“My Sister and I Disagree Over Who Gets to Keep Mom’s Things”

My mom, whom I was very close to, died two years ago. I have a sister whom I had not spoken to for years! But, surprisingly, we came together and arranged a wonderful funeral for my mom and cleared her house with no issues and no fallouts over who would get what. Most things we seemed to agree on.

Mom had a set of four bears and my sister put her name on one. I also liked this bear and said it would be a shame to split the set. So she agreed I could have it.

Now two years on and totally out of the blue, she has said in a text message that she wants her bear back now! I explained that it is not hers and that she gave it to me. She said she didn’t and that I was only looking after it till she wanted it.

I now don’t want to speak to her as I feel I will tell her what I think of her, so I am avoiding phone calls, etc. We had been getting on so well, going out on day trips together, meeting for coffee, and making regular phone calls—-again, after years of not speaking.

What do I do? Tell her how upset I am with her and take a risk that things might blow up, or just hold my tongue and try and carry on as if nothing has happened? — Un-Bearable Sister

Well, I think you already held your tongue and pretended like the years you didn’t speak and the inciting incident that led to your not speaking for years – whatever that may have been – didn’t happen. And look where it got you. Sure, you got along well with your sister for a while, but eventually she pushed your buttons. How you respond to having your buttons pushed – whether you hold your tongue or you talk about your feelings – depends on what you want going forward.

Do you want a relationship with your sister or no relationship? Do you want her in your life in any kind of meaningful way? Do you even think that’s possible? Are you open to being disappointed or hurt by her in the future (which is a risk you take with anyone you foster a relationship with)?

If you want a relationship with her, I would give her the bear, but tell her that you feel upset and want to talk with her about it. Let yourself be vulnerable with her. Share what’s really bothering you. Explain why those bears are meaningful to you and listen to why they’re meaningful to her. You have common ground here – your mother – and your connection can help you navigate this turbulence if you’re interested in seeing where it may lead you, as long as you keep your heart open.

If you aren’t interested in keeping your heart open to your sister – if you think there’s too much broken between you to repair, then you either: keep the bear and tell your sister “tough luck” – she gave it to you and you’re keeping it; or you can give it to her, avoid any kind of deeper conversation with her about your feelings, and liberate yourself from keeping in touch with her or even thinking of her as family. You are allowed to set that boundary if you think it’s what you need.

Finally, if you haven’t processed with a therapist your mother’s death and the relationship you have with your sister, it’s not a bad idea to do so now if it’s within your means. I don’t really think this is all about a bear set. There’s a lot happening beneath the surface, and a therapist could help you explore that in a safe way, maybe even helping you find a way back to a satisfying relationship with your sister.

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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. I may be totally off base here but it seems like you and your sister managed to split up your mom’s stuff with little problems and design a beautiful funeral for her. That’s kind of amazing and shows cooperation and concern for each other. Plus you both started a relationship after years of distance. Now this. My suggestion is to give her the bear. But more, give her two bears. When people ask about it, you can say, this was from a set but my sister and I lovingly share it so we can both have something of our mother ‘s and a continued connection to each other. Best of luck.

    1. That was my thought as well. Share…she was mom to both of you.

    2. That was my thought as well. Share…she was mom to both of you.

    3. Anonymous says:

      Good idea. I thought maybe try to find a replica online and send that one to her.

    4. You are right on. Why let a bear destroy a relationship. That bear will be unimportant to you in time. It’s just a material thing.

    5. Give her the bear. Grown ass woman holding on to a toy is pitiful. Grow up.

  2. Anonymousse says:

    I agree with Dee. Surely a warmer relationship with your sister is better than a teddy bear or four, however meaningful objects they may have been for your mother. She is your sister, and your mother’s daughter, too. Open your heart and give her what she wants.

  3. Definitely echoing what Wendy said about talking things over with a therapist. Losing a mother you’re close to is hard. And the grief doesn’t tuck itself away nicely after a couple of years. It lives on with you in surprising ways. I lost my mom November of 2022 and most days I am fine, but some days I get hit with it so hard I can barely breathe. And it’s the damndest things that sometimes trigger it. Add in years of sibling strife and you may well find having someone professional to talk things through with helps you make peace with whatever you decide to do about your sister.

  4. Perhaps the reason you got along with your sister this time is that she went along with whatever you wanted to keep the peace. Refusing to evenly split a set of four knick knacks is bizarrely selfish. And being willing to cut your sister out of your life over a single toy bear is deranged.

    1. Anonymous says:

      She’s not cutting her out over the bear, though. She already cut her out, years ago. They got along briefly but now her sister is showing her true colors again.

    2. Dawn Marie says:

      This is the tone I was hoping for from the therapist, but I’m glad someone was brave enough to lay it on the line!

  5. LisforLeslie says:

    This isn’t about the bears. These four bears are not the only things that your mother left behind.

    If you want to pretend that this is about the bears – that’s fine, but are these bears more meaningful than a relationship with your sister? I’m the first person to leave shitty family members at arms length (or longer) but fighting over figurines doesn’t seem rational. Then again, while I’m somewhat sentimental and keep things that have meaning, if something breaks or gets lost, I don’t really care. It’s just stuff after all.

    It’s time to deal with your shit – and I don’t mean the bears.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If you don’t talk to your sister, then your relationship will surely be over. If you talk, you may or may not say something which is intemperate and sets her off. It also may go well. Even if you do say something which sets her off, that is something the two of you can talk through and recover from. Frosty silence and refusal to respond in any way is the one choice which guarantees the end. And yes, you should see a therapist and discuss whatever caused the initial break and why you are so willing to go to war over a toy bear. That might be a legit huge issue if you were four years old, but not as an adult.

  7. Posting error. So many anonymous posts, I should say that the above was me.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Keep the bears together and let them travel on a yearly rotating basis between you and your sister.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’d say split the 4 bears by assigning a number to each then drawing numbers for each bear. That way it’s fair.

  10. Give her the bear, lovingly. Just let it go. Your relationship with your sister is more important than a bear, which ultimately is just a thing.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m really confused why so many people are saying the relationship is more important than the bear and she should just give it up. Why doesn’t that go both ways? If her sister is willing to end the relationship over the bear, why should LW have to be the one to “save” the relationship? Despite the narrative that clueless people try to push, people don’t cut off family members for no reason. There is, I’m sure, a valid and painful reason why she stopped speaking to her sister before, and it seems like sister doesn’t care. She’s intentionally causing drama and she doesn’t deserve the bear or the relationship.

    1. No material thing is more important than a relationship. She should give all the bears to her sister. Then decide if she does or doesn’t want to develop a better relationship between them. But for her own sake, she should give up the bears and learn what really matters.

    2. There are 4 bears, why wouldn’t you split them? I would never dream of keeping all four sentimental things and not giving my sister two of them.

    3. Anonymous says:

      What causes you to assume the sister is willing to end the relationship over the bear? She’s simply asking for it. It’s the writer who is avoiding contact over not wanting to give it to her, and contemplating whether or not she can move forward. If there is, in fact, a very valid reason the writer should not continue to pursue a relationship with her sister, then this isn’t about the bear at all. In that regard, I agree with you – people don’t cut people off for no reason. Commenters are still correct that relationships are more important than things. So….what’s REALLY going on with the sister? Because if the writer is claiming to consider giving up that budding reconciliation over an ITEM, then there’s obviously more going on there and she’s asking the wrong question. She needs to sort out whether or not she can or wants to have a healthy relationship and not hide behind the bear. Because if it were truly about the bear itself, it would be an absurd to sacrifice a sister. But we all know that’s not what it’s about.

  12. Martina Kuntz says:

    My brother died 21 years ago at the age of 31. I was 32. I would give every worldly possession I have accumulated in the 21 years without him to have an afternoon laughing with him. Think long and hard before you open old wounds over material items.

  13. Would you really sacrifice your relationship for a stuffed toy?
    Please think this through.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Sister will be up to some other trick in a few months. Believe me, I have first hand experience. Let her go, sounds like a narcissist to me

  15. Share… Take a photo of the two bears your sister gets and frame it. Display it with the two bears you get to keep.
    You could…also take a photo of your two bears and give that also to your sister.
    That’s what we do with photos of people who are far away. This way the bears are still kind-of together. Even when they are far apart.

  16. Anonymousse says:

    I’m shocked at the responses to cut your sister off. And I’ve never been one to shy from setting more than necessary boundaries with troubling family members. Her ask is so reasonable, I would encourage you to therapy just because you are so deeply offended at something so innocuous. She was generous to have given you the bear before, and you were unreasonable. Now you’re aching to find a way to just be silly and cruel to her for no reason.

  17. Lisa Tice says:

    I agree that you should talk through all of your feelings, thoughts and emotions with a trained professional. After you have a better handle on your mom’s passing and the relationship with her and your sister, you’ll be in a much better place to decide what to do. If the bears are THAT important to you, buy another set and give one set to your sister. Thereby saving the peace no matter how fragile it is and you’ll both be satisfied.

  18. I don’t have a single sibling and I want to cry out, no taksies backsies. Why should the LW just give in to her sister? What if next year it’s jewelry or cash or something else…when does the LW’s generosity end? I’d explore why the relationship went quiet in the first place. Maybe this was a brief resurrection, but LW will need to go back to how it was….

  19. Anonymous says:

    The sister is a bit off and it is disrupting to get reproaches for an old discussion that you thought you had settled. That being said, I don’t think that the LW dealt properly with this request:
    “my sister put her name on one. I also liked this bear and said it would be a shame to split the set. So she agreed I could have it.”
    Why would you keep the whole set? You could have drawn lots, or compensate with other nice items. I can understand that you liked as well that specific bear, but why exactly? Can you explain it? You were also closer to your mum. Perhaps you gave her much more care as well? Does it remind you of her? If it is really so important to you, you could keep this bear, but you could offer to your sister at least two other bears on choice, or other “precious” parts of the legacy that you kept. To be fair, two bears out of four should have gone two years ago to the sister. Negociate, explain your attachement to this bear (otherwise than competing with her), especially as you have it since a long time now, and offer other parts of the legacy, instead of fighting or remaining silent. I find it a bit ridiculous to see two adult sisters getting really upset about stuffed bears. What makes you both regress now? What can resolve the situation now? Talk. You are no children anymore. Whatever you do, do it as an adult and in consideration to your past relationship with your mum. You should also accept to have a so so relationship with your sister. It doesn’t have to be wonderful or nothing at all. It can be somewhere in the middle: nobody is perfect.

  20. This is an unusual situation. I am of the age where my peers complain that their kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews have zero interest in taking their bears, furniture, books, small business, clothes, collectibles, unidentified photos of distant relatives and friends the younger generation never met, etc. either at the time they want to downsize or to make a ‘future planned acceptance’ at whatever time they die. The younger generations are more mobile, have smaller homes/apartments, and care less about ‘things’. Plus, the ‘things’ they care about are wildly different than what we care about. Older peers and relatives have offered to pay transport cost to move the ‘whatever they want to downsize, but can’t bear to have leave the family’ to wherever the proposed recipient lives. Still no takers.

    If these bears meant a lot to your parents and you each want a remembrance of them, the best approach would have been for both of you to take one or two. I promise you, the bears won’t care if you separate them.

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