While disease and accidents have always claimed young lives, since September 11, there is an alarmingly large number of young widows. These are women with young children and in-laws who are still alive. How do these women cope with the emotional impact of losing a spouse, the demands of raising their children alone, and maintain a relationship with their in-laws?
The majority of women who find themselves widowed do not have to concern themselves with questions such as, how will I raise my children alone? Or, what role will my in-laws have in the lives of my children? Most widows have grown children. Most widows outlive their in-laws.
There are no clear cut answers. Every young widow’s situation is unique. One of the first questions you need to ask yourself, though, is how was your relationship with your in-laws before your husband died? And what was their relationship with your children like?
In my case my relationship with my in-laws was civil. We always treated each other with mutual respect. Yet, despite the fact that they only lived an hour away, they rarely saw our children. They never even saw my youngest child until she was six weeks old. I didn’t take it personally; it was just who they were. Now that their son is gone, things have not changed that much. At first there was resentment on my part. I expected them to help me more; to come and stay with the kids if they were sick and I had to work; to come and watch them so I could get out of the house once in a while; to be a large part of their lives. But I was wrong in making those assumptions. I have come to realize that their relationship with their grandchildren and with me is not going to change because their son has died.
I met a 9-11 widow who has the exact opposite relationship with her in-laws. They have been a very important part of both her and her children’s lives for the past 7 ½ years. She has even remarried and had another child with her second husband and her in-laws consider all the children their grandchildren. But this was the type of relationship she had with her in-laws even before her husband died. They were very involved grandparents and nothing changed once he was gone.
Another woman I spoke to had a terrible relationship with her in-laws the entire time she was married. They loathed her and always felt she wasn’t good enough for their son. After he died from lymphoma, they made a few attempts to be civil and see their two granddaughters, but it didn’t last. The negative feelings they had toward their daughter-in-law were still there and, again, nothing changed. Eventually, in order to save herself, she needed to cut ties with them.
The best you can do is not to expect your relationship or your children’s relationship with your in-laws to change, despite the most tragic of events.
Sandi Duffy was widowed in October 2007 when her husband succumbed to Pancreatic Cancer. She is raising her 4 1/2 year old son, Aidan and 3 year-old-daughter Ava, as a working single mom.