Monday, December 31, 2007

In-laws and friends no more?

This weekend I spoke with Jeff's dad. We try to talk a few times a year. Jeff's family lives about six hours away by car from where I live, so we don't get to see each other too often. When Jeff died, I kept in contact with his dad, one of his brother's and his wife and their children. I'm not close to his mother (his parents have been divorced for years and my relationship with her is a long, complicated story) nor his other brother -- although I send his brother and family a holiday card and an update and pics.

Although I still call Jeff's dad my 'father-in-law' and I'm still "Aunt" Lisa to those nieces and nephews, I know that I'm technically not related to them anymore. Legally I'm not related to them anymore. My kids, however, will always be related to them. Emotionally, however, I will always feel that connection to them. For me, that doesn't go away; at least, not yet.

When Jeff died, I thought that I lost two families -- the one I had with Jeff and our family unit and his family. To some extent, I'm sure it's hard when they see me and Jeff isn't around. We still talk about him and laugh about things, but when my brother-in-law came up to visit for my daughter's communion, several years ago, I saw that he had a hard time standing in for Jeff because it just hurt him that his brother wasn't there.

After Jeff died, I wanted everything to stay the same. I didn't want to lose contact with any of his family members, or my friends for that matter, but things change. Early on, when I went to private therapy, I asked the therapist why it hurt so much and she said, "because those are people we expect to stay with us, who will want that connection and will help now that he's not here. The truth is that they can't handle it or move back on with their own lives. Sometimes the grief from losing the secondary people is just as bad as the grief from losing your husband."

When I first heard that, I thought, 'No way this hurts as much as losing Jeff," but when I thought about it further, I realized that losing in-laws or friends after losing Jeff did hurt very bad and was just going to happen and no matter what I did I couldn't control what they did. Whatever the reason, I've learned that it's important to do what you can to keep the relationship close if that's what you want, but to understand that what you want may not be what they want.

I believe the first thing you should do is have an honest talk with your husband's or wife's family and see how they feel about continuing to be a part of your life. If there are kids involved, do whatever you can to keep that relationship going, as long as it is a positive one for your kids. Be prepared for changes though. You might hear from them more or less. They might cry when you talk with them. They might not even mention your husband's or wife's name because they can't handle it or because they think you can't handle it. I tried to make it clear that I will always talk about Jeff because I want the kids to feel comfortable. It's easy now to do that with them. If they are doing things that bother you, it's important to speak up. You don't need additional stress at this time so it's important to keep the lines of communication open.

I try to visit and am planning a summer visit in 2008. If you live too far away, keep in touch by emails, pictures or DVDs.

Sometimes no matter what you do, it's just not going to be enough. Jeff's best friend promised me at the funeral he would never leave my kids and would always be there for my son to teach him the martial arts that he had taught Jeff. I never saw him again. He called three times since the funeral, but we never saw him again. My lifelong best friend and I lasted two years after Jeff died. My other best friend hasn't left my side since Jeff died. I have also found new friends.

So I'm glad I talked with my father-in-law and I hope that continues, but I know that things can change. Life changes. Relationships change. Friendships change. Now I try to accept it.

What is your relationship with your in-laws?


Anonymous said...

Wow, great article! I lost my husband of twenty years suddenly to cancer two years ago (it was only two weeks from his diagnosis to his death) and almost immediately I also lost his entire family, as they directed their anger at his death towards me. I could do nothing right and they were very outspoken in expressing their anger at me. At first it was difficult as I have two teenage children but I came to realize, that in the long run, it was better as it made me completely start anew and truly stand alone. My children initially had a hard time dealing with the estrangement but since, they have seen their paternal grandparents and extended family a few times and recently spent time with them over Christmas. I am happy that the kids are in contact but I will never personally reconcille with them, despite their requests, and I am very comfortable with that. Again, it is a chapter in my life that I now consider closed and will never reopen.

Anonymous said...

I am fortunate to have great in laws. We have remained close and they have always made me feel that I am and will continue to be a part of their family. My brother in law died just 4 months after my husband, so we really leaned on each other.

kim-d said...

When Bill died, the only remaining family members were his two older sisters and their families. We had never been close to the oldest sister as they preferred to keep to themselves. We had always been very, very close to his other sister and her husband, doing couple things together. However, during his illness, something changed and his sister pretty much took her sadness out on me. Like Anonymous #1, I had to take a step back and not participate in the relationship anymore--I just couldn't deal with her AND everything else. Just last year at this time, I got a card from her. She has a disease that will take her life within a few years and wanted to reconcile. Although I never thought we would, given the circumstances, I took a chance. Best thing I ever did--both for me and for her, and we're now closer than ever. But it took six years to get to that point.

The other friends disappearing hurt very much, yet I understood it. But what hurts now is that I can't be included when my married friends have a couples party because, well...I'm not a couple (DUH) and it would change the dynamic and it could be uncomfortable. Again, I understand. But it hurts BADLY because I just don't fit anywhere, even after all this time. Even though I am not a couple, I still feel like a couple. In my mind, I am not a single person and I don't know if I ever will be. I feel more comfortable around other couples, even if they're not comfortable around me.

If I allowed it, it could be very disheartening and lonely.

Nancy said...

I think that loosing the family, at least to the extent it has changed the dynamic, is also dealing with different losses. Joe's brothers stay in contact with me, I had his closest brother over this past weekend and his wife, but I know they want to be a part of our lives, just not to the same extent. I appreciate any involvement because I know and appreciate they are grieving as well. The hurt of loosing a loved one stretches way outside your home. I've suffered 2 other losses in my life of very good friends so I had some expertise with how things would change. I anticipated some of it so it made it a little easier to digest. I think the hardest part for me was during my caregiving months, March through June, I was inadated with family and friends and after the funeral 7/7 I felt like everyone scattered like mice. You find out how your real friends are and who is strong enough to offer help. I agree that you need to talk to their family to make sure they want to stay in touch and set expectations on how to communicate. It's worked so far for me. Joe's best friend though promised to stay in touch and has a little, but called to apologize over the holidays for blowing me off during a recent visit to Orlando. He said he hasn't dealt with it yet and is still in denial. I'm ok with that, they were life long friends and everyone grieves differently.

Kim, I'm so happy you and Bill's sister made up. You will not regret that. We know that life is short and it takes more energy to dislike something and hold a grudge then to forgive and love others. Joe taught me that. He never held a grudge nor disliked people.

cjedwwards5 said...

It was just 5yrs ago that I lost my husband of only 3 1/2 months. We had been together for probably 10yrs prior to our marriage. I was always around at family functions before we were married. While my relationship with his mother remains (not as close as we used to be), I do not have contact with his father & step-mother. They live 5 houses away from me!! We will wave & speak if we see eachother, however that is it. His brother & wife were the beneficiaries of the life insurance. Being married that short time, he didn't think to change it. It was like pulling teeth to get them to pay the funeral bill & other bills. I let the interest add up & contacted the companies, funeral home that they had the life insurance. About a year later, all of the bills were finally paid. They kept giving excuses that the accidental life wasn't paid out. WHATEVER!!! I knew better. It was a car accident & I still know better. They think I am an idiot! I was around them & their 3kids in March when their Grandfather passed away. They were civil & said they'd keep in touch. That didn't happen. I've known their oldest child since she was a year old & now she'll be 13 this year. It's sad, and I wish I could continue having a relationship with all of them as my husband would be soooooo disappointed. In my heart, I know for me to be healthy, I cannot be the one making an effort anymore. There are somethings you have to walk away from & for me...this is one that I must. It just makes me so angry & sick to think what they have done, espcially when I see & hear about new homes being built! It shouldn't be about the money, but he would have wanted his wife taken care of.