When I became a widow there were a lot of things I learned from other widows about the new world I had become a part of. One of the things that was surprising was how many widows were completely ignored and dismissed by their in-laws. Many had children with the deceased, yet the grandparents of those kids removed themselves from their lives after their loss. I heard sad story after sad story about families walking away and not looking back, or causing more drama to the lives of those surviving the loss. In fact, within the widow community, the common term for in-laws is out-laws.
That would be devastating to me. One of the greatest gifts I got on my wedding day was a set of incredible in-laws. From Warren's parents and sister, to his aunts, uncles and cousins, they are ALL family. My family. My daughter's family. They didn't turn their backs on us just because our initial connection was gone. We mourned together. We remember him as a family. The love is genuine and lasting, even as they meet my new love interest and see how much my life has changed. Our relationship is deep and goes beyond a piece of paper.
I take it for granted until something reminds me how lucky I am. Most recently, it was a visit from my parents in law. They came for a week and it felt so good to have them in my home. They are a wonderful couple, but aside from that I paid attention to how much of a family we are. They get along great with my parents; they shower my daughter with love and attention; they genuinely enjoy spending time with my siblings and their children; they support me and take pride in what I do with no pretense that ties my accomplishments to Warren.
The day Warren died my mother in law told me that she wanted me to find love again. When I found it she wanted me to feel comfortable introducing him to her, knowing that I have her support. At the time I thought it was terribly insensitive and couldn't imagine the day I would do so. Fast forward four and a half years when I did just that. I was nervous and had no idea how it would go. I shouldn't have been worried. She was gracious and welcoming. My nervousness melted right away. They got along and we laughing and sharing stories right away. My father in law was just as accepting. We shared meals and time and it never felt awkward.
It could have gone very differently. Finding romantic love could have meant losing familial love. or brought on shame, but instead, it showed me true humility and honesty. They want my happiness as much as their son did. It's a reminder that family isn't limited to blood. It is a choice to show unconditional love and acceptance even when you don't have to. It lasts beyond tragedy and loss, death and legal documents. I am so lucky to have learned it from personal experience and examples. I hope it is a lesson that is carried on by my daughter and the kids who have seen and felt the same love that I have from the family who said their "I do's" about me the same day I said mine about them.