The day before my husband’s funeral, my eldest brother-in-law informed me that I was family and that Paul’s death didn’t change that. He let me know that I will always be part of the family – even if I remarry. The rest of my in-laws agreed and reassured me that I am, in fact, part of the family.
Over the years to follow, I’ve had several people inform me otherwise. I’ve had people tell me that I need to walk away from the Ryans because it’s not fair to them to have to see me alive and well, knowing that Paul is gone forever. My joys will cause them sorrows; my happiness will cause them grief. And I’ve had people tell me it’s disrespectful to my “real” family (I think by real they meant shared DNA) to continue calling Paul’s family my family.
And not too long ago, my first attempt at entering the dating world as a widow resulted in yet another insistence that I walk away from my “ex”-in-laws.
Yes, I’ve had several conversations since Paul died about the role of my in-laws in my life. It’s been suggested that I need to stop referring to them as my family when (if?) I start dating again. It’s been suggested that I not see them because I need to “forget” Paul. (Like that’s ever going to happen!) And it’s been suggested that I downgrade my relationship with them to Christmas cards and nothing more.
All of these comments have upset me to some extent. But I think that what has upset me most in recent weeks is a conversation I had with someone at the UKBA who informed me that I have no legal claim to “family” in the UK. I was informed that, as far as the government was concerned, my marriage has been dissolved, which therefore dissolves my family ties. When I explained that my marriage didn’t end in divorce – that I was widowed – I was informed that it didn’t matter. As far as the government is concerned, I do not have family in the UK.
I have to say that this was one of the most hurtful things I’ve heard in a very long time. But when I shared the story with Paul’s family, they were just as angry as I was. They were just as insulted by this statement, and they were just as upset. Because they know that we’re family.
So, even though there are people in the world who think that my in-laws are not my family, the most important people in the discussion disagree: Me and Paul’s family – my family.
And in the past couple of weeks, I have been reminded over and over again that I do have family in the UK – even if the government doesn’t believe me. And I feel blessed and humbled that these amazing people who don’t have to accept me have chosen to accept me and to keep me as family. (Just as many of Paul’s friends have chosen to accept me and keep me as their friends.)
And I do love my family; the ones I share DNA with, and the ones that came with Paul.
[That’s a photo of the day my in-laws became my family. I am such a lucky girl.]