DEAR AMY: I am 68 years old (divorced, with two grown children and two grandchildren.) My former college boyfriend (from 1972-1975) is now 78 years old and, although still ambulatory, is in poor health requiring 24-hour professional care. No one knows how much longer he will live. He has kept all my old (45 years old!) love letters. I have asked him repeatedly to return these letters to me, but he has refused. He never married, nor has he ever had a live-in girlfriend. Now, when he dies, his niece (he has no children) will be the most likely person to sort through his personal effects. These letters are, as you might expect, of a highly personal nature. They should not be read by anyone else. I have tried to appeal to his better nature and sense of regard for our former friendship, but to no avail. I'm not losing sleep over this, but if you can think of the right words to say to him to convey how important it is to me to have those letters back, I would be grateful.
Never Write Anything You Wouldn't Want Published
DEAR NEVER WRITE ANYTHING, ETC.: My understanding is that when you send a letter to someone, they own the (physical) letter: the paper and ink. You own the right to publish (or possibly sue someone else for publishing) the contents of the letter. So — your former squeeze's heirs might be able to sell these letters at auction, or display them in a museum, but they could not publish the contents of the letters.
But that's not really your question (I just thought it was interesting).
If you're NOT losing sleep over this, then continue not losing sleep. That is definitely the way to go.
It sounds as if you have asked for these letters, repeatedly. So — stop asking.
I think you should send him one more note. Tell him you are very sorry that he is ailing. Remind him of a happy memory you two shared. Thank him for whatever experiences you enjoyed together ("Remember when I dragged you to that Jackson Browne concert?"), and don't mention the letters at all.
He may respond to your kindness by doing the one thing you've asked him to do — and return these ancient letters to you — or you may end up dealing with his niece down the road.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I have lived on the West Coast for 30 years. He is very good at keeping in touch with his four siblings, who all live in the Midwest, where they grew up. It has always bothered me a little that he calls them each about once a month, while only one of them ever calls him. We are currently surrounded by devastating forest fires, many unprecedented in the history of our area. I find it unacceptable that none of the four siblings has reached out to see how we are. I think that he should discontinue reaching out to them until they show some inclination to reciprocate his kindness and concern. It is his decision, of course, and he's still deciding. But do you think my position is unreasonable?
DEAR UPSET: Your frustration isn't unreasonable, but your position is.
You cannot control how your husband conducts his relationships. He sounds like a very nice guy who may feel an unconscious need to initiate contact with his midwestern siblings because he chose to move so far away, while they stayed close to home.
Yes, his siblings should worry about you both. Yes, they should get in touch to make sure you are OK and to offer support. If your husband didn't reach out as often, his siblings might choose to pick up the phone, but you should not push him to cut them off out of spite (he likely benefits from these chats).
Ideally, he would tell them how he feels: "I'm always the one to get in touch, and I feel like you've forgotten me in between phone calls. I'd really appreciate it if you reciprocated once in a while."
DEAR AMY: "Struggling" wrote about lending her partner money that, following his death, his parents declined to repay. While I agree with your advice, in similar circumstances I would also suggest that anyone in this situation file a claim against the deceased party's estate. There is a statute of limitations to do that, which lenders can easily research.
A, in Arlington, Virginia
DEAR A: Thank you.