Relating With In-Laws After A Spouses Death
Janet McGinn

Our Guest Writer of the month is Janet McGinn of Widowed to Widowed Services, and freelance writer on issues concerning Widowers. She is currently completing her book "Widowed Without Warning" which includes songs, movies, poertry, famous quotes and a list of useful internet resources for those who have lost a spouse. In this article, Janet discusses some of the issues and difficulties that can arise between surviving spouses and their in-laws.

Relating With In-Laws After A Spouses Death

While attending a widowed grief group, a discussion began about the association of surviving spouses and their in-laws. As I listened, I became absorbed with the emotions expressed in the room and thought of a proverb to describe what was happening, "He that pities another remembers himself." When I left that night, I couldn't stop thinking about the grief group and began to hypothesize these questions: Does the family relationship prior to death affect the kinship after death? How does the type of death, ie. natural VS suicide, terminal illness VS sudden tragedy; alter the closeness with grieving in-laws? What would cause relationships to change over time?

Not finding anything on this topic in the grief books at hand, I will share the concerns of members from that meeting. I will describe four possible in-law scenarios. (Do any of these describe your situation?)

1) The in-laws continue to remain an extended family, supportive and needing you in a long-term kinship. This is especially true if the in-laws are biological grandparents. A mutual respect between the families allows positive interactions that are reciprocated. It is favorable for some families to remain in close contact, accepting the surviving spouse and offspring as loved ones, as if death had not occurred. (After four years, this is where I am.)

2) The in-laws would rather not remain in close contact, but you find yourself wanting to hang onto a relationship with them. One explanation for their reluctance could be you are a constant reminder of their beloved. In some cases after a sudden death, the denial of the death by in-laws is a survival reaction enacted without meaning to hurt you. It is possible that you will experience feelings of abandonment. (This happened to me during the funeral week.) Remember, "Time heals all wounds" and perhaps being patient with them will allow them to miss your friendship.

3) Your in-laws need you to be a sounding board, but you wish they didn't want to stay so close. "One cliché is that "Misery loves company." To that I would add my thoughts, 'like grief needs companionship.' One member, whose wife was an only child, befriended his mother-in-law because he knew she saw him as the last link to her beloved daughter. He explained how listening to his in-law would recreate memories that served as emotional triggers, surfacing at a time he was not prepared to grieve. As in the widower's case, contact with your in-laws may even cause some depression, although originally well intended expressions of their grief may now prevent you from moving on. Other special circumstances could arise if your spouse was an only child, died from a lingering illness or had a parent who was already widowed.

4) In-laws break their bond with the surviving spouse if the couple is childless or the children are grown. Such was the case for one widower without offspring, who described how the in-laws severed all ties and simply disappeared out of his life, perhaps blaming him for the spouse's suicide. Thus, the grieving spouse had lost everything connected to his beloved wife at a time when he needed to feel close to those who loved her, too. In conclusion, depending on your given situation, only you can decide if your relationship with in-laws is a BLESSING OR A BURDEN? However, you have the right to decide how you want to deal with them, whether you remain in touch or alter your current relationship. From a widowed grief group I saw first-hand how "A handful of common sense is worth a bushel of learning."

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