My father died three years ago. He left relatively little money but about a dozen pieces of jewelry worth perhaps a few hundred to a few thousand dollars each, most of which he’d acquired during his 40-year marriage to our stepmother. My sister was the executor of my father’s estate. She agonized over how to equitably divide the jewelry and portioned it between herself, my brother, and me as fairly as she could. Our father’s beautiful diamond wedding ring went to our brother. Just a few weeks after this, my brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died just eight short months after we lost our father. Our mother died that same year, so our grief is very deep and ongoing. Fast forward to this week: I commented on an attractive ring my nephew was wearing. He revealed that his mother, my sister-in-law, had melted down my father’s and my brother’s wedding rings and had them made into new pieces of jewelry for himself and his two siblings. My sister-in-law apparently had no intention of telling me about this.
I was shocked and devastated. We have virtually nothing left but that jewelry to remember our father and stepmother by. To melt down our father’s wedding ring left me appalled. My sister or I would happily have paid her any amount of money for that ring. I know in my head that once a thing is given, it is the property of the recipient to do with as she wishes. But my heart is aching, even more because she also disposed of my brother’s ring, albeit in a way that gives a bit of it to each of his children. I believe her intention was good, but it was without regard to the loss my sister and I have endured. That ring is irretrievably lost. But there are a few other pieces that were also given to my brother, which my sister-in-law now owns. One in particular has special meaning to my sister and me, an antique that belonged to our grandmother.
Would it be proper for us to let our sister-in-law know how we feel about the loss of our father’s wedding ring and to ask about her intentions for our grandmother’s ring? How should we broach this topic? We love our sister-in-law very much and don’t want to create a rift in the family, but we are hurt that she took this step without giving us an opportunity to salvage our father’s ring. Should I also mention that this secret was revealed to me at an event during which we met our sister-in-law’s new boyfriend? Ouch.
—Melting Family Heirlooms