in front of people) but it does seem like there were a few cooks working on the awkward broth.

    • Ankh Morpork said:

      Ehhhhhhhh…… I don’t know. It would not be outrageous for someone to hear “It feels wrong” and read between the lines “I feel what you’re doing is wrong”. I have had that kind of “it feels wrong” directed at me and I felt those few missing words. Saying “I didn’t mean to imply you were doing anything wrong – the situation just made me uncomfortable” wouldn’t be out of line if you feel a disturbance in the relationship. But then again – if everything seems fine bringing it up again might make things uncomfortable again.

      I would like to quantify this by saying I created a SUPER uncomfortable moment with my father-in-law who I like very much this weekend when he tried to defend a politician and I told him I could not speak for any other group but as a woman I found that person extremely sexist and I would not debate that feeling. Then I walked away. I was soooo very temped to tell him that both of his daughters (and his son – but less relevant) would agree with me and go ask one to back me up – but I decided it could landslide from there. Maybe I made him think twice about it – maybe I just made that relationship a little worse – maybe he still likes me but has a lesser opinion of me – I don’t know. But I just couldn’t not say it – I couldn’t let it stand for the sake of peace Some things just grate at your inner you too much. So LW – if that is how you felt – then that is just how things are now – and that is how things will have to be.

      • JenniferP said:

        The good news for you and the Letter Writer is that people who love/like each other can survive an uncomfortable moment. It’s not wrong to disagree/make it weird/return the weird to sender and you did the right thing.

        • That’s the reason I, personally, probably wouldn’t bring it up again and offer some sort of reassurance to her father-in-law. It’s okay for people who care about each other to nevertheless have differences of opinion on things. We wouldn’t expect LW to seek out her FIL if they’d been pressuring her to, say, eat meat despite ethical concerns. There’s no good reason she should assuage him that this strongly-held opinion is all about her and not him either.

          I’m all about the low-cost gesture to folks to keep relationships happy and healthy, but for my money it’s a better move to send the message that you think it’s okay for you to have your own beliefs and priorities without any obligation to make other people feel good about them.

          • toniprufrock said:

            I think there’s an important distinction between how emotional the subject is because he knew and is presumably grieving for the MIL.
            It’s te difference between ‘I don’t think you should eat this random steak and I judge you a bit for eating animals but it’s common’ vs ‘I don’t think you should et that cow we owned called Bessie and didn’t we have a lovey time together, you’re disrespecting er memory by eating her.’
            It’s more emotionally frought and could make him question his grief process in a potentially damaging way. Worth just extending an apology or a softening just because of that, if only to recognise as a third party who didn’t know the women LW could have been more tactful to the man who fathered a child with the lady.

            LW was right to have her opinion, but it was impossible to make that comment without moral judgement.

    • dr_silverware said:

      I think the key here is that the LW was also pressing their point too far. Hindsight is 20/20, etc, but probably the best thing to do would have been exit the situation. I don’t think it was an overreaction to not want to hear the poetry; I think it was an overstep to stay in the room and say that they didn’t want to read it and no one else should. It was a good time to say, “I’m going upstairs to check on husband, I feel uncomfortable reading this stuff. See you in an hour or so!”

      • ” I don’t think it was an overreaction to not want to hear the poetry; I think it was an overstep to stay in the room and say that they didn’t want to read it and no one else should.”

        This *did not happen* in the story that the LW relates in her letter. Not a thing. Didn’t happen.

  2. msexceptiontotherule said:

    At one time, the journals I made a point to write in daily were the only way I could think of to make a detailed record the terrible things that were happening to me (victim of DV in LTR) in case I were to disappear or die – ‘they may not have known about it while I was alive but at least my journals would be there as evidence and for my family’ – that sort of thing. Now they are boxed up and put away in the attic, the Mr. knows about them and I will likely just shred them when I ‘get around to it’. If I don’t, he’ll have to do it for me but I’m fine with him reading the contents in the event of my passing, though both of us aren’t intending to die anytime soon if we can help it. Still, as the Captain points out “…we all die in the middle of having other plans.”

    Do you have someone you would be ok with taking care of destroying those personal writings in your notebooks? Are you opposed to a bonfire-of-notebooks-destruction? Is keeping them around until some undetermined future point in time more important to you than simply shredding and/or burning them? If you’re not ready to let them go, wait. If you’re ready, find a fire pit, grab some lighter fluid and a box of matches – you’ve got some notebooks to burn!

  3. B. said:

    Uh, I’m not sure if I agree with some of the Captain’s advice: when she suggests to apologise to Peter, I’d change the wording. That’s because I don’t think the LW made the situation awkward or uncomfortable. She was asked whether she wanted to do a thing, refused (politely, I assume), and then the other people present tried to press against her stated boundary. If someone was rude or awkward in that situation, I’d think it was her parents and/or Peter for pressing the matter after being told ‘no’.
    So, LW, if you feel the need to clear the air between Peter and you, I’d go for something more like this:
    “Peter, I want you to know that I appreciated that you offered to share Nora’s writing with me and my parents. I don’t know if I said this in the moment, but my refusal to read her poems stems from personal reasons/my own feelings on privacy [tweak this part depending on how much you want to disclose] and was not intended as any kind of disrespect towards Nora or you. I hope I didn’t cause offense”.
    As for the rest of the answer, I think the Captain covered it well. Everyone has different ways of honoring their loved ones and what’s respectful for someone can feel awful to someone else. You don’t have to read anything that makes you uncomfortable, nor should you feel guilty for saying ‘no’ (as I said earlier, I don’t think it was you who caused the awkwardness). But Peter wasn’t wrong to share Nora’s poems, either.

    • B. said:

      Sorry, I’ve seen now that this has already been adressed ^^”

    • JenniferP said:

      Great suggestion on the edited script!! Thank you.

      • B. said:

        Thank you, I’m glad you like it 🙂

  4. #1. Everybody… Get. A. Will. Now.

    Regardless of age, assets, etc., if you are in any way concerned about what will happen to your stuff (including things like pets) after you die, get a will written up. There’s a lot of leeway in what can be put in one, so don’t think that a certain request (i.e. destroying all journals) can’t be included. Also keep in mind, (at least in the US), that if you die intestate (without a will), everything will automatically go to your closest living relative, be it siblings, parents, or batty Aunt Martha who thinks *everything* needs to go on facebook.

    #2. LW, what you did was perfectly fine. “I’m not comfortable with it” is a perfectly valid reason in and of itself. Where you went wrong is giving them a reason when they demanded one. You don’t owe them any further explanation than you don’t want to. As the Captain reminds us periodically, “No” is a complete sentence. When you gave them further explanation, they took it as an invitation to point out where you were wrong. (And may I say all three responses were rather galling.)

    Given what your Mom has done in the past, no wonder you’re big on privacy. My parents weren’t quite that bad, but they had their moments. Honestly? next time something about privacy issues comes up, I think you might try reminding both them *and* yourself that you are a grown-up adult married lady. That can be surprisingly hard to do, particularly if, like me, you were conditioned/brainwashed at an early age to always defer to your elders, especially your parents. Since your Mom in particular seems to have an issue with prying and overreaching, try keeping things similar to this in mind when dealing with her:

    “Mom, I’m not discussing why.”

    “Mom, please don’t pry into my private matters. I know it’s not a big deal to you, but it is to me.”

    Mom, I’m an adult. That’s my life.”

    And as always, don’t hesitate to put your foot down and stand up for yourself. If Mom’s driving you batty by prying into your private life, cut off communication for a while. It may seem excessive, but I’m guessing you’ve tried being polite and subtle, and that’s worked about as well as a screen door on a submarine.

    My own Mom wasn’t near as bad, but she did often go charging through my barriers into my private adult life that was none of her business. The thing that finally changed her mind was when I got so mad and frustrated during a phone call that basically said something like “Mom, I’m an adult and I am not listening to this any more,” and hung up on her. (understand, that was basically a cardinal sin of rudeness in our family.) I then refused to respond to her for several days. But she did change her tune and apologized.

    Sometimes, a brick-sized clue is about the only thing that works. Best of luck, LW. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it in the end.

    • No Longer In Academia said:

      Re the first point, it’s worth remembering that you can’t guarantee that an executor will carry out the instructions in the will. Yes, they are legally obliged to follow instructions, but this is only an issue insofar as someone objects when they don’t go along with the will. If there are beneficiaries expecting money, then there’s a good chance that they’ll kick up a fuss if the executor isn’t handing it over. But if there’s no one willing to try to enforce a direction like ‘destroy all my papers’, then there’s no guarantee it will happen.

      The only way to be absolutely sure the papers would be destroyed is to do it yourself while you’re alive. Even if you appoint the most trustworthy executor you can, there’s no certainty once other people are involved. People can behave in very unexpected ways once a will is involved.

      • If there’s something like “this relative is a beneficiary if they destroy all my papers”, does that work? Is that kind of thing even enforceable, or is it still “only if people object”? @_@

        • Leagle said:

          Generally, no, it’s not.

          I’ve seen people try and fail.

          You would have better luck leaving everything to a specific person who you know will destroy the papers after the probate is closed.

      • Leagle said:

        “Re the first point, it’s worth remembering that you can’t guarantee that an executor will carry out the instructions in the will.”

        No, but a court can guarantee that the executor will carry out the instructions in the will. That’s the point of probating the will. Court oversight. Otherwise, why probate it?

        In this case, however, whether or not a court* will let you destroy the papers depends upon if anyone objects AND whether you are Jane Doe or Proust. If your writings are worth anything, your executor won’t be allowed to destroy them irrespective of what your will asks them to do. They may even get in serious trouble if they do so. (Same goes for creative works of art, craft, design, etc.) Any item that has intrinsic value as property or intellectual property will not be destroyed.

        *(in the Anglo-American model of jurisprudence/can’t speak to other systems)

        (I’ve seen this in my practice more than once. It gets ugly. As you age and become infirm, do NOT keep anything you don’t want out there in the world after you are gone).

        Also, I feel I must point out that having your will address this specific issue are pointless in 99.99% of cases if you live in the so-called “developed world”** and don’t have a deadly dangerous occupation.

        **(hate the term, but there’s not a good alternative that’s readily understood. I prefer “privileged world”, but, alas, it’s not caught on).

        Wills have no power until you are dead and they have been probated. If you are alive, but incapacitated, they are less than useless.

        The vast majority of people in “developed” countries have a period of decline and incapacity prior to death. Many will be in an institution when they die and a growing number will be in assisted living or nursing home care.

        The real question for most of us is not “what will happen when I die” but “what will happen when Jack and Jill go through my papers when I’m in the assisted living home/nursing home/hospital/hospice?”

        Finally, if you ask a friend to do this but do not legally enable them to do so by a power of attorney and will designation as executor, they are breaking the law and could face sanction if a family member objects.

        • Traffic Spiral said:

          “If your writings are worth anything, your executor won’t be allowed to destroy them irrespective of what your will asks them to do.”

          Really? What law says that? Seems odd.

        • “No, but a court can guarantee that the executor will carry out the instructions in the will. That’s the point of probating the will. Court oversight. Otherwise, why probate it?”

          Ehhhh. I mean, obviously law varies depending on where you are, but in the area I work in, probate (or ‘administration’ if no will is involved) is just “here is the will (if applicable), here is the value of the estate, yes I have notified everybody I have to that I am applying to deal with the estate, yes I will totally do what I’m supposed to with the estate according to the will and/or the law.” It’s the financial side of things the court is concerned about. If you have a box of private papers, no court official is going to be hanging over the executor’s shoulder to make sure they don’t read something, or show something to other people, or even go posting it online, before destroying it, nobody’s going to check and make sure it *was* destroyed. The best way to make sure something you don’t want seen isn’t seen is to deal with it yourself while you’re capable. And since “incapable” can come in a heartbeat, that’d be “right now”.

          Also, as has been touched on, wills are not 100% inviolable/enforceable no matter what you put in them. Some places won’t allow you to disinherit your children without a damn good reason, for example (and no, “we haven’t talked in 20 years” is NOT going to cut it, even if the kid is the one who severed ties, even if the kid swore up and down they wouldn’t touch your money with a bazillion foot pole, even if the kid signed something saying “I won’t touch your money with a bazillion foot pole” – many people find this ‘unfair’, but this article: http://www.notaries.bc.ca/resources/scrivener/spring2007/scrivener_spring_2007%2078.pdf gives some VERY good examples as to why giving even adult children the *opportunity* to have the will varied – not the automatic right – is a very, very, VERY good thing). Check your local laws. Also also, if your estate is below a certain value, probate may not even be legally required. So depending on your assets, a simple hand written list of your wishes (if you have no assets and all you really have is personal items you want dealt with) may be just as effective as a will, or a will kit if you want something “kinda legal” .Don’t get me wrong, where I’m from you can legally write your own will with or without the kit, and with or without a lawyer, as long as it’s properly witnessed, HOWEVER, self-written/wills kit wills are naturally going to carry a higher risk of unclear language and/or errors that make administrating the estate harder/make your wishes unclear and possibly not carried out as you’d have wanted. Assets of monetary value – investments, bank accounts, real property or family heirlooms that carry value – is where you would want to consider seeing a lawyer or notary to get a will drawn up. If you do decide to see a lawyer, shop around, find out what you can about the reputation/background (here you can look up a lawyer’s name on the law society page and it’ll tell you if they’ve ever been disciplined, for example), see if a notary can draft it instead (notaries can *sometimes* be less expensive than lawyers, but also sometimes have different/limited allowances as to what they can do, e.g. in my area a notary an absolutely assist with a will as long as no trusts are involved).

          Also also: Power of Attorney/Living Will, guys. Yes, the subject is uncomfortable. It can be way MORE uncomfortable to be in a place where you can no longer make decisions and someone else has to for you and has to fly blind, or worse, CAN’T, or at least can’t without going through a much more expensive (in both money and time) process. So put on your adulting pants and go find out how they work! Again, in my area, you can make your own (and there are actually forms online), and a lawyer is only involved in certain circumstances which the forms make clear if you need need one or not. Once you have something drawn up and stored in a safe place, then you can drop the uncomfortable subject and never have to think of it again AND never have to worry “what happens to me/my assets and belongings if I’m incapacitated?”

          • Molly Grue said:

            Some places won’t allow you to disinherit your children without a damn good reason, for example (and no, “we haven’t talked in 20 years” is NOT going to cut it, even if the kid is the one who severed ties, even if the kid swore up and down they wouldn’t touch your money with a bazillion foot pole, even if the kid signed something saying “I won’t touch your money with a bazillion foot pole” – many people find this ‘unfair’,

            Holy craptoads, I was relieved when the article you linked to was about Canadian law. If my parents leave me so much as a thin dime I am going to be pissed. Angrier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Even leaving all that hypothetical money to a shelter for queer youth (if I couldn’t think of a cause that would piss them off more) wouldn’t assuage the insult of receiving it in the first place.

          • My husband’s parents threatened many times to disinherit him if he didn’t “get [me] in line.” When they died last year, we ready the will, which had been written before he even met me. He was not even in that will (although he is the executor). We have wondered how they thought they were going to disinherit him if they had never inherited him in the first place.

          • Molly Grue, can’t respond directly to you, but I encourage you to read the article I linked about why that law exists. Nobody *has* to accept an inheritance, so you are free to do whatever you want with your parents’ money – whether it’s to donate every dime to a charity, or to refuse to accept it, in which case there are probably local laws on what happens to it if you say no (see article here: http://estatelawcanada.blogspot.ca/2010/04/can-beneficiary-turn-down-inheritance.html for another Canadian-based example of this). I understand why there are people out there who want nothing to do with their parents’ estate, but as they have the choice to not accept it, I think it’s much fairer on children who were abused and *do* need financial support to give them the opportunity to get it. And in that vein, though it’s none of my business, I’d encourage you to consider accepting that inheritance and *yes*, donating the entire amount to a shelter or something similar, because accepting that money in no way validates anything your parents said or did to you, but passing it on gives your the chance to give other children like you who aren’t in a financially stable enough place to say “no” to money from ANY source the chance to get on their feet despite their parents’ actions against them. Consider it the opportunity to give the financial equivalent of a giant middle finger, not just to your parents, but to other parents like them still out there. Much love and affection to you from an internet stranger. I unfortunately see plenty of parents trying to use their assets to manipulate and abuse the lives of their children (as well as many many children who try to use the death of their parents to manipulate and abuse the rest of their family at the *worst* possible time) – you are not alone. Although we have to follow those peoples’ wishes when drafting their estate documents, it always makes me secretly happy and smug to know that they can write down whatever they want, it doesn’t meant their kids are going to suffer anything more than maybe a bit of extra time challenging the will instead of probating it, and all the parents have done is punish *all* their kids by costing the estate the extra money and time involved in being challenged. So all they’ll be remembered for is that they tried (and failed) to drag their pettiness and cruelty beyond the grave with them.

          • Molly Grue said:

            nonniemu, thank you for your very thoughtful reply. It is a form of privilege to not desperately need any inheritance I might (but most likely won’t) get, and I suppose this is also a point of pride for me. I knew perfectly well that I would be written out when I refused to knuckle under — I think part of me sees it as a sort of a bargain and *I* will stick to it, even if my ex-family is full of lying, cheating, abusive bastards. (In other words, I wouldn’t contest anything, but as you suggest, if I wind up with an inheritance anyway, I will probably donate it to a local shelter as I mentioned before.)

            Your description of why the law is in place made a lot of sense and I like to think that children who have been abused can still get inheritances which may make their lives easier afterwards. I wish it were more public knowledge because, as you say, threatening to cut children out of a will is a common abusive tactic.

    • Turtle Candle said:

      Very much yes re: point 1. My executor is my partner, who I would generally trust to know what to do with my stuff, including my writings (I’m confident that he’d know what I’d be fine with having published posthumously and what I’d rather see burned), but my successor executor, I trust to follow my instructions but not to assess what I’d want kept private vs. not. So I spell it out: writings in X place can be made public, writings in Y place should be destroyed. It gives me peace of mind that my morning pages, where I record every petty irritation or stupid idea, will not somehow end up on the internetz where they could hurt my friends and family.

    • Re. wills, I’d recommend to anyone who has boundary-breaking relatives to also get a Living Will. I personally found it infinitely more morbid to write than my last will & testament, but it gave me a chance to spell out certain things that needed spelling out. My only remaining living relative and me do not share religious beliefs, and she’s never had any respect for mine. To have her end up in charge of every aspect of my life if I become incapacitated is TERRIFYING.

      • Leagle said:

        That’s still not enough. In most US states, a living will is only effective if you are dying. You also need an Advance Directive and designation of a health care surrogate (to deal with your issues if you are incapacitated, but not dying).

        This is an area where it is worth paying an attorney to make sure you have everything you need and there are no gaps.

        -Attorney who cleans up a lot of messes from people who did the DIY approach and left partners/lovers/kids to clean up the mess

        • slythwolf said:

          Thanks for your comments in this thread. I bet you get a lot of people asking you for this kind of advice off the clock, and it’s kind of you to share it here.

        • Yeurk! Ta for that. I’m in the UK so not sure if that applies to me, but I shall definitely check it out.

        • miss_chevious said:

          God, YES, please, if you have the means, get a lawyer to do this for you, even if you don’t have much you think is valuable. And make sure it’s one that does this kind of thing for a living in the area in which you live. I’m a lawyer myself, but not a wills-trusts-estate lawyer, and I was shocked to discover how much I misunderstood what documents I needed and how they should be worded.

    • Thank you.

      I write a lot. I have a couple of close friends whose judgment of whether something has artistic value I trust, and who also know me well enough to know whether I’d be horrified by family members seeing it. I’ve now designated that any writing of mine that is unpublished as of my death will go to them.

      And yeah, I can’t guarantee that my brother (whom I’m designating executor) will do as I’ve asked, but he’s already been executor for one family member and has really taken pains to respect the requests that our uncle made.

    • sethg said:

      Franz Kafka specified in his will that all of his papers be burned; his executor, who was also a close friend, refused to follow Kafka’s instructions. The work that made Kafka famous was published after his death.

    • Paulina said:

      Also keep in mind, (at least in the US), that if you die intestate (without a will), everything will automatically go to your closest living relative

      As an addendum to this, the “automatic” only kicks in once the authorities are satisfied that you didn’t have a will. Proving a negative is tricky. So….

      #1. Everybody… Get. A. Will. Now. still applies even if you want to leave it all to your closest living relative. Put it in writing, it’ll make things so much easier.

      With respect to writings and other creative endeavours, many countries allow you to name a separate literary executor to handle that part of the estate, so you can pick someone whose judgement on that specific matter you trust. (See http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2006/10/important-and-pass-it-on.html for Neil Gaiman’s advice on this matter.)

      • Paulina said:

        though also note what Glomarization Esq. says below about concerns with Gaiman’s advice.

    • Jackalope said:

      Totally seconding (or n-thing — not sure how many people seconding you already) the advice to get a will. I did so recently (along with a financial POA, medical POA, and a few other things like that) and was GREATLY relieved after that. I was encouraged to do so when I discovered that in my state: if I die right now, as someone with no spouse or children, everything I have goes to my dad. Which wouldn’t be the end of the world, but of course he is several years older than me and has told me firmly that his plan is to predecease me, so assuming he is successful, what next? I had assumed it would go to my siblings, which would also be fine, but they are technically stepsiblings and so get nothing. Which is NOT okay. Nor would my (step-)nieces and nephews. In fact, everything would go to more distant family (aunts/uncles/cousins). It happens that I have a close relationship with those family members. It also happens that they live a long ways away from me (I see most of them every year, which is testimony to the strength of our relationship, but it is a fair bit of traveling for some of us). Inheriting everything I have would be a headache for me. How would they deal with it all?

      Hopefully all of this will not be an issue for years to come, but at least I know things are set up in a way that is what I want and makes sure that people I care about dearly (particularly including people I love with no ties of blood to me) are going to get what I want them to.

      (On a note that is more related to the topic at hand, I am willing my journals to a particular friend to whom I gave specific instructions about what to do with them. If they go somewhere else then it’s not the end of the world for me, so I’m okay with not destroying them now, but I did let her know what I was thinking and hopefully that will work out.)

      • My husband’s ex wife had cancer for seven years before she died. She refused to make a will. She refused to make end of life decisions, saying that her two (adult) daughters could decide for her.

        She left an enormous mess for her daughters (and for my husband, whose name she had not taken off some assets she got at the divorce) to clean up. I am so ticked off at her for the problems her laziness caused.

        GET A WILL. Everyone will die. Everyone. Not writing a will does not mean you will not die.

  5. Audrey said:

    As the person who went through my brother’s laptop after he died (also without making his intentions clear) I can very much sympathize with Peter. Even if their relationship was rocky, her death still hurt him, and sharing those poems was part of the grieving process for him. Now, it was wrong for him to insist lw read them when she said no, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing the poems in the first place.

    For my part, I found some fanfics my brother had written, with plans to put them online after he’d finished the series. A few years after he died, I had a really cathartic moment where I posted them for him. It was like a small part of him was still alive out there on the internet. I imagine those poems represent a part of Nora that Peter still has and can share with his new family. Hence, even if he was wrong to be insistent, from his perspective he was trying to introduce lw to his late wife, and I can get why he pushed the issue.

    • Hth said:

      Yeah, I know “well, she’s dead now,” seems a little callous, but — just like funerals are really for the healing process of the living, I do kind of think — the living take precedence? Like, I understand the general desire to be respectful of the wishes of the deceased, but when all you have left of someone is memories, that kind of window into who they were, their thoughts and feelings, is just so immensely valuable. My grandmother burned all the letters sent between her and my grandfather during WWII when they were dating before she died. I realize they were private to her and that’s what she wanted, but — she is dead, and it’s my mother and the rest of the family who have to live with the loss of something that was irreplaceable, that had incalculable value to us, that would have kept them both close to us in some sense.

      People can do what they want with their things, and if what you really want is to have those things destroyed, it’s fully within your rights. But I’d really encourage people to try to reframe their thinking around this, if they can. When you’re gone, you aren’t going to be experiencing the embarrassment and vulnerability you feel right *now* when you imagine someone reading your private thoughts. Whatever your thoughts on the afterlife, surely most of us believe we’ll be beyond that kind of thing, one way or another, when our lives are over. It’s very unlikely that letting those things belong to your loved ones will hurt you at that point, and very very likely that it will be a gift to them when they’ll really need one.

    • Turtle Candle said:

      Yes. This post has been on my mind all day, because I feel for both the LW and Peter. For the LW, of course I understand that this situation triggered a lot of strong feelings about privacy violations inflicted on her, and that must have been quite painful. But I also felt really strongly for Peter, and I think it’s because I was thinking of how I would feel if my partner died, and someone said it “felt wrong” for me to share something of them. (I do understand that the LW was pressed for a reason, which she shouldn’t have been–although I also think that the wrongness of the pressing-for-a-reason depends partially on whether the ‘why’ was asked in a pressing tone or a genuinely curious tone. Sometimes, when someone refuses a thing, I do ask why, not to pressure them but to ensure that I don’t offer them something the find objectionable in the future.)

      And I realized that for me, at least, it wouldn’t so much be that I was offended that they had a different take on privacy than I did. Certainly something can be “wrong” for one person and not another. The thing that would sting would be the implication that they could guess at what my partner (who they had never met) wanted better than I could. The fact that there was emotional estrangement at the end of the relationship is relevant, but not the complete picture; marriages are complicated, especially from the inside. That doesn’t mean that were I to hypothetically want to do a reading of my partner’s works posthumously, that anyone else would be obliged to listen–absolutely they would not, nor should they be pushed to do so. But if someone who didn’t know them made that implication, that they were in a better position to guess what my partner would have wanted than I was… yes, that would sting a bit.

      I don’t know if this makes any sense at all, really. But this post has been on my mind all day, and it was interesting to realize that despite being pro-privacy, I really strongly sympathized with Peter.

      • aebhel said:

        I think this is what sort of tweaked me wrong about the letter; LW isn’t wrong to feel the way she does about privacy post-mortem, but (were I in that situation) I would find it incredibly galling that someone who’d never met my spouse thought they had a better idea of who they were and what they wanted than me. It would feel like they were saying that I’m not a trustworthy steward of my spouse’s memory.

  6. Bianca said:

    I understand your husband was absent from the conversation, but have you asked him about it since? I think the captains advice was spot on as general advice (remembering that others have their own histories and that we can decline without judging others), but for the LW talking to their spouse might give more specific info. If husband is all “She made me promise I’d never read them” he might want to talk to his dad (his job- not yours). Or maybe spouse has already read them with her permission? Since her husband is the child of the deceased, I’m not sure why he’s being excluded from the ongoing conversation.

    • biancambenjamin said:

      I should note that she still has a right to refuse to read them regardless- just that the husband can provide information on how to feel about other people reading them going forward and he should be the one to approach his dad if he feels reading them is inappropriate.

    • Paulina said:

      Yes, I find the husband’s absence from the discussion (and decision making about sharing the poems) to be troubling. Peter deciding to share the poems is about him, which by itself seems fine, but since the familial connection is through the LW’s husband it’s important to respect his wishes on the matter rather than simply Peter’s (and then still not read them if she’d rather not, just that it would be problematic to read them and then find out that her husband, the woman’s son, feels otherwise, or wanted to see them first before they were circulated).

  7. Esme said:

    LW got blindsided by her own totally acceptable feelings about REALLY obnoxious stuff her mom did, and thankfully doesn’t anymore, but don’t really seem that related to what Peter was doing. I agree that in future occasions it would be better, kinder to save the ‘let it be awkward’ nukes for situations where it’s more clear that justice is served by them. I too, wish there were magic words that kept people from feeling judged when I imply with my own actions that something they are doing is very wrong. There just isn’t. I’ve decided all a person can do is pick their battles. Pretend to go with the flow or make up a cover story for why you are not doing ‘wrong thing’ IF it’s not battle time, and when it is time to fight the good fight, let it be awkward, let people feel judged if they’re going to. Sadly, one can’t have it both ways.

    • Cor! said:

      Great point. When I read this, my first reaction was to sorta shrug at the whole situation, because even thought I’m totally with the LW on the whole privacy front, my ‘stick-up-the-ass’ attitude towards information always came from a place of not wanting to be embarrassed by, *ahem*, certain information, and also I have some projects in store I’m just not ready to share with the outside world. So since I’m not particularly invested in any idea of an afterlife, I don’t think there is much of a point in protecting my feelings after I’m dead. That being said, my friends and family do respect my privacy, so I’m not as defensive as the LW (justifiably) is, thought I’m still defensive as hell for my own reasons. So that’s why, putting aside any philosophical debates about death, I think the best thing for the LW is to simply take care of herself; if that means putting in the kind of requests the Captain suggested because in makes her feel safe and at peace now, it’s worth it.

    • Vicki said:

      I think it would be reasonable for LW to let it be awkward because that she said no, was asked why, and gave an answer, and was pressured further. Her father-in-law and/or her parents could have left it at “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind” or “it doesn’t matter much because she’s dead” and kept reading, without pressuring her to do so. She wasn’t trying to change their behavior; they were trying to change hers.

      In this case “let it be awkward” is just dropping the subject, at least with her father-in-law. If he brings it up with her when her parents aren’t around, something like the Captain’s apology script might work. If he brings it up in front of them, that’s a harder question, and I think the least awkward thing there would be to ask him “Can you and I talk about this later, by ourselves?” and then hope that her parents’ boundary-stomping doesn’t go so far as to try to stop her from having a private conversation with her father-in-law. If it does, that’s where I would advise letting it be awkward, probably along the lines of “Mom, why don’t you want me to have a private conversation with my father-in-law?” rather than “Father-in-law, the fact that my mother has never respected my privacy is why the idea of reading Nora’s poetry bothered me. It’s not anything you did.”

  8. I don’t know… If it were me, I probably would have just read them because I love poetry, but poems aren’t only creative constructs to be critiqued by others (or eventually published), they can also be intensely personal and cathartic; kind of like diary entries. Sometimes people write them as a kind of therapy in response to traumatic events. So being given them to read when it’s not clear whether they were meant to be kept private… I would probably find that uncomfortable (and I didn’t grow up with parents who opened my post). I don’t think LW made the situation that way and I don’t think she needs to apologise. The reason given for an apology is that she should have put the widowers feelings first, but they weren’t his poems – they belonged to someone else, no matter what sort of relationship he had with her. He could have just talked about the poems and what a nice surprise it was for him – he didn’t have to share them (although I totally understand why he did, it sounds like he was proud).

  9. Know-it-all lawyer here. Your will may not be read and dealt with immediately, so there is another tool you can have in place for dealing with questions that come up before everyone can get together to read the will. This tool is a “Letter of Instruction.” It’s a place where you can put all kinds of detailed information and instructions about what you’d like to have handled after your death, but what would not be appropriate for your actual will.

    Examples include: Account numbers, passwords for your banking, social media, bill pay services, and e-mail accounts; suggested language for your obituary; your memorial service wishes; names of people that you specifically do or don’t want to be rummaging around in your stuff; and, yes, instructions for how to deal with your writings. A Letter of Instruction is also a good place to put explanatory comments about the wishes you express in your will. Since the Letter of Instruction isn’t filed with the court (as the will is), you don’t need to use estate planning legalese or have the document witnessed and notarized. Plus, you can be very freewheeling and candid about your feelings without fear that the document will become publicly available.

    If you want the papers destroyed, then you should definitely also include that wish in the will. Putting that information in the Letter of Instruction helps because it can put everybody on notice right away that destruction is what you want. And you can also state in the Letter of Instruction that you want a particular person to take custody of the papers first and/or that you don’t want anybody else looking at them.

    If you’re interested in protecting your writings as valuable property, then you can talk to your lawyer about adding a paragraph in your will about handling it all as your “literary estate.” Your lawyer can draft language that carves your writings out of the rest of your estate to be handled differently from the rest of your property. Neil Gaiman published some suggested language on his blog a couple of years ago, and it makes the social media rounds every once in a while; but please don’t use it! The wording is woefully inadequate and doesn’t actually create the legal entity it purports to create. Talk to an actual lawyer.

    • Leagle said:

      In my jurisdictions*, you must also have this in your power of attorney EXPRESSLY because the rifling through papers occurs prior to death in the vast majority of cases. By the time you are dead and the will probated, it’s too late for most people.

      *barred in multiple US states. Mileage may vary.

      • Oh, absolutely. One should have in place not just a will and Letter of Instruction, but also an advanced health care directive (“living will”) and durable power of attorney ready to go in case of unexpected incapacity. The better lawyers in my area will never do just a stand-alone will, but will do the three legal documents as a package all at the same time. The best lawyers will give additional guidance for a Letter of Instruction as well.

    • CrushLily said:

      I wanted to reiterate the value of leaving detailed instructions. In most cases, I’ve no doubt your executor and/or beneficiaries will be extremely grateful for having to make a few less decisions than they already need to. I know from my own experience, I wish wholeheartedly my mother had given more detail about her wishes, especially for her jewellery. I expect she assumed that my father would know that her jewellery would mean something to her daughters and so he would just give it to us soon after she died. This was not the case. If she had written this down somewhere, ANYWHERE, including with time frames for its distribution, it would have helped my father to know that he is expressing her wishes AND saved my sister and I a lot of awkward conversations with Dad, each other, and the various relatives.

      • msexceptiontotherule said:

        Re: value in detailed instructions

        My dad was given the family bible by his mother sometime after his father had died but well before she passed on – it was brought to the U.S. when the family arrived back in the late 1700s. After my grandmother died, my dad’s brother (who had previously stated he had no desire to have this heirloom and in fact was present when their mother gave it to my dad) decided he wanted it after all and felt my father should just give the bible to him instead of being ‘difficult’ about it. When my mom’s parents had passed away, she and my aunt went down to help clean out the house and arrived to find it completely empty except for the three pieces of furniture that they’d expressed their desire to have – not even lightbulbs remained, the rest – including most of the estate – had gone to my uncle, their brother. So when my dad’s brother started demanding he be given the family bible, my mom convinced him to hang onto it at least until they could ask my brother and I whether or not we would like to have it. Unsurprisingly my brother had no interest, but I did and do, so my dad has kept this piece of family history for me and told his brother to ‘f-off’ (not that exact language but the sentiment was the same…). What my parents learned from these experiences has greatly influenced their decisions for the handling of their estate, though I know my mom would have liked to have some of her mom’s jewelry, my uncle simply refused and she decided it wasn’t worth the stress to push after a certain point.

        My parents have always been very “think about what will be needed in the long run” people, they regularly see their a financial advisor/estate planner regarding changes to will documents when something crops up such as adding to the section detailing the personal property items that are to be given specifically to me or specifically to someone else (like my brother), there’s also the trust that is for helping fund the grandkids’ educations, and whatever remains is to be divided equally between their two kids. My parents have made sure their documents leave nothing unaddressed, and impressed upon my brother and I the importance of doing the same. To that end, I’ve designated – and gotten their agreement to act as – a guardian for my 4-legged very fuzzy child(ren) who are to be cared for in that person’s home through their life (the furballs) using funds that are set aside for this purpose yada yada yada – my brother has finally at least gotten his will handled now that he’s got 4 children of the human variety and a slightly dangerous occupation. As the years have gone by I’ve worked to be more prepared for my death. 😛

    • Also in the letter of instruction: What should happen to your pets. Yes. You should figure that out and have a plan (my sister has been instructed to return our cats to the Siamese cat rescue place, along with a $3,000 donation). It is really selfish for you to leave that all to the executor – finding new homes for elderly cats who don’t always use the box correctly is very, very hard. I AM TALKING TO YOU, SLY AND DORIS.

      • msexceptiontotherule said:

        I’m confused…I do have a plan for my pet(s), along with money set aside for the expenses of feeding, vet visits, and assorted items a pet would like/need; this is a separate fund from the modest amount that is to go to the person I have asked (and they agreed to) to be my pet(s) guardian for their kindness in doing this for me. Am I selfish? Or have I misunderstood here?

        • TO_Ont said:

          Some people say nothing and the executor or family have to just think up what to do themselves. Your plan seems fine to me.

  10. G said:

    It is very important to specify what you want done with all your possessions in your will, as CA recommended. Remember though that there’s going to be some time, maybe an hour, maybe a week, when the details of your will are not yet known. During that time your family members may have access to your house and its contents.

    I suggest dealing with this possibility using ‘security by obscurity’, that is, the confidential stuff will be in some obscure corner that’s going to the last place your executor will clean out. Back corner of the attic or behind the shoes in a closet or in a trunk that doesn’t look like the kind of place that would hold papers. That way your relatives cannot be tempted to look at what they should not be looking at.

    • G said:

      Or, for items you need regular access to, some place that people are unlikely to look like the bottom of your sock drawer.

    • Leagle said:

      “‘security by obscurity”

      which works if you die quickly. will not work if you are in care for a while prior to death and your relatives gain access and start rifling.

      Everyone needs:

      (1) Will
      (2) Power of Attorney (one or multiple)
      (3) Living Will
      (4) DNR (if applicable)
      (5) Designation of health care agent/surrogate and advance directive (different from (3) as this deals with care if you are incapacitated, but not dying)

    • glomarization said:

      I think that this strategy risks that your executor deals with some of your possessions in ways you don’t want to, because they find the possessions before they find your instructions. Instead, you may want to talk to your executor ahead of time and give them instructions.

      Bottom line, if there are specific people you don’t want getting into your business after you pass away, then identify people who you do want handling your business, and talk to them ahead of time. Then hie thee to a lawyer and get that paperwork going.

    • However, the security by obscurity strategy is not a good idea for, say, the title to the car. SLY. When it’s easier to find the naked photos of your parents with their equipment than it is to find legal documents, you know your parents have done it wrong. DO NOT BE LIKE SLY AND DORIS.

  11. Twinsgirl said:

    I think an apology or explanation to Peter is in order. You told him his decision to share the poems was wrong. But your specific fears about privacy are not Nora’s, and Peter has far more knowledge of what she would or would not have wanted because he actually knew her. (Their estrangement at the time of her death doesn’t wipe out the years of closeness they shared before that, by the way. He still KNEW her. You didn’t.)

    You don’t say what your husband’s opinion of this incident is. He and Peter are the ones who get to make decisions about Nora’s items. Not you. Making a scene about Peter’s decision to share a little about his late wife with your parents was uncalled for. Your parents didn’t demand poems. Peter offered them, freely. YOU made it weird and shamed him for sharing.

    Since you’re worried about your own journals, ask your partner to destroy your things when you pass (or write that on the first page of each new journal: “To be destroyed when I die”). It would probably be a relief to know for sure what your wishes are instead of guessing.

    • B. said:

      Um, if the LW said something akin to “I’d rather not read them, thank you” and other people took that as an invitation to pressure her, it was not she who made a scene, if there even was a scene made.
      Going by the letter, the only thing we know for sure is that the LW felt left out. Maybe she didn’t shame Peter. Maybe she caused offense inadvertently. We don’t know. I think it’s better to not assume what happened and let the LW decide if an explanation/apology is needed or appropriate (and she shouldn’t have to apologise for having boundaries). She is, after all, the only one here that knows what happened.

      • omj said:

        Sometimes it’s not about who’s technically right or who’s wrong or who’s justified and who isn’t. I would say that IF LW’s “it feels wrong” came across to her father-in-law as “what you are doing right now is wrong” (as that phrase typically does) AND she perceives that this offended him, then she should apologize. If he wasn’t bothered, then she doesn’t. But it does seem that LW is quick to dismiss the possibly complicated emotions that Peter was experiencing in this situation, and she should be more sensitive.

        It just seems to me from the letter that LW is very concerned about the interplay between herself and her parents, but dismisses Peter’s possible grief and feelings altogether. Just because they were having marital problems doesn’t mean he didn’t know his wife, or that he isn’t still grieving her.

        • aebhel said:

          This. I don’t think LW has bad intentions, but she’s making something entirely about her feelings on privacy, and using them to make assumptions about the wishes of someone she didn’t know. I get why this is a sore spot, but she could have been more sensitive.

          • Polychrome said:

            This reminds me of the next letter — the mom who uses her five year old who can’t really speak for himself (I mean, he can, but not fully competently) in order to send aggressive little messages to her sister. I think this LW used her dead mother in law (who really, really can’t speak for herself) to send an aggressive little message to her mother about privacy (delivering some thumps to her father in law in the process) and wants reassurance that she was totally in the right to do so. I think she did have some bad intentions, which she should just own and if she is still mad at her mom about past privacy violations she should speak to her directly about them rather than inventing some scenario in which she is the champion of the unspoken wishes of a dead woman she did not know to do so.

          • CommanderBanana said:

            This – thought about this letter a bit today, and while good for the LW for standing up for her beliefs and not caving to the pressure to do something she didn’t agree with, her feelings about privacy are not Nora’s, the poems were not her writing, but Nora’s, and it sounds like in that moment a lot of her personal triggers got pulled.

            I definitely have been there and later felt like an ass, but as someone pointed out in a completely different thread, other people can’t always know what your personal sore spots are and it’s unfair to expect them to. I don’t think it would have been out of line for the LW to say that while she wasn’t comfortable reading someone’s personal writings, she was glad Peter had found and enjoyed them.

            But what’s done is done, what’s said is said, and if the LW is feeling like she may have offended Peter, I think it would be gracious of her to offer an apology. She’s not apologizing for sticking to her principles and I don’t think she has to, but I don’t see the harm in erring on the side of offering an apology if you’ve bruised someone’s feelings.

  12. MSM said:

    I agree with the Captain for sure. I think an apology is warranted. A relative said to some friends of his who he has grown very comfortable with, “I’d like to help you to get to know my son’s mother” and the LW’s brain said “My mom has opened bank accounts in my name.” That’s obviously a reaction that was unintentional, and it sounds like it should be worked through, but I agree that his feelings trumped hers at that moment.

    • twomoogles said:

      Yeah, I agree with you and CA too. I totally get the LW’s reaction, and that of above posters, but I think it was a bit unkind to express that in the moment. LW never has to read the poetry, but Peter also wasn’t wrong in wanting to share them. And I think in the moment it had to be rough for him if he felt somebody was criticizing him for wanting to do that. I know if I were in that situation I would feel pretty slapped down and be less likely to share things in the future. But again, that’s just my reaction, and as proven here, it’s easy for reactions to bump up against other people without anybody doing anything “wrong”.

  13. Bunny said:

    I think this is one of the examples of comfort-in, dump-out. Peter was the one in the position of comfort-recipient in that moment, because he was sharing and talking about someone who – estranged or not – he loved and knew and was intimate with.

    Your personal boundaries regarding privacy are yours, and you’re not wrong to have them. But your history with your parents was not the thing in the centre of the room in this situation, and sharing stories/anecdotes/photos/writing/art of people we’ve loved who have passed is not an unusual thing. People who die leave a hole behind in the world, and those who loved them will often want to keep a little bit of them alive by sharing it.

    You were well within your right to decline the offer to read the poems, but Peter didn’t need to hear the implied moral judgement about it.

    Going forward, I agree that an apology – or at least some gesture – to Peter would be a good idea. And I recommend you do some work thinking about how you’d like your own writing and notebooks dealt with in the event of your death. You do have the right to protect your privacy regarding your notebooks, whatever that means for you.

    • Emmers said:

      Oooh, excellent point re: silk ring theory.

  14. hbc said:

    “So, I honestly don’t know if I did the right thing or if I just got defensive and missed a chance to get to know Nora better.” I don’t think you did the wrong thing in turning down the reading of those poems. If your personal morals and history have led you to the position that you don’t want to read another person’s writings unless you believe explicit permission is granted, then good on you. It means you might miss out on some insight that would have been gladly given, but that’s a natural consequence you have to be willing to deal with.

    There’s probably some thinking to be done along the lines of what would be a different but morally supportable stance from your view. Diaries and personal correspondence=no sharing without explicit permission, poems and stories=fine? Everything from a dead person is fair game minus an explicit ban (which seems to be Peter’s view)? Don’t feel like you have to draw this line where the majority of people do–though getting the perspective of others whose views on privacy you respect (ie: not Mom and Dad) might help you accept some different stances as reasonable.

    If you sort out your personal line and what you view as the absolute line, I think you’ll be able to figure out if and how you should apologize. If you believe Peter’s action was objectively wrong, you need to make sure you’re not going to carry an undercurrent of “I’m sorry I made it so uncomfortable when you totally violated Nora’s memory” or it’s best to just let the incident fade without addressing it. And if you understand the difference between your views, it will be less likely to come off as a follow up insult and more of a “I would have done it differently, but your way is fine too.”

    • Everything about this comment is lovely

  15. Leagle said:

    Having this expressed in your will works if you are dead. But for most people alive today, we will go through a long decline and a period of incapacity before death. Therefore, you need a very strong (hint: not LegalZoom) Power of Attorney that lays out what happens if you are unable to make decisions for yourself, but still alive. A good attorney can do this in the USA for under $200 (a lot less if it’s a package with a will).

    Better safe than sorry.

  16. Clarry said:

    Can you turn your personal notebooks into art now that you wouldn’t mind sharing, then dispose of the originals? The way this works is you write fiction that contains characters who themselves write poetry. You put your characters in a novel and give them personal growth tasks. It could be a short story in which you distance yourself, exaggerate, disguise, change details, change big things, change everything except the heart and emotion of what you’re describing. Put in the scene in which your parents are trying to convince a character’s teachers to tell them their daughter’s grades in it. (My parents just opened my mail until I changed my address, so that’s believable but more interesting and dramatic than the way it happened to me. Definitely put that in. It’s something readers can relate to.) Maybe a play is the right genre, or an opera! You don’t have to submit the work for publication, but think of it in your own mind as something you’re editing, rewriting, and readying to share. Turning your experience into art does 2 things. It helps you deal with it (not what you wrote for advice on). It also helps you with the conundrum of not wanting to throw away your notebooks (who would? how could you? they’re part of you!) and wanting to control how people see them were something to happen to you. You assign a literary executor. Your art becomes what a very talented person left behind.

  17. Leagle said:

    Since this is a theme in this thread, a few tips from someone whose dealt with this specific issue (as well as destroying paintings and other artistic product) as an estate planning and probate lawyer:

    (1) A will is not enough. Have an attorney draft a power of attorney or trust (or equivalent for your country of residence). That is, wills are only effective after death. Have a document that is effective when you are alive, but incapacitated. Have an attorney do this. This is NOT something you should DIY or get off LegalZoom.

    (2) An order to destroy creative product or writing will be problematic if your work is of value (e.g., a court would not have let Sir Laurence Oliver’s executor destroy his letters…) Courts usually will not let valuable property – even intellectual property – be destroyed.

    The better alternative is to gift the letters to someone you trust while alive OR bequeath them to someone you trust when you die. After the probate is closed, the letters can have an “accident” and fall into a vat of acid or get ripped apart by 3rd Cousin Jeeve’s terrier Tuppy.

    (3) Do not leave anything lying around if you are infirm or aging and death is more than a remote possibility. No matter what legal protections you have, people always find a way to get in and rummage around when you are incapacitated and dying. There are no good legal remedies if Aunt Battle-Axe sneaks in and reads something because she beat your Cousin Vinny, who you designated as your agent/executor, to your home. It’s too late once someone’s already seen/read the contents. There’s no court remedy that can unring the bell.

    The best protections are non-legal methods such as having a password protected diary on a computer or website that is only known to a friend who would only allow access under very narrow conditions.

    If it is on a physical media (e.g. paper or canvas), no legal protections are sufficient to counter the practical ability of people to snoop before your agent or a court could intervene.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the actual legal advice!

  18. AlexTheBunny said:

    Wow.

    LW, I don’t think your reaction was out of line given your experience. (I have similar experiences and I am very uncomfortable with people poking around my personal writings — I dated/was married to a guy who was very vocally in the “If you write it down, you should expect people to read it” camp which, sorry, dude, fuck that.)

    I think your reaction was, in the absence of other data, very respectful and kind.

    And I don’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable with other people reading them in front of you, especially if any of them were once involved in violating YOUR privacy. (For the record, please consider this a formal statement of “what your mom did to you was not okay, and I don’t blame you for being hurt by it.)

    I firmly do believe that even the dead have a right to privacy under most circumstances, if they wanted it in life, and in the absence of knowing, and the absence of a compelling reason to go digging through personal writings, I don’t see coming down on the side of caution at all unreasonable. I also think that each person gets to decide for themselves if they are comfortable engaging with such material — even if the person WAS okay with it, YOU don’t have to be. You can still be uncomfortable, and that is VALID and people should RESPECT that.

    What troubles me is the part where people tried to pressure you into it. Like, that is really upsetting to me, and it must have been upsetting for you, too. *To me*, this part of your letter:

    “They insisted, but I kept firm and refused to read anything. But as my parents read them and I didn’t, I was the one that ended up feeling out of place. (In case you wonder, my husband was taking a nap and missed the conversation.)”

    Does not read as “I sat in the corner and was judging everyone.” NONE of what you wrote reads that way. It reads *to me* as you trying to tough out an uncomfortable situation without giving offense by getting up and leaving.

    (I see a lot of people giving that advice. I understand why. I just want to say that in probably 80% of my relationships, be it friends, family, romantic, whatever, getting up and leaving would be taken VERY negatively, even more negatively than sticking around and being “judgy”. Getting up and leaving the room is kind of a large gesture, and it’s very easy for people to misconstrue it as melodramatic judgmental flouncing when it is only you trying to protect your boundaries. We don’t all always have the spoons to navigate Complicated Refusals Of Problematic Things Other People Want Us To Do!)

    You had good reasons for what you did. You never met the woman, you have reason to believe that her husband might not have KNOWN whether she was okay with sharing personal stuff after her death, etc.

    You did the right thing right off. “Thanks, but that makes me uncomfortable.” Like, that should be the end of it right there. They should have left it alone. You should not have been forced to defend your stance. (Googling “consent culture” here might be helpful. They were not respecting your boundaries. NOT COOL. And if one of the people pressuring you was your mom, who had violated YOUR boundaries? DOUBLE YIKES, it could not have felt good to sit there WATCHING her go through someone else’s stuff, PLEASE let me send you all the Jedi hugs.)

    I don’t know that you owe anyone an apology, although I think discussing this a *little* with Peter *might* be a good idea, as outlined above. Just explaining where you were coming from (no need for specifics if you don’t wanna). Like, if you didn’t mean to give offense or project an aura of palpable disapproval, you might make sure he knows that. (If you DID, don’t lie, though.) Maybe talk to him about his nice memories of her. But you don’t have to talk about, read, or do anything that makes you uncomfortable. ❤

    Also, make sure your husband knows to respect your privacy issues. Talk about that with him. It's really important. Honestly, people talking about wills above are kind of making me uncomfortable/angry. I would LOVE to mandate the disposition of my belongings after my death. Sadly, I don't have ten bucks to rub together right now. "Get a will. Now." is not just useless advice to me, it actually kinda hurts to hear. So, on the off chance you or anyone reading is in that boat, too, please don't feel alone. And on that subject, honestly, your best bet may be a VERY good friend you know you can trust, rather than relying on legal proceedings to protect you. In my experience, when contested in the slightest, the law only really works for people who can pay to make it, or who can fight hard and long, and if you're deceased, you can do neither. I plan on having my closest friend dispose of certain things for me before the people who love me but who I don't feel I can trust to respect my privacy can get to that material. If you have such a friend – I hope you do, mine's awesome and you should have awesome people in your life – enlist them if you are comfortable doing so.

    IDK, I just see a lot of people above who don't seem to "get it", or want to make this about everyone else's reaction to the (reasonable, IMO) thing you did, when you didn't even say if their reactions were a problem after the fact. I want to say I think I do get it, and am 900% sympathetic. I'm in your corner, LW. I have no idea if what they did was right or wrong on a metaphysical level, but I have no doubt that you did the right thing for you. Good job and a gold star for you.

  19. I have super-mixed feelings about this. When I was a teenager/young adult, I kept a very, very private journal (those writings have since been destroyed). Then I had a job with a military contractor, where I held a security clearance, for several years. I attended lots of mandatory training sessions on the handling of classified information. The one thing that was emphasized over and over and over again was, if you write it, someone will read it, and you have to be sure that it’s restricted to the correct set of someones.

    Those lessons affected me greatly. It got to the point where I stopped writing in my journal for fear of saying something inappropriate. Then I stopped writing a journal at all. I still write; the issues I’m really struggling with play out in bad fiction, which lives on my computer (and backup drive) and no one will see until I’m dead, probably. But nothing as heartfelt as a journal. I simply cannot keep one anymore. Even though the job with the clearance was some 25 years ago, I still fear for my privacy. I figure anything I put to paper or bytes, unless I destroy it myself, will come to light one day.

    And so, I figure it was inevitable that the deceased woman’s writing would be shared. I agree with LW that I would feel uncomfortable in that situation as well. But it probably wouldn’t make me AS uncomfortable, with the mindset that I hold. Living in California, I don’t much like earthquakes either, but they’re inevitable so I don’t rail against them. That seems akin to the situation here.

    • Nineveh_uk said:

      I’ve now kept a journal for about 18 years, and when I had the “oh, what happens if people read this when I’m dead” moment, I did have to consider what to do, and I can understand how in your circumstances this could put you off ever doing it again. Personally, I decided to accept that my diary writing might be read, and in the end to actively embrace it. I’ve written a journal for 18 years. It’s not great literature, but it’s an insight into my life. If I die young, my family will have it and they can do what they think best. If I make it to old age then there will be 50-60 years of journals and in the they’ll eventually turn into (very minor) social history. I love reading historic material of this nature, so I like the idea of potentially providing some myself and try to view the privacy issue as not that my secrets are being seen, but that I am actively writing to an unknown future reader. (I hope that they enjoy rants about British politics, my reviews of films and books, whinging about work, and accounts of time spent with my family.)

      I’ll admit that there are some few things I don’t write about, but I just accept whatever I’m comfortable with at the time. Maybe in the long term I’ll grown more or less comfortable with writing different things, and then I can change if I want.

      • CrushLily said:

        I expect your descendants may enjoy reading your views on life and the world after you’re gone. You are using your own words to place yourself within the context of history for them.

      • Jackalope said:

        I kind of cheated with mine. I know this is not an option for everyone, but I am fluent in three languages, so my journals are written in a combination of all three. I took care to make sure that if there was a specific person I didn’t want to have reading something, I put it in a language that person did not speak. If I didn’t want ANYONE to read it, I mixed all 3 languages in one paragraph, and if possible used tricky slang that would be hard to find if they were looking things up in a dictionary. Which if my journals get translated after my death will cause someone a huge amount of heartburn (I did give the person I’m leaving them to permission to translate them if she wished), but is helpful here and now.

  20. Elektra FIre said:

    I’m really sympathetic to LW here. She respectfully expressed a boundary, without passing judgement on anyone else. Then only after she was directly asked why she had that boundary, she seems to have politely but honestly explained why she felt the way she did. And then after that, they still pressed her to do something she had explained made her uncomfortable. It’s really not ok behaviour on their part.

    People grieve differently, people respond to death and dying differently. For LW’s parents, it might have been important to get to know another side of Nora through her poems, and that’s ok. I know it’s been really meaningful to me when I’ve had the opportunity to read letters and stories from a friend who passed away. But LW didn’t want to do that, and was content with what she knew about Nora, and that’s ok too and deserves to be respected.

    In terms of whether you did the right thing in not looking at the poems, LW – I think you did. Because in that moment the idea of seeing the poems made you uncomfortable. If you ever think to yourself ‘hey, it would be cool to get to know that side of Nora after all’, you can always ask Peter if he’d mind sharing them with you (and based on his comments to date, it sounds like he’d be fine with it).

  21. atma said:

    OK, in a less fraught situation, as in me not drinking coffee, and going to numerous job interviews where there”s always the “Would you like a cup of coffee?” I took to very enthusiastically saying “I’d love a glass of water!” which took the focus off of what I DIDN’T want to a more positive what I DID want. May or may not be applicable here

    Also, if you’re known as/come across as a considerate, conscious, ethical person, you can also deflect. As in “I need to consider how I feel about this. But you go ahead, and I might come back to you later”? Which will, obviously, not work in all situations, but it’s really OK to not always know in the moment how to handle stuff

  22. Emmers said:

    Uhh, Emily Dickinson, anyone?

    (I am on Team Share. Also, people, write your wills. Even if it’s just handwritten not-legally-binding stuff, that will still help for things like this, assuming heirs of good will.)

    • twomoogles said:

      I also thought of Emily Dickinson!

      (I am weird, in that I really don’t have any strong feelings one way or the other about what happens to my stuff after I die; I kind of get a kick of people reading some of it and being entertained/horrified. But, I recognize this is not a widely held opinion and so this thread has been interesting for seeing different perspectives.)

      • Polychrome said:

        Gerard Manley Hopkins. One of my all-time favourite poets. He left his poems with a close friend with explicit instructions to burn them after his death. his friend did not, and I am grateful.

  23. BeldamSansMerci said:

    LW, this resonated so hard with me (and the timing is uncanny, because I was wrestling with something very like this literally yesterday). Your letter could almost have been describing my own mother’s behaviour in my teens and early adulthood. And yeah, she eventually stopped doing that stuff – but not because she learned to respect that my stance on what constitutes ‘private and personal’ is totally different to hers; rather, because I finally got a home of my own and was able to enforce the boundaries she’d cheerfully ignored all my life up until then.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that if I were for any reason – loss of financial independence, loss of health, loss of life – unable to enforce those boundaries any more, she would go right back to ignoring them. She’s not being deliberately malicious (I feel so bad about what I have to say about my mother every time I mention her in CA comments; she’s really an awesome person in nearly every way that counts). She just believes that my desire for privacy is silly and ridiculous, and that because I’m so clearly ‘in the wrong’ about this it’s perfectly okay to not humour my silly whims when nothing is forcing her to do so.

    You can absolutely bet that if I died, no amount of verbal enforcement beforehand, or written wills and testaments to the tune of “destroy this without looking at it”, would stop her from looking at my stuff if she felt so inclined; and I’m nearly sure that she would feel so inclined. It’s infuriating and distressing, because I have literally no-one in my life I can trust to take care of this after I’m gone. Even people I trust to have my back while I’m alive (and I can count those people on my thumbs), I strongly suspect would fall to “Well she’s dead now so where’s the harm?” in the event of my decease.

    Unfortunately, I still don’t have a satisfactory solution to this. Some stuff I’ve just disposed of preemptively, yes. But most of my personal writings (and there are lots of those, spanning decades. They include self-indulgent fiction, and terribad poetry! It’s not always written to be shared!) – I wrote them for me, I still want to keep them around for me to read and reminisce over and reflect on, right up until I kick the bucket. I’ve done everything I can to try and make it physically impossible for people to get their hands on that stuff after I’m no longer there to prevent it, but… no method is guaranteed effective. Ultimately, I just had to weigh and balance “how much I want to keep this accessible to me till the end” against “how much I want anyone else to not see it even after I die”, and for the most part the former won out.

    • Tagamorph said:

      You didn’t ask for advice, so please ignore the rest of this comment if suggestions are not welcome.

      Scan the things you want to save. You can put it through a character recognition program if you wan to save it as a text file, or just save everything as pdf files. Put it all in a password protected folder. Back it up somewhere, also password protected.

      Files can be accessed anyway if your mother is determined enough, (and wants to spend the money on a recovery service) but in most cases people don’t bother. Especially if you label the folder something like “eggplant recipes” or “expired tax receipts from 2003”.

      • Beth said:

        Thank you! I’ve been going through this thread to see if anyone else had made this suggestion. It was my first thought on the really personal material: scan it, encrypt it, and make sure it stays behind a password wall. Make sure the password is at least 12 characters long, and for pity’s sake make sure it’s something you won’t forget yourself. (And if you keep a written record of the password, make sure nobody but you is going to figure out which password matches the folder of eggplant recipes.)

        For backup, there are “zero knowledge” cloud storage providers, such as Spideroak, where the provider does not have access to the decryption of your material. Here again, if you forget the password and have no record of it, it’s lost to you as well as posterity.

        As long as the password dies with you, all access to the scanned documents will die as well.

  24. RSVP said:

    I once worked as a census enumerator and the last question on the census was “Do you consent to allow this information to become available 9x years from now, in the year 20xx? If you say yes, it’s released to public view for the use of historians and genealogists. If you say no, it remains confidential.”

    Most respondents would burst out laughing and say “Sure, I’ll be dead then. I won’t care!” Some would say yes for themselves but no for any children who might possibly still be alive then, some would say no and adamantly refuse to release it even long after their likely death.

    I suspect that the LW’s FIL did love his wife, even if their marriage was rocky towards the end, and the poems are comforting for him, a bit of her voice and spirit that remains. They were married for a long time, so he did know her, he wasn’t some complete stranger who just stumbled across them. If there wasn’t anything specific in her will telling someone to destroy them, then it’s not a violation of her privacy to read her poems. It isn’t something dark and unpleasant, such as a prison sentence.

    As for keeping one’s writings from ever being read – buy a cross cut shredder. They’re really quite inexpensive these days and you can pick one up from any office supply store.

  25. Nebula Ersatz said:

    The good Captain and previous posters have the interpersonal aspect of this beautifully covered, but I wanted to share a recent experience with the other part of your question. This summer, in the midst of going through a major life transition (moving to the Apartment Where Baby and getting rid of a ton of stuff), I found myself, 35 and very pregnant, confronted with a box of journals and poetry books going back to when I was about 10. Like you, LW, I had a very intruded-upon childhood with very little in the way of healthy boundaries. My mother and I were very enmeshed in a way that did me a lot of harm. As a result, I grew up with a lot of shame and dislike of my younger self and a strong tendency to gaslight myself.

    I decided that the journals needed to go. They’d been in a taped-up box for years, unread, and I just didn’t want them floating around in the world. I was filled with dread at the prospect of reading them ever again. But for some reason, I did. I read every word. And what I discovered was that even at ten, Little Nebula knew what was up. Yes, a lot of stuff in there was embarrassing, but the feeling I came away with was compassion and even affection for my younger self, which is something that had been sorely lacking in my life (and something that seems important to cultivate before this baby appears on the scene).

    And then I bid that sad, canny little girl a fond farewell, made abundant use of my wife’s paper shredder, and moved on, feeling light and free and safe in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. I’m not saying that this is necessarily the right answer for you, but it might be something to consider.

    • Leonine said:

      That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

  26. Just here to say that I like your attitude. LW. Not wanting to intrude on someone else’s privacy is very decent of you. Perhaps the author of those poems really wouldn’t have minded, but it’s the thought that counts.

  27. As far as “were you wrong/overreacting?” I agree with Alexthebunny upstream so I won’t bother to repeat it.

    For your personal stuff, I think taking some time to really reflect on whether you want to keep these things in the world is first order of business. You may realize you are done with them and then are able to dispose of them. Or you may want to keep them for any reason whatsoever.

    If you decide you do want to keep them, could you get a safe deposit box with a key or combination and keep them in there? Then share that key/combination with one or two people who you trust to honor your wishes should you pass. Someone who lives fairly close by so they could access it quickly before Cousin Nosypants shows up and takes it to a locksmith.

    If I were in your shoes I would probably pick my friend who is pretty emotionally dead inside and loves! rules! and would follow my desires to the T even in his (mostly likely minimal) grief of my demise. Much as I love my partner I wouldn’t be keen on giving this info to him because I don’t trust that his emotions wouldn’t get the better of him in his grief (they would most certainly get the better of me!).

    • Leonine said:

      “If I were in your shoes I would probably pick my friend who is pretty emotionally dead inside and loves! rules!”

      LOL! That would be me for my friends. I love hearing about people’s thoughts and feelings, but if it’s None Of My Business, I have an almost preternatural ability to shut down all curiosity and completely extinguish any desire to pry. I hope if my friends need someone for this sort of job, they’ll come to me.

  28. For your personal stuff that you don’t want someone seeing after you die, please put it in a box and ask a trusted friend to get rid of it when you die.

    My husband had the very unpleasant experience of finding his parents’ porn, their equipment, his father’s sex diary (yes), and their photos of themselves naked with their equipment. I doubt my husband’s father cared if my husband saw this – the FIL bragged about his sexual exploits to my husband – but my husband did not want to see it.

    • miss_chevious said:

      My mother wrote poetry and kept a journal sporadically throughout her life and left no specific instructions about it. Upon her death, my sister asked what I thought we should do with it. Knowing that my mother wasn’t a very happy person and lived a life that she was deeply frustrated with, I told her I would throw them away if it were up to me. I don’t know whether she did or not, but I just know I didn’t want to read them.

%d bloggers like this: