My wife died a year ago. She was only 35 and left me with our two young children. About six months after her death, I met a wonderful woman of 40 who has children of her own, and we decided to live together. I can never forget my wife, but life with my new love is amazing and the children all seem extremely happy. We have planned to marry in the autumn, but my late wife’s parents are openly hostile. They say it’s too soon and won’t come to the wedding. What can I do?
Yours sincerely, Ben
It is sad, but people not only grieve in completely different ways – some can appear to be quite untouched when someone they love dies, others go wild with rage, and others feel desperately unhappy – but the amount of time spent grieving is completely different for different people. And so, while you have found a new love quite quickly, your old parents-in-law are still devastated by the loss of their daughter.
My advice is to try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they’re feeling. They have convinced themselves that because you’ve fallen for someone new so quickly, it means, therefore, that you never cared very much for their daughter anyway. Perhaps they feel that the children are being pushed too soon to accept another woman as a maternal figure. These are barmy feelings, of course, but the bottom line is that they feel their daughter has been completely erased from your family and replaced by some kind of ghastly clone.
The only way you can ease the situation is, I feel, to write them a letter. Say that you can never forget their daughter. Say that your children will never call your new wife “mummy” because they already had a mummy, a very special one. Say how one of the ways they can be kept in touch with their mother is to visit you often, and that they, as living representatives of their maternal side, are desperately important in their grandchildren’s lives. Say that photographs of their mother adorn the walls of each other your children’s bedrooms and, indeed, your own. Say that you hope that, were their mother alive, she would be looking on this new union with love and approval because she would know that it was best for the children to live in a happy stable family rather than one torn by grieving.
Say, whether it’s true or not, that you’d agreed with your wife that if either of you died, you should find new partners for the sake of the children. Say that this one chance of a different life has come and, although you agree it’s too soon, you have to grab it.
Lay it on with a trowel. If you feel you’ve gone too far, go further. If you feel that you’ve reached the mawkish and sentimental depths, dig deeper and wallow. Don’t ever mention the phrase “moving on”. Enclose pictures of you and your family by your late wife’s grave. Taken recently. Beg on your bended knees for them to come to the wedding.
I think they would have to have hearts of stone not to attend. And if they don’t come, try to forgive them.
They are unreasonable
This is really a very sad situation. Whilst one cannot have anything but the most sincere sympathy for your late wife’s parents, they are unreasonable in their refusal to acknowledge you have decided to move on with your life. In their eyes there will probably never be a “right” time for you to remarry; it probably feels to them as if you are somehow betraying their daughter – or at least her memory.
There is little chance of compromise nor any need for it. You and your new partner and your merged family should reach out for the happiness you so deserve and feel sadness but no guilt about your in-laws.
Bognor Regis, West Sussex
Put the brakes on
Slow down. This woman may be fantastic and you may end up married to her, but you had barely scratched the surface of mourning your wife after six months when you met her. I imagine a love affair is a good distraction from working through the feelings of grief, but you can’t bury them forever – they will catch up with you.
Stay with this woman, but recognise that the needs of your children and their grandparents are important. You will still want your wife’s parents involved in their grandchildren’s lives. If your new love is emotionally aware she must have wondered whether you have given yourself a chance to come to terms with the trauma you’ve experienced.
Don’t forget her
You have everything to gain from the support and participation of your first wife’s parents. Your children need them and the children of your bride-to-be may benefit from having these other adults in their lives.
Give your wife’s parents more time to get to know your second partner and her children. Continue to talk to them and the children about how important your first wife remains to all of you. My mother remarried after my father’s death, and he was never talked about again. I experienced this as a deep and abiding loss – which in some respects was worse than his death.