problems with in-laws after widowhood

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.