Question: I have just returned to Ireland after living abroad for almost three years. My husband died suddenly in his early 30s just over five years ago. I suffered a dreadful bereavement which resulted in a short stay in a psychiatric hospital. My family and in-laws were all delighted when I suggested that I would move abroad for a period of time to rest and find solace.
I took leave from work, rented the house out and left home for what was initially meant to be a one-year break away. I travelled for a short time and then found a nice apartment by the sea in the South of France. I was due to return to work in April, 2020, but at the beginning of the pandemic I was able to negotiate home-working with my boss, which meant that I was able to extend my stay. Whilst living in France I attended a bereavement group where I met a man in a very similar situation to mine, his wife had just died.
We fell in love within a very short period, and I was introduced very quickly to his two young children who are both toddlers. He recognised that I had become homesick and agreed that him and his children would move to Ireland to live with me. He is in a very good position in his career and was able to transfer to his company’s Dublin office. We are now living in the house that I bought with my husband.
My parents and siblings think that I have acted hastily and will regret asking someone who is bereaved just over a year to move to Ireland to live with me, they are terrified that I will grow attached to the children and will suffer loss once again. My parents-in-law are very angry with me, they provided the deposit that we paid on our house and are now demanding that I pay them back.
I never imagined that moving on would cause so much distress to all of those who supported me through my pain.
Answer: You really are in the centre of other people's pain and worry and of course you care about this because these people have been so central to your life and to your recovery. Starting with your own family, they watched you suffer and break because of the bereavement and are cautious about you setting yourself up for loss again. Your job here is to demonstrate that you are fully aware of and cognisant of the choices that you are making. Your new partner has moved himself and his children so that you would have your community around you – this is an act of love and while it does not guarantee lasting forever, it is evidence of serious intent.
That you met at a bereavement group also augers well for you both as you had the courage and awareness to reach out for help – this means that in the future, you might both do this again if needed. The risk to your mental health is much lessened by your experience of treatment and the recovery it can bring so your family need to hear you speak about this in a way that alleviates their fears. As you both plan and execute a life together, your family will be able to see the truth of your relationship and thus support it fully.
The situation with your in-laws is different in that they are (naturally) in grief at the loss of someone who died in the prime of his life and they have had some respite from the rawness of this while you were away and they were not looking at the missing place at your side. However, you have come back with a ready-made family and this might highlight for them the loss of their loved one’s future and the loss of the expected grandchildren that now will never happen for them.
When we are caught in grief, anger is often a very natural expression of the injustice of the loss and of the hurt and pain that never seems to go away. The distress is caused by the loss of their son and it is finding a target in your seeming happiness without him. Perhaps living in the house you shared with your husband is very trying for your in-laws as they assume that you have let him go too easily and they cannot accept this new arrangement in the very place that their son planned his life. It might be worth considering selling the house, returning the deposit and then buying or renting a place that might offer a new start for your relationship.
Of course, this will not heal the rift with your in-laws but it might show your compassion for their plight and set you up for some type of communication that might ease into something acceptable. You and they have loved and lost and that is a huge shared connection. We all would want our loved ones to suffer as little as possible if we died and we would not measure the strength of that love by the length or depth of grief. Show your in-laws that you did love their son intensely and the experience of that allows you to reach for love again.
Be patient and continue to contact with them as they come to terms with their loss.