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Aunt is devastated when private letter is read – Chicago Tribune



Dear Amy: In 2020, my nephew, “TJ,” graduated from high school.

My husband and I are especially close to him. Due to COVID there was no graduation party for him.

During lockdown, I sent TJ a card and enclosed money.


Later, I sent a personal, heartfelt letter to TJ, wanting him to know how much I enjoyed seeing him grow, recounting memories we shared, giving him unsolicited advice about college (that he could take or leave), etc.

TJ called to thank me for the gift and the letter.

Months later my sister-in-law “Teri” mentioned to me that she was in TJ’s room and a letter was open on his nightstand. She said she saw it was from me and read it.

She said she thought it was so nice and that it made her cry.


I was speechless!

The issue for me is I feel the letter was private between TJ and myself.

I was raised in a household where we never opened mail that was not addressed to us because the contents of any mail was considered the private information of the recipient.

Now, two years later, TJ’s brother is graduating from high school and I had planned to write a similar letter for him, but now I feel constrained on how much of my personal feelings I want to put into the letter.


Truth be told, the joy of doing another letter is gone for me since I know it may be read by others.

I want to get your thoughts on whether I am overreacting.

– Upset Aunt

Dear Upset: Yes, you are overreacting. By a mile-and-a-half.


When people receive letters and cards of congratulation to mark a happy occasion, they often leave the cards and letters out and share the content of these with family members (unless the recipient is explicitly asked not to).

According to your account, this letter was lying open in your nephew’s room. It was not sealed, and your sister-in-law did not “open” it. She merely read it, as I maintain just about anyone would do. (You obviously wouldn’t, but I believe that most people would.)

My overall point is that when a letter leaves the writer’s heart, mind, pen and home – it becomes the physical property of the person who receives it, and that person can leave it lying out for others to see, put it into a scrapbook, post a photo of it on social media, sell it at an auction, or throw it away.

It is best to enter a correspondence assuming that others may see what you write, and to choose your words carefully.


Your sister-in-law was moved by the contents of this letter to the point of tears. She was thoughtful enough to tell you so, and your response is to consider denying your other nephew this gift of your time and wisdom.

This seems an extremely unkind reaction.

If you choose to write to your younger nephew, you should ask him to keep the contents of your letter private.

Dear Amy: I am beginning to think that I’m in violation of some unwritten social code with respect to gift giving.


After a very acrimonious divorce, we experienced the typical “siding off” of our mutual acquaintances.

This is understandable, as divorce puts friends in awkward positions.

Anyway, I have continued to send gifts as children of “our” friends marry, despite not being an invited guest.

These gifts are not being acknowledged.


I’m trying to figure out if I just hit a streak of ungrateful young people or if my giving is so grossly out of place that it is just being ignored. Any guidance is really appreciated.

– Bewildered Giver

Dear Bewildered: All gifts should be acknowledged, even if the gift bewilders the recipient.

You do not need to receive a wedding invitation in order to send a gift, but if you have never met the couple – or haven’t seen the marrying person in many years – you might want to switch your generosity to a warmly-worded card.


Ask Amy


No-nonsense advice for better living delivered to your inbox every morning. For a limited time, sign up for the Ask Amy newsletter and get the book “Ask Amy: Essential Wisdom from America’s Favorite Advice Columnist” for $5.

Dear Amy: I appreciated your response to “Torn,” the older man who wanted to announce his long-ago sexually exploitive relationship with his sister-in-law at the woman’s funeral.


Yes, I agree that what happened to him when he was a teenager was abusive. And yes, I also agree that a funeral is NOT the time to disclose it.

– Fan

Dear Fan: My heart fairly broke for this man, who had been struggling with the impact of this abusive sexual relationship. I hope he gets help.

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©2021 Amy Dickinson.

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