DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: I know this sounds really weird, but my grandmother has a death photo of her grandmother. In it my dead great-great-grandmother is surrounded by her own children, grandchildren, and husband. My grandmother proudly displays this morbid picture on the mantel in her living room. It’s creeped me out since I was old enough to get what the picture was, and I know it has always bugged my dad, who had to grow up with it. Last time we visited my grandmother, my 10-year-old also figured it out, and she cried in the car all the way home when I confirmed what she thought.
My grandmother is in her 90s, and I know she isn’t going to change, especially since she hasn’t taken the photo down when she’s been asked to in the past by several family members. But I have told my dad that I am not bringing my kids to her house anymore if she refuses to either take down or cover the picture. I can kind of take it, but I am not going to force my kids to see it again.
Do you think I am overreacting? --- NOT FOR MY KIDS
DEAR NOT FOR MY KIDS: For decades postmortem photographs were fairly common, and in their day weren’t considered morbid, as they are now. Rather they were meant to bring comfort in grief and help memorialize the departed.
That said, I can certainly understand your feelings about the photo your grandmother has prominently on display. It might help a bit if you explained to your 10-year-old a little of the history of the practice. It may not creep her out any less, but it could give her some insight into her great-grandmother’s probable motive for having such an image in her home, especially since there’s a good chance it shows people she knew in her younger days, and for her is a sort of family heirloom.
Since it clearly bothers you a good deal, it doesn’t seem to me like an overreaction for you to choose not to bring your children along for visits to your grandmother’s house. What would be sad, however, is if you cut her off from spending time with you and her great-grandkids entirely. Hopefully, you’ll be able to meet up with her at other locations, where your children can focus more on seeing her, and not her household decor.