We recently went to dinner with a friend and her new spouse, who lost his wife to cancer over two years ago. The friend asked my husband and I how we deal with the in-laws from the previous marriage. From what I gathered from the conversation, she felt like they were nolonger part of the family, and something with which she should not be required to deal. Based on my experience with my husbands family, my response to her, in expanded form, is written here.
Whether you lost your spouse suddenly or to a long drawn out illness, you remain a part of their family. They are grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to your children. They are your in-laws. You did not divorce your spouse and therefore did not separate yourself from their family at their death.
Starting over again can be difficult, but in time you may choose to date or remarry. It is important that your (soon to be) new spouse understand a few things about your life and your extended family:
1. They are still your in-laws! They are not outlaws!
2. They are just as much a part of your life as your future in-laws.
3. They may need some time to get to know and accept your new family. This may take patience on both parts. Give everyone time to adjust.
4. Your deceased spouse will always be part of who you are and where you came from.
5. Your deceased spouse will always be your children’s parent/ your grand children’s grandparent.
6. Your deceased spouse will always be a memory that keeps you going when nothing else can.
7. Your new spouse is not a replacement for your deceased spouse to you or to anyone else in the family. They are an addition to and an extension of the family.
And Here are a few things for you to consider…
1. Whenever possible, guard your new spouse from slings and arrows of the in-laws. Again, they will need to time to adjust and there are times when they will not be accepting of your new spouse. Limit these encounters until everyone has had time to grieve and adjust to the new situation in your life.
2. Realize that this is your life, and no one elses. Take comfort and advice from family members, but never take abuse from them. If they choose to no longer be part of your life, let them go. If they choose to be part of your new life, embrace them with both arms.
3. Love your new spouse with everything you have. If they are worth marrying, they are worth giving your all to. If you are not ready to give your all to someone other than your deceased spouse, you should not be getting re-married!
(These same rules for your family can be said for friends. There may be some who cannot or will not accept a new spouse or even a dating relationship in your life after the death of your better half. Allow them the same courtesy you allow the family, but also allow your new spouse or significant other the benefit of the doubt if your old friends try to pull you apart. It’s their decision, don’t let them make you choose.)