“My Brother Won’t Give Me Back My Late Husband’s Rolex”

(Trigger warning: mention of suicide).

Almost ten years ago now, my husband died by suicide. It was gruesome, and I found his body in our home. We were married two years and the suicide was a shock to everyone. I was both bereaved from the loss and deeply traumatized by finding the body. I was a mess.

It was my job to divide up his possessions. I made boxes of his favorite things for his friends and family, saved a few things for myself, and liquidated the rest. My brother and my first husband weren’t particularly close, but they got along well enough. I gave my brother my first husband’s Rolex. I loved that Rolex and I wanted it to go to someone special, but it felt too painful to keep it for myself. When my first husband was alive, I often wanted to borrow it, but it would have needed links taken out to do so, so I never could.

Over the years, as my trauma has healed and I’ve moved on with my life, I’ve started slowly wearing jewelry from my late first husband again. It no longer feels too painful; now it feels really nice actually. I’m happily remarried, but a death is not the same as a breakup and I feel I can love and honor both parties; I don’t need to choose loyalty, and my current husband agrees.

Recently, the Rolex came to mind. The problem is, I regret giving it away and I’d like it back. I asked my brother and he said he keeps it in a safe deposit box, wearing it 1-2 times per year. I asked if he would give it back, and he didn’t outright refuse but he did push back. In fact, he offered to pay me the value of the Rolex (about 5k). It’s not about the money; I want that watch back for sentimental reasons.

On the one hand, I fully understand that I gave it to him and he’s entitled to keep it. I won’t force the issue if it sparks an argument or causes a rift. But I’d like your opinion on if I’m wrong to ask for it back, given that I wasn’t in my right mind when I gave it away and I had to make a lot of snap decisions in that fragile state.

Relevant info: We are both lucky enough to be able to afford a Rolex if we wanted to go buy one. Also, I paid off about 60k in my brother’s student loans from life insurance money, so I have been generous with him on the whole. Mostly, I’m surprised by his reaction given the sentimental value on my end, and I’d love an outside perspective. — Rollin without a Rolex

No, of course you aren’t wrong to ask for your late husband’s Rolex back. This isn’t like a traditional gift you’d give someone with forethought and out of generosity; you were grieving, traumatized, and, as you said, understandably not in your right frame of mind. And your explanation for your now wanting the Rolex back makes perfect sense, and it makes sense that you’d be confused and even hurt by your brother’s reaction to your request that he return it to you. However, nothing else you’ve said indicates that your brother is typically uncaring or that your relationship is strained; giving him the benefit of the doubt, isn’t it possible that he was simply caught off guard by your request, that he wasn’t expecting it, and that his response came from a place of surprise and therefore without what would hopefully be more consideration and empathy for you?

I wonder: If you posed your request again – this time explaining to him as well as you do here in your letter the sentimentality of the Rolex and the healing that’s taken place to allow you to appreciate the physical mementos of your late husband, would your brother have a different response? I would hope he would. But I would also hope that if for some reason he continues to push back and if this is indeed atypical of his behavior and not reflective of your relationship as a whole, you would be generous again and accept this as a small character flaw, understanding that even the best of us are flawed in ways that sometimes perplex or hurt even our closest loved ones, and not let this cause a rift between you.

A Rolex, even one loved by your late husband, is just an object. It doesn’t hold the love you have for your departed spouse, the intimacy you shared, or the memories you made, and it doesn’t tell the story of your healing through the years since losing him. All of those things reside in you, easily retrievable whenever you need them. Even if a piece of jewelry he owned helps you access memories of him or makes him feel close, it’s not as if the Rolex is the only object that’s available (or, I guess, unavailable) to you. That’s not to say I don’t understand its meaning and the sentimentality it carries for you – only that the weight of its meaning probably pales in comparison to the meaning that your relationship with your brother holds, and it wouldn’t be worth damaging the latter to have more access to the former.

Talk to your brother. Tell him what you told us. Don’t mention the 60k debt you paid off or the ability your brother has to buy another Rolex. This isn’t about the money or the material worth of the watch. Stick to sentiments and feelings, including how special your brother is to you—-so special that he was the one who, in your most traumatic days and when you couldn’t think clearly about very much, you entrusted with safekeeping an important memento that holds sentimental significance to you. I hope he can understand and appreciate that and will return the watch to you, but if he doesn’t, I hope you’re able to forgive this flaw and love him anyway.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. Wow, this post has bought up a lot for me. A lot of weird co-incidences here. After our father’s suicide, my sister and I agreed that my husband should have his Rolex.

    Eventually, my husband and I split up. At first, I decided that my ex could keep dad’s watch, as it seemed unfair to ask for it back. The watch had originally belonged to my mum’s dad, and on his death passed to my dad; even after their divorce, dad kept the watch, so I thought the same should apply to my situation.

    However, as time went on, I changed my mind. My ex’s behaviour towards me deteriorated – we had not had a happy marriage, and he was very controlling, and he repeatedly threatened me. At this point, my sister had married and had sons, and I realised that I wanted them to have the watch, not my ex.

    Still, I had given it as a present, so I did not say anything.

    And then, we went through a particularly unpleasant divorce (we were separated many years before we properly divorced; he refused to get divorced for years). As part of this, my ex demanded I give him my engagement ring back. At which point, I realised that if he could ask for a gift back, so could I. So I asked for the Rolex back.

    A long time passed, then my grandmother bewilderedly called me one day. My ex had returned the watch to her: presumably, as the widow of the watch’s original owner, he felt she was more entitled to it than me. Or something. I still don’t understand it.

    Anyway, nana passed it back to my sister and I. The watch was broken and would cost $$$ to repair, so it is still sat in mum’s safe until we have the money to repair it. But I’m glad knowing it’s back with us.

    Sorry, I know that none of this actually helps the LW. But, I wanted to say that if they want the watch back then, absolutely, they are right to ask for it back. Totally agree with WWS. I hope the watch comes home.

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  2. LW, I guess your brother doesn’t have this Rolex anymore. He probably sold it. That is why he proposes you to buy it back to you.
    I don’t find it wise to ask a gift back, even in this extremely painful situation. Let it be. You made a beautiful gesture of love offering that watch from a person you love to a person you love. Remember that love and let it go.

  3. Oooo, yeah, quite possible that he’s sold it or traded it in for an upgraded watch. My husband has a rolex, and he did a couple of trade-ins at a watch dealer before he arrived at the one he has now, which is perfect. Even so, he eyes other models from time to time. I could see your brother maybe doing this if he thought you didn’t want to see that watch again. You could ask one more time like Wendy said, but then let it go.

    1. I also don’t know if keeping a $5k watch in a safe deposit box really adds up. An entry-level Rolex is an everyday watch.

      1. I don’t mean that to sound snobby. I don’t own anything like a watch or bag in the $5k price range. But Rolex watches at that price point are stainless steel sports watches or everyday-type styles, not dress watches. Only wearing it twice a year seems odd for something he really likes, which to me gives credence to the theory that maybe he doesn’t have it anymore and is afraid to tell you.

  4. Yeah, Rolex watches sell well and the value was certainely much more than 5k. And the brother was in debts. In my opinion the LW should drop the matter altogether. The first request to have it back was already one too much. She donated it, he owns it and has the right to do whatever he saw as his priority with it. Those questions are embarrassing – however painful was the bereavement, she should let it go about that particular item. Perhaps she could find an another souvenir that she could honor?

    1. I agree, when I was reading the letter I was thinking she shouldn’t ask for it back, but when I read Wendy’s response I was like, okay, I can see that. Normally you shouldn’t ask for gifts back, but the circumstances here are a little different. I could go either way. I think the best thing to do here would be for the LW to buy a new or pre-loved Rolex that really suits her. And wear it every day to feel some connection to her first husband while also wearing something nice that’s just hers.

      1. I completely agree with this suggestion, beautiful idea.

  5. anonymousse says:

    I think the above is probably true, he likely sold it.
    Kate’s suggestion is a good one.

  6. While it’s possible he sold it, it’s been ten years that he’s owned that watch. Longer in fact than it was ever in OP’s possession. I think she should take the original no and leave it at that. Maybe once brother ruminates on it more, he’ll change his mind and give it to OP, but pushing for it, a gift given over ten years ago isn’t the way to go about it.

    Also bringing up his student loans, that again, she paid off more than ten years ago is irrelevant.

  7. You don’t have the right to ask for it back….you gave him the watch….it is his to do with as he pleases….i would say just move on and forget about the watch

  8. Letter writer says:

    Letter writer here! Thanks for the perspectives.

    I would be shocked if my brother sold the watch. I guess it’s not impossible , but that’s not his personality style at all. It would explain his weird reaction more than anything else, but again- really really would be out of character for him. He has no need of the profits and he’s not a callous person. Something for me to think about, though.

    I agree that it’s weird that he keeps it in a safe deposit box but that IS on brand for him! He has a paranoid streak regarding the likelihood of rare but bad life events happening to him. It’s much more likely that he would cherish it to a weird degree than that he would sell it. Frankly I’d rather he wear it and enjoy it on a more regular basis if he’s going to keep it, especially as someone pointed out, it’s a nice watch but it’s not worth all that.

    I still don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll update.

    1. anonymousse says:

      Could you offer to buy him a similar watch? I agree that this seems weird.

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