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Moral dilemma.

(75 Posts)
Sloegin Fri 22-Apr-22 12:12:05

I have just been asked for advice re a difficult moral issue and would be interested to know what others think.
A friend's father asked her, before he died, to find his love letters to her mother and burn them. She couldn't find them at the time but since then her mother died and the letters were found when clearing out the attic. My friend wants to carry out her father's wishes but her three siblings say they are part of family history and should be kept. Some of them have already read the letters, my friend hasn't. The family members who have read them say that they're very innocent love letters. My advice was that morally the letters should be destroyed but if the siblings overrule her then her conscience is clear. Personally I think they shouldn't have read them. I do understand the siblings desire to preserve family history but what's right? I felt quite a responsibility when asked for my opinion.
What do people think?

Blondiescot Fri 22-Apr-22 12:14:42

I think in her shoes, I would want to carry out my father's wishes - but being the inquisitive type, I'd probably read them first.

MissAdventure Fri 22-Apr-22 12:17:23

I think it's an appalling breach of trust to read them, and I most definitely wouldn't.
Terrible thing to do.

Ro60 Fri 22-Apr-22 12:22:05

I would carry out my father's wishes.

Namsnanny Fri 22-Apr-22 12:23:19

I would find it difficult to advise too.
Given that at the moment my Mother is destroying anything and everything that doesnt present her narrative of family life when my Father was alive. Of course in this case she can legitimate make any decisions about letters etc. She likes.
Even though he asked for certain possessions to be passed on. It's not going to happen.
Your friends conscience should be clear though, as she has tried her best to fulfil her Dads wishes.

lemsip Fri 22-Apr-22 12:23:43

I would definitely read them as her siblings have already!

Sloegin Fri 22-Apr-22 12:33:34


I would definitely read them as her siblings have already!

It's not just about reading them but he specifically asked for them to be burnt after his death. Unfortunately my friend coufind them at the time.

Aveline Fri 22-Apr-22 12:34:21

Burn them!

Marydoll Fri 22-Apr-22 12:35:57

Those are private letters, no-one should be reading them. As others have said, it is a breach of trust.
I would hate my children to do that.

MissAdventure Fri 22-Apr-22 12:37:59

It's quite upsetting to think that family would be poring over private things.
I bloody hope my grandsons wouldn't do that.

Blossoming Fri 22-Apr-22 12:39:30

What was her mother’s view? As the letters were written to her it was her decision to keep or destroy.

Septimia Fri 22-Apr-22 12:39:47

My mother asked me to do the same thing - to burn the letters that my father had sent her before they were married, without reading them.

I was sorely tempted to read them. They may well have been very bland, but they were personal. If my father had been overseas with the forces, or travelling for business, they might have had some general interest, but that wasn't the case.

So, dutifully, I put them on the fire unopened, and I still wonder what they might have got up to in the late 1930s that she didn't want me to read about! But that was their business.

Germanshepherdsmum Fri 22-Apr-22 12:44:16

I would also advise your friend to burn them as that is what her father wanted. Not carrying out a parent’s wishes would weigh heavily on me.

Elizabeth27 Fri 22-Apr-22 13:02:17

I feel they should have been destroyed without reading them, however now that they have been read and the parties involved have died then I would keep them for future generations.

When letters are found that are 100 years old they are always fascinating and looked at fondly.

Chewbacca Fri 22-Apr-22 13:08:13

I think it's an appalling breach of trust to read them, and I most definitely wouldn't.
Terrible thing to do.

Completely agree. Bad enough to go against a dying man's wishes but to invade his privacy too is just shameful. People never cease to astound me.

Smileless2012 Fri 22-Apr-22 13:10:13

I would carry out my father's wishes. Perhaps he knew your friends siblings wouldn't respect his wishes which is why he asked her.

Niobe Fri 22-Apr-22 13:14:52

This is why it is best to do a ‘Death Clean’ while you are fit and able. If you have documents you don’t want anyone to see you should dispose of them yourself because you can’t trust anyone else to do it properly.

Galaxy Fri 22-Apr-22 13:19:21

This is why I have just shredded all my old diaries..

Ladyleftfieldlover Fri 22-Apr-22 13:23:58

I have kept a daily journal since 1980 (I kept a teenage diary for years but they were destroyed). I have told my younger son that when I die, he can read through them if he wants, but to give them to the Women’s Library in London or I think the British Library accept diaries.

buffyfly9 Fri 22-Apr-22 13:27:55

Burn them without reading the contents. To do otherwise is a breach of trust and I don't buy the comment from other family members that they would form a historical memory. By their very nature private love letters should be just that, PRIVATE and not pored over by other people.

OakDryad Fri 22-Apr-22 13:32:43

I see the moral dilemma but there is also as is a legal aspect to this. Who does a letter belong too?

I believe the content belongs to the writer but the physical letter belongs to the recipient. Content cannot be shared without the permission of the writer and the physical letter cannot be destroyed without the permission of the recipent. This question often comes up in copyright cases involving the press and other publishers.

In other words, the father had no legal right to order the burning of the letters without his wife's permission. He only had control over whether the content be shared. Having failed to find the letters at the time, that gets your friend off the hook. Had she found them, it would have been wrong to destroy them without her mother’s permission.

Assuming the man’s wife inherited his personal possessions she also inherited the rights over sharing the content.

Now she has died, the physical letters and rights become the property of whoever she has left them to. If she hasn’t left instructions regarding the letters and it’s a case of her residual estate being shared equally then it would appear to rest on a majority decision.

silverlining48 Fri 22-Apr-22 13:36:09

I burned my innocent but boring and embarrassing teenage diaries a few years ago but still have love letters from a few special boyfriends and a scrap of envelope my dh wrote something on. Also letters between my parents during the war. Interesting to see how my mother’s English improves over time.
There will be no more letters, they are already a rarity, So much interesting information about people long gone. Imagine getting to know great great grandparents in their own words. Fascinating.
It’s a bit sad really because emails tweets and whatever else are gone forever in a click. Puff!
As to your friend’s conundrum she will do what she thinks best.

ixion Fri 22-Apr-22 13:46:18

We had always grown up with a little footstool, with red velvet padded top, which was never used as such, which was a part of the sitting room furniture and which was always locked.
My mother once told me that it contained their love letters.

When she died,, I brought the footstool back with me, complete with the key I found in her undies drawer, with a plastic gardening label in dad's handwriting saying, simply, 'footstool'.
This now sits in my study, locked still.
Some days I am tempted to peep inside, but now is NOT the time for me.
Maybe one day? 🕯

aonk Fri 22-Apr-22 14:09:08

I have already destroyed all the letters written to me by my late DH1. I simply don’t want anyone else to read them. I’ve also destroyed other paperwork related to past events. None of it had any meaning now.

25Avalon Fri 22-Apr-22 14:18:31

Strictly speaking the letters did not belong to the father. They belonged to the mother, who did not destroy them but kept them, albeit in the attic. It was for the mother to decide what happened to them. The siblings have now read them so they are no longer secret and could be of historical significance in future years. If they want to keep them why not.