Dead People Etiquette

I briefly mentioned that my Gramps died last month.  He was 87 years old and had Alzheimer’s (not Old Timers or All-timers disease like so many people annoyingly say…).  He outlived my Grandma by 7 years.  They were married for nearly 62 years so many of us were surprised that he lasted as long as he did.

I wasn’t very close to my Gramps.  I knew him as a quiet man.  But perhaps he was just quiet compared to my Grandma who was a chatty cathy.  My Grandma was SO chatty, that she even took it upon herself to write up my Grandpa’s obituary and something to be read at his funeral.  She just wanted to be sure people knew him like she did.

Here’s their tombstone.  Apparently my Gramps picked it out.  It has their wedding date in the middle.  I thought it was a sweet tombstone.


When someone dies, especially someone in a parental position – the inevitable questions of inheritance comes up.  And these conversations make me feel horribly uncomfortable.  I think this was exacerbated by the fact that I’m not particularly close to this side of my family (or any side of my family to be honest).  I didn’t want to talk about divying up possessions and money with people I don’t know very well.

We were in Utah for 5 days.  In that timeframe, we were asked to go through a storage locker of my grandparents’ belongings and grab what we wanted.  I was also asked to pick through 100+ dolls (in my Grandma’s extensive doll collection) to take what I wanted.  And can I just say that dolls are frickin’ creepy?

The whole experience was just SO overwhelming and uncomfortable.  I felt awkward “claiming” things because I wasn’t really around this part of my family.  My grandma always sent letters and cards, and I would send cards whenever I remembered.

The last time I had seen both of my grandparents was when my dad had a stroke in 2000.  Then I saw that side of my family and my Gramps when my Grandma died in 2004.

So.  My Grandma had written a sort of will outlining what she wanted to do with some of her items (her doll collection, an organ, etc.).  She specified that she wanted me to have her entire doll collection (minus 2 that were chosen for my younger cousin) and that I would do whatever I wanted with them (keep them or sell them).

But then my Aunt kept telling me to pick out the dolls I wanted.  I don’t know if she was saying this because she realized that I probably didn’t want the entire collection (because what would I do with them?) or because she wanted to keep them?  I don’t know!

I went through the very unorganized dolls (my cousin had moved into my grandparents’ house and disassembled my Grandma’s doll display… understandably) and only picked out like 15 dolls.  Now I sort of regret that despite not wanting all of the dolls.  And I only regret it because my Grandma specifically wanted me to have it.  But now its awkward.  I’ve already picked out the dolls and have flown back home (not with the dolls though – they were going to ship them to me later).

Also – while going through my grandparents’ storage unit, I saw my Grandma’s sewing machine and serger.  I kind of wanted them (especially when I found out that my aunt doesn’t sew) but felt awkward asking for them.  So I didn’t.  But now I want them.

It has been over a month.  I’m still not close to this family but now we’re Facebook friends.  Is it inappropriate to ask, via a Facebook message, for this stuff?  I just feel so awkward!  What is the etiquette?



Filed under Charm City Kim Rambles

5 responses to “Dead People Etiquette

  1. I have no clue what the proper procedure is in this case. but I can understand why you’d be afraid to say anything. Emotions are high, and a seemingly innocent request can easily be taken the wrong way if someone’s not quite in their right frame of mind. On the other hand, how awful if her sewing machine was thrown away or sold because no one else really wanted it when it would be a wonderful and meaningful memento for you.

    Personally, my brother and I have alleviated any potential awkwardness by claiming things before my parents are even remotely close to passing.

  2. Uncle Bob

    I would ask about the sewing machine. Simply say you’d like it if no one has claimed it. Been through the will thing with my mom and grandmother. Life gets weird when family and things collide.

  3. Amber

    Agree with Uncle Bob. When my great aunts and grandma (who lived in the same house and could probably have been on the show Hoarders) passed away we had to figure out what to do with her stuff! We ended up giving anything away to anyone who wanted it and had an estate sale for the rest. We know people felt weird asking but we were super relieved when anyone wanted anything! Just glad it had a home. Although, I was not amused when the estate sale lady told me I should let her sell the opal and diamond ring my grandma stated she specifically wanted me to have because opals and diamonds together are “bad luck.” Yeah, right. Shockingly no one wanted the soy sauce/hot mustard packets that they had saved from every Chinese food take out meal they’d had since 1960. Oh, and Kim, trust me, you’re glad you didn’t take ALL the dolls.

  4. B

    I think now would actually be a good time to ask. It’s a month later, emotions might have settled a bit and people can look at items with a clear mind. I think it would be fine to go ahead and ask for the sewing machine!

  5. I think if you pose it as that you remembered it was there and if someone hasn’t claimed it and it’s going to be otherwise sold or given away you’d love a chance at it. If they were planning on having an estate sale you could also say you’ll buy it fair and square, so it’s not seen as overstepping your inheritance bounds (although it stands to reason since you didn’t take all the dolls, emotions are weird around this kind of stuff.) I’ve heard of families doing that before.

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