problems with in-laws after widowhood

Right after the New Year, a Christmas card arrived for Dee from my late husband’s mother. Typically, all cards arrive after


christmas card

christmas card (Photo credit: merwing✿little dear)


the fact whether it be her birthday or Valentine’s. Sometimes no card arrives at all and I take that as a sign that she is once again in hospital due to one or another of her health issues, which my BFF, who is a nurse, is fairly certain will shorten the woman’s life but isn’t doing that quickly enough for me.


Accompanying the Christmas card was a smaller envelope addressed to me.


Lovely, I thought. Nothing says ‘happy new year” like a screed from Will’s mother.


“Please send me pictures of my granddaughter,” she wrote.


She never calls Dee by name. Even in the cards she sends, she rarely uses the child’s name and even more rarely does she do much more than simply sign her own.


Dee, from the beginning of her existence really, has only been an opportunity to claim the coveted title of “Grandmother”. In fact the first thing she said upon being told I was pregnant was to announce,


“Finally! Now I can buy one of those cute grandma sweatshirts.”


Being a grandmother has never been about Dee herself. It’s a status thing. It’s pictures to share. It was another opportunity to stake a claim on yet another territory of victim-hood because from the beginning, Will and I did nothing but tell her “no”.


No, you can’t name the baby.


No, you can’t be in the delivery room.


No, you can’t have the baby for overnight visits or the weekend.


No, we aren’t driving an hour every Sunday to your mother’s so you can play at being grandma for an audience.


No, we aren’t going to bring her to your house when your alcoholic sister is rampaging, and no your sister isn’t be a part of Dee’s life.


No, you can’t babysit because you can barely walk.


She was never kept from visiting, but she refused to come to our home because it was contrary to what she wanted. It also meant she was tacitly agreeing with the reason behind our avoidance of her home – that it was a hoarders’ heaven. Seriously filthy and in some areas, completely nonnegotiable. Weeks worth of dishes molding in the kitchen sink, the dishwasher and even on the breakfast bar. Mounds of fast food bags, wrappers and super-sized cups on the fireplace hearth and around the lazy boy where she nested most of the time. In the garage, the bloody vomit stains that preceded the death of her dog dried and flaked away for two years.


The war over Dee was not even the first or biggest battle that either Will and I fought together or I fought alone after he got sick. It was simply par for the incredibly predictable course where the woman was concerned. In fact, by the time Dee arrived on the scene, his mother would only call Will’s cellphone and not our home phone. She’d figured out that if I didn’t know about something she was up to until it was too late, I had a lesser chance of stopping her.


Most of her plots had to do with money. She’d perfected the art of guilting where her son was concerned and it nearly always involved a combination of throwing his dead dad at him and reminding him that she was just a poor, marginalized widow that the world was against.


Her biggest loss on the funding front came when I inadvertently discovered that she’d check his name on a joint checking account and was trying to use it to obtain a new line of credit.


The account was (I would figure out later after I’d been widowed myself) leftover from the days when she was collecting Social Security survivor’s checks. At sixteen, the money (and the account) should have been turned over to Will, but she never told him about it and there was no reason that he would have known this. She kept the account joint and continued to use the money herself. In addition, she made him get a job, pay rent and buy his own food.


I stamped down hard on the credit line idea and I made Will take his name off the account. If she found me hard to take before, it was war from then on.


Fast forward. Will died in January of 2006. She behaved atrociously the entire three months leading up to it with the highlight being the day she told the hospice Social Worker that I had physically abused Will while he was ill. This lead to the Social Worker hauling me into her office and demanding that I explain myself.


Of course, the accusations were fabricated from the half-truth/half-fantasy world that Will’s mother dwelt in and the Social Worker spent the rest of Will’s stay falling over herself trying to make it up to me.


The funeral was a nightmare.


And then I heard not one word from her for nearly ten months until she called one day and suggested that we both apologize to each other for our “crimes” against the other and then move on to set up visitation for her with Dee.


I did not quite tell her to “go to hell” though it was on the tip of my tongue. But I did set her straight on what I thought of her and that seeing Dee, supervised only, would only occur when she could convince me  that she was no longer emotionally unhealthy and that her relationship with reality and truth were more than just passing ones.


And then another year went by. During which time I met Rob.


It amuses me and astounds me by turns that I could met, fall in love with and plan to marry a man from a foreign country, quit my job, sell my house, emigrate and marry without one single member of Will’s extended family noticing. To me, this was, and still is, proof of how little Dee and I meant to any of them. Will’s mother included.


If not for Rob, I doubt any of them would still have the slightest idea of where we were because it was only at Rob’s urging that I contacted them.


Really, I wouldn’t have been moved to do it on my own.


And it was only my belief that Will would have wanted me to send photos of Dee that I bothered to make that small gesture at all. Will knew perfectly well that his mother was selfish, a liar and a user. He apologized for it with “she’s had a really hard life and I feel sorry for her.”


It was guilt and pity that motivated much of what he did for her. The bills he would pay. The cash he gave her. The odd time he would take on some household chore or task to help her out.


He resented being her only child because he had no one to share the burden as her physical issues rendered her more ill and increasingly disabled, and more than once, we discussed just moving to my hometown because it would put distance between us and her demands and also because he liked my family better. My family was a chance for him to have the real extended family he’d always dreamed about growing up. People who weren’t perfect but still had each others’ backs, which was very much different from the vipers’ nest of his mother’s family. The alcoholism. The dysfunction. The barrage of guilt and battering of self-esteem.


In a lot of ways, Will’s mother owes her continued ostracism to Will himself, who let me know from the first that he didn’t want any of our children to be too close to his mother or extended family because of the misery they’d made of his childhood.


The letter she sent about the pictures was nearly a grocery list.


“Next year I’d like a 5×7, wallets and a fridge magnet.”


Thanks to Facebook, I don’t print pictures anymore, so the photos of Dee’s school events, soccer games and holiday adventures stopped a while ago. All that’s left are school photos. I buy one package and divide them up between our family, friends and Will’s auntie and mother. They don’t go very far and she’s lucky I bother. I still don’t like her. I will probably never forgive her for the hell she instigated during Will’s last months when I, frankly, had no extra patience or time for her hysterics, attention-seeking or games.


For the time being, I haven’t told Dee the reason behind my distaste for her late father’s mother but when the time comes – I will. I have no intention of allowing Dee to meet this woman before she is old enough and armed with the truth. She will not use my daughter the way she used her own son.


Until then, I send photos. I resent the time and effort it requires. And I keep checking the obituaries.




Gravestones, Koyoto, Japan

Image via Wikipedia

As some of you may remember, I read the obituary section of my former home city’s newspaper with a fair degree of regularity. I remember my parents doing the same thing at around my age and found it – sad – and a bit scary because when you are old enough to be assured of running across people you know, you are well past the age of being able to deny your mortality.

But I don’t read the obits, or run the occasional Google search, because I am certain that my family, friends and other assorted peers from here and there in my life are dropping dead at inordinate rates. I read looking for my late husband’s mother. One of these days, she is sure to show up and when she does, my obligation – slight as it may be – ends.

So today, I ran across news that one of Will’s immediate family has died. No, not his mother. Her mother.

I didn’t really know Grandma Elsie. By the time Will and I began dating seriously, she was on the edge of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – something that ironically improved her personality immensely – so the first time I met her, she was medicated, docile, sweet and fairly addle-minded. Which I was all too happy with as her pre-Alzheimer reaction to Will dating a women ten years his senior was that I could only be using him.

“Using him?” DNOS snorted when I told her. “For what? You have the career, the house, the money and he is damn lucky you are willing to overlook what a nightmare his family is.”

Harsh, but so like my sister to nail the truth to the door like Luther’s 96 Theses.

Regardless, I rarely saw her and when I did, she was just old and grandmotherly.

The reason I didn’t have much contact with her was that Will detested the old lady. I can’t recall a single pleasant memory out of the many he shared about her. Apparently for quite an extended period during his pre and early teens, she was convinced he was gay and shared her theory with everyone she knew. Her reasoning? He was fatherless and being raised without any male figures in his life. Though the fatherless part was correct as his Dad had fallen asleep and  driven himself off an embankment and into a creek, where he died – being too drunk to extract himself before drowning – Will had plenty of male influence. Indeed, he went out of his way for nearly the length of his life to acquire brothers and father figures.

Grandma Elsie was also a bully who tormented her older children and shamelessly spoiled her younger ones. Judging from the stories, she parented by way of the “divide, pit them against each other, and conquer” theory, which I am pretty sure Dr. Spock didn’t endorse.

Her most heinous crime was stealing the life insurance payout that MIL received when Will’s dad died. Absconded with nearly all of it and used it to buy property and open a business for herself. As far as I know, she was still paying MIL back when she died. MIL had to actually get a lawyer involved to force this and to fend off her greedy younger siblings who didn’t want any of “mom’s money” going to MIL and thus depleting their future inheritance.

Her illness caused a lot of internal conflict for Will. His mother, knowing full well how awfully Grandma Elsie had treated Will, insisted that he forgive her and let the past lie. But he wasn’t really ready and I (something I did a lot of that didn’t endear me to MIL or her family at all) told Will that he didn’t have to forgive the old woman simply because she’d become ill. I did think though that he could at least be polite when their paths crossed because she wasn’t the same person and didn’t deserve to be reviled about things she couldn’t remember or change if she could.

She died back in February and Dee hasn’t received any cards from MIL since before that which now makes sense. MIL tends to power down into complete self-interest mode when she feels victimized by the universe and I would imagine that wrangling with her siblings – and her nieces, who are a self-interested bunch of chips off their respective blocks – would have made interesting reality television. I do hope though that she was finally reimbursed what she lost all those decades ago in terms of finances. She’s lived a bottom-feeder life as a result of her mother’s greed and hopefully that’s over for her now*

It’s kind of sad when the only stories you know about a deceased person are better left untold, and Will told me plenty of those. I don’t know that his family ever realized the extent to which he didn’t care for them or how eager he was to become a part of my family, which was directly proportional to how unloved and mistreated he felt. Many, if not most if we are honest, grow up and get past painful beginnings and letdowns where family are concerned. I don’t know if Will would have. Perhaps. I like to think I was a good influence in any case. He really loved my parents though and that went a long way towards helping him, I think.

So, one down.

*Though I honestly wouldn’t count on it. A greedier bunch I have never encountered. Will’s uncle had his mother caged in her apartment for over a year after the dementia got really bad despite her doctors wanting her in a nursing home. He didn’t want her finances being depleted too much, which would translate into less for him and his kids. Which, I guess, brings up the point of “Was Will named as a beneficiary in Grandma’s will?” And honestly,  I don’t know. I do know that they weren’t able to rewrite her will because of her dementia and Will had been told he was a beneficiary, the same as his three cousins, but my guess is that if there was an inheritance, Dee will never see a dime of it, which is fine by me. I have endeavored to keep any of that stringy family web from sticking to her and she is better off without them.

Making an SVG to replace - Image:Certain Eleph...

Image via Wikipedia

Found a great quote on Twitter today:

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

It doesn’t get more true than that.

Specifics fade or morph. They take on lives of their own. But in the end, what drives the things you say or do into another person’s soul like nails into the proverbial coffin are the feelings that resulted.

Good, bad and freak show ugly, what matters at the end of the day is how people feel.

Last evening a friend of Will’s mother contacted me on Facebook.  I haven’t heard from her in five years.  In fact, the last conversation we had concerned her calling on MIL’s behalf to inquire about Will’s burial.

Which I had not invited anyone to attend given the fact that his mother and friends hijacked his visitation and made it all about them and their loss.  Dee and I weren’t even afterthoughts.

At the time, this woman had been acting as a go-between for about six months.  MIL moved shortly before Will went into hospice and refused to allow anyone to tell me her new address or phone number.

And no, there wasn’t any trauma-rama incident that led up to my being persona non-grata.  She just hated me and preferred to let others talk to me and relay information to her.

In our last conversation, I told MIL’s friend that in the future MIL was to contact me herself if she needed information.  I wasn’t catering to her Queen of England fetish anymore.

Okay, I didn’t make the “Queen” comment but I was clear enough.

I didn’t hear from MIL for 8 months and last evening was the first I’d heard from her friend.

“I was searching for friends and thought I would try to find you. I am curious to see pictures of Will’s daughter to see how she is growing up.”

And yes, she referred to Dee as “Will’s daughter”.  I don’t imagine any of his friends remember that Dee is a separate entity with a name of her own.  She’s simply a legacy.

Some Facebook buddies responded to my slightly ranty status update bemoaning having been tracked down. They’d been there and advised using the various privacy tools to limit access to my personal page while still relaying information to interested parties about Dee.

But my sister, DNOS, was more to the point in her reply,

I wouldn’t Annie, you owe them nothing!!!! or completely block em!! It is time to end it!!! All they will do is bring you and everyone else misery!! I know that is mean but I had watch them and that is all I can say!!!!!Well I could say more but can not here.

DNOS is still a bit indignant on my behalf and she is a fierce mama tiger. It was all I could do to keep her from ripping his family and friends to shreds during the funeral.  She did lay waste to one of Will’s pool league buddies who wandered outside for a smoke and ran into her.  He, according to her account, “blubbered like a baby and boo-hoo’d about how he should have been there for Will. And I just gave him a look of disgust and told him he should have before I walked away.”*

My sister is a strong person.  She has no use for the weak, indecisive or those who look back on their poor behavior expecting sympathy. “Fuck ’em” is her motto. You have ample opportunity in life to stand up and be worthy in her opinion.  Regrets are for the useless.

MIL asked me once to forgive her for the slights, dishonesty, malicious attempts to undermine me with the staff at the nursing home and again at hospice.

But I can’t forget what the Social Worker at hospice told me after one such attack,

“She hates you. Be careful.”

I am not at all sure what prompted the friend’s request for photos. I messaged back that she should inquire with MIL for photo access as I have sent her pictures recently.  She replied with a “thank you” and not much more.  I suspect that MIL sent her looking for me on FB with the intent of gaining access to real-time information via my page.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the hunt has even led them to this blog or the others for which I have written.

I have enjoyed five years of pretty much total anonymity from Will’s family and friends on the Internet.  Longer than I should have expected but given their mercurial temperaments and historic lack of interest in how Dee or I was faring, perhaps it’s more of a surprise to be found at all.

I haven’t forgotten the feelings associated with dealing with a single one of them. I was the Cinderella of care-taking and then of widowhood, and I broke all manner of polite society (which is funnier if you know the people I am taking about) rules by moving on and eventually remarrying.

Gut instinct says this is first contact.

*On a side note, DNOS informed friend and MIL’s sister that no way in hell would they ever see Dee again after the funeral. I knew nothing about this exchange at the time. In fact, DNOS was under orders from me not to start anything with the in-laws, whom she held in great contempt for their failure to be much help. She especially disliked MIL for her antics while Will was in hospice and when we arrived at the funeral home to find that MIL and friends had set up camp and taken over, it was all I could do to hold DNOS back. I wasn’t in the mood for a Finnegan sort of wake.

Recent traffic surges and an uptick in subscribers has left me feeling oddly pressured and blogging with the feeling of “daily chore” about it.

I’m also feeling less comfortable with personal revelation now that some of my readership dwells in my real world as opposed to the – as my daughter puts – “internet people” I’ve become accustomed to in my bloggy version of the reality show confessional.

And there is the fact that I am slowly inching back into the world of working … at a real job … for money. Not much money. You’d either chuckle at my audacity of referring to it as “work for pay” or fear for my survival if I were suddenly called upon to be the breadwinner again. Very little bread could be purchased with the bread I am making.

Pool all this and the end result is me not blogging much … again.

Regardless, there’s little news in the neighborhood to blog about at any rate.

Summer finds me in full-blown stay at home mom mode much more so than at any other time of year. Swim lessons. Camps. Weekends off in the wooded or mountain areas.

Last weekend we got away for a quickie to Garner Lake and this coming weekend, we’re off to a family reunion weekend a way up north near Grande Prairie.

Shelley’s family gathers every fourth year at one of the area’s community halls to pitch tents, horseshoes and bocce balls. There’s a big dinner followed by a dance on Saturday night and judging from the tales I’ve heard, I will be even more completely out of my elemental self than I normally am around Rob’s late wife’s family.

Trepidation is running at high enough levels that I’ve even tread back into nightmare territory – a sure sign that my exterior zen is squaring off with my internal misgivings and fears.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Shelley’s family has been nothing but polite and graciously so to me and Dee, but feelings have flared out of sight.

Rob thinks I am being overly pessimistic and that everything will be fine, but every time I have been around that side of the family, heavy drinking occurs*. And I already know that most of the extended family are keenly aware of what my presence symbolizes which puts both me and them on sharp edges.

This is the first family reunion since Shelley died. Her mother, step-father, father and both her mother’s brothers have died in the interim. I can’t help but think that this is something that will not hit people until everyone has gathered … and had too much to drink.

Of course, it could all just turn out peachy.

I am crossing fingers for peachy. And taking my yoga mat.

*One of the sisters-in-law is an alcoholic who appears to only deal with her issues when she is completely shit-faced, which is clever because no one in the family can call her on behavior she has conveniently blacked out.

Will’s mother was widowed at thirty-three. She chose a much different path to her now than I have chosen to mine. Nevertheless, she has had an impact on the way I view widowhood and grief and it could be said that I have gone the way I have because of her in some small way.

She has never been allowed much of a role in Katy’s life. Despite what she thinks, and tells people, Will and I made this decision together before Katy was even born. Had things turned out differently, she would be just as marginalized today as she in fact is. I remind myself of this when I things like today’s Christmas card arrive that Will knew her very well and though he loved her, he didn’t much approve of her choices past and present.

About eight months after Will died, his mother decided to resume contact with Katy – not me – Katy, who was four. She would send holiday cards and drop the occasional gift off at the door when we were not home. The cards were addressed to Katy and written to me. They were full of venom even though she had professed to have forgiven me for all I did to her during Will’s illness. It’s funny to me that for some people finding Jesus is often at the loss of civility, but that’s another post for another day perhaps.

I ignored her attempts. Katy refused to acknowledge having a second grandmother at that point (though she knew she did) as a result of things that happened during the hospice months, and I wasn’t going to push it. My mother-in-law knew what she had to do in order to gain entry into our lives and wasn’t about to. At this point I think I should point out that when she found out she was going to be a grandmother at last (we’d been trying for two and a half years and she blamed me for our lack of success), her first response was that now she could finally wear a t-shirt that said “grandma” just like all the other women her age that she knew. Katy, like Will before her, was to be an accessory.

Since no one in Will’s family ever called or stopped by or checked up on us in any way past the first two or so months after he died, I didn’t feel obligated to keep them up to date on our life, or my personal life. So, they didn’t know about Rob. When he appeared or when we got serious or the engagement or our plans to move Katy and I to Canada or our marriage. In fact it was mid-August or maybe even September already when I sent out letters informing them of our marriage and our location. Will’s oldest uncle and his aunt on his dad’s side were quite nice. Will’s mother? She didn’t take it very well. At least that is what I heard.

Today her Christmas card arrived. I had asked her not to send cards to Katy with messages intended for me anymore. Her card was just the message printed inside and her signature, and then out dropped a letter for me. It was as cruel as she could make it without directly violating her new-found faith in the Lord. The lord, as we all know, is big on form and light on intent. Her opening line was:

“I could bash you for what you have done to me and Will but I forgave you for all of that and I am at peace.”

Rob told me to just forget about it. Don’t let it have power. What she thinks I did to her is of little import to me. I know what kind of person she is and this is typical of that type of person, but that she implied that I did things to Will that hurt him is a bit harder to put aside. I know she is angry. She feels that life has cheated her time and again and never gives a thought to her part in the misery that defines her life now, but still. I feel often that I failed Will even when I know I didn’t and I hate that she can push this button. I will put this card and the letter away with the others. Katy can have them when she is old enough to read and understand them.

I wrote to Will’s mother over the weekend. She had sent a birthday card to Katy, and it was forwarded to our new address. Typically, the letter inside was addressed to my five year old but actually meant for me. The things she writes are calculated to induce guilt because she sees herself as the ultimate victim of Will’s illness and death. I can understand her discounting how everything has affected me, but she discounts completely how it has changed Katy and her life too. Katy is simply an accessory from her grandmother’s point of view. 

I knew the card was coming. I knew I was going to have to reply and finally clue her ,and the other in-laws, in about the changes in my life. What I wrote was fairly matter of fact, and I told them only what they needed to know about Rob, the move, and our life here, and that wasn’t much. I don’t know why I feel I need to protect us from them. But even Will’s father’s family seems tainted to me now. Though they could be selfish and indifferent, they were never cruel. I know what they say about marrying a person’s family, but I don’t believe that any tie to another person or group of people allows them free and easy access. People need to earn the right to be a part of your life. No one is exempt. I have a brother who I kept at arm’s length or better for many, many years because of his self-destructive behaviors, and I still give my youngest sister a wide berth because of her self-absorbed ways. 

I set the record straight with Will’s mother. She knew the boundaries already, I think, but now they are spelled out. I didn’t put them forth in anger, although I am still angry with her about the many incidents that took place those last three months and especially that last weekend. She knows she can write but is on notice about the appropriateness of the content. If she is writing to Katy then it needs to be the types of things grandmothers write to their little granddaughters and not veiled messages for me. I will not put up with the intermediaries she has used in the past to avoid having to speak or communicate with me directly. And, I included some photos of Katy. It was the right thing to do even if her grandmother has never done much more than use her as a prop in the elaborate drama that she prefers over living a real life.

I wish I could feel more empathy, or even pity, for the woman, but I don’t. Even Will had a hard time with that and his main reason for keeping contact amounted to not much more than guilt and obligation. Still, she was his mother and I will do this much for his sake. It’s really him that I owe this too. 

I was surfing the widow board as I am wont to do during my daughter’s evening bath, which given her inherited princess tendencies can be lengthy, and I ran across a reply to a post about people in our lives who overstep. The poster mentioned that someone she knows deals with such folk by placing them “in the penalty box”. Apparently this box of retribution lies in the backrooms of one’s mind and interlopers, idiots and probably in-laws are mentally wood-shedded until such time as one is ready to deal with them. This could be tomorrow or it could be never again. There are no real punishments meted out because it is more like a grown-up version of time-out except that the bad behaving adult in question has no idea that they have been shelved. I found the concept very interesting. When applied to my own life, I realized that I have quite a full inbox.

Earlier today I answered the phone and found one of Rob’s late wife’s aunts on the other end. Dianne has been working on having a memorial bench for Shelley made and placed in a local park and she wanted to run the wording of the plaque that will be on the bench by Rob. We chatted only very briefly, but she was quite nice and genuine. I am not really certain how often Rob hears from his in-laws, but his relationship with them stands in stark contrast to my relationship with Will’s family. Granted, Rob and Shelley were married for 25 years and their actual relationship predates that by a couple more, and I really had no chance at all to get to know Will’s extended family before he got sick. Still, I wonder if the state of the union where my in-laws are concerned is something that I should have worked harder at.

Currently, I haven’t heard from Will’s two uncles or his aunt in almost a year, and this is discounting the last minute message I found on my phone inviting my daughter and I to the clan’s family Christmas the night before the festivities. My mother-in-law’s siblings and their children haven’t had any contact with me since well before Will died and some of them have never even seen our child in person. The mother-in-law herself is a long and ugly story that I am through telling. The long or short of it is that they don’t know about Rob or that we are married or that we live in Canada now. Frankly, and surprisingly, this has bothered me all along. And, I thought the reason that I was bothered by it was because I hadn’t tracked them all down and told them about the current events of my life. It’s not though. The reason I am bothered, upset actually, about their not knowing is that they don’t want to know. Katy and I are not important enough to keep in regular or hell, even semi-regular contact with and because we aren’t worth that very minimal effort, I know exactly what Will meant to them. He meant the world to me. He was the world to Katy. He was an afterthought to them and now he isn’t given any thought at all. Not even by his mother, you might be thinking? Surely she mourns him? I have no doubt that she does, but she does so in a way that I have trouble recognizing as love. 

I have decided to close the door on the penalty box of in-laws now. It was not my job to keep them interested and around over the last how ever many months it has been since Will’s death. They are all grown-ups with access to the many modern wonders of communication that are available to us all these days……and they knew where to find me and Katy. Now that they don’t, I doubt they have noticed. When they do, if they do, I will reassess the situation. Until then, I have more important things to do.