“What are you going to do about your in-laws?”

I was confused.

“Do about them? What do you mean?”

“What if you get married again?” she inquired. “Shouldn’t you stop talking to them as much?”

As a widow, I know the role in-laws play in a post-loss world. I know many who have such terrible relationships with their spouses’ parents that they are now referred to as “outlaws”. I’ve read horror story after horror story of in-laws blaming the surviving spouse for the death, demanding insurance money (because it’s what their deceased children would have wanted, of course! *insert eye roll*) and even worse, removing themselves from their grandchildren’s lives.

I’ve been fortunate to have the most supportive in-laws who have walked me through the very rawest stages of my grieving process and beyond. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law were especially instrumental in getting me to a place of healing.

For me, my in-laws are a packed deal. Just as the love for my husband is part of me, they too are part of me. I would not respect a new guy who felt threatened by that relationship or insisted I sever ties.

It was my mother-in-law who told me I had to keep moving forward despite my wanting to curl up in a ball and watch life go by without me. She said, “Baby, I know you loved my son with all your heart but he’s not here anymore. You’re still here and you have to keep living. You do a disservice to him by not living your best life.”

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She encouraged me to date again, though we laughed that my hubby was probably shaking his head at her prompting me to open my heart to love again.

She helped me to see that although my faith was shaken, I could still continue to worship in the midst of my storm. We cried, laughed and prayed together.

I remember once after getting off the phone, I thanked my hubby for leaving me in the hands of such a wonderful family. They are a reminder of who my husband was and why family was so important to him.

My in-laws have loved me through what was one of the most devastating times in my life. They, along with my own family, also saw me through my post-loss pregnancy and what seemed like a daily barrage of negativity from my doctors as to my child’s survival.

As we navigate life, we’re blessed to have a handful of people who truly love us – without strings attached or hidden agendas. I can’t fathom why anyone would encourage a widow(er) who has an amicable, loving relationship with his/her in-laws to change that dynamic simply because he or she is dating.

My in-laws continue to reassure me that they will openly embrace any guy I invite into my life. They trust me to make good, smart decisions and will respect my choices. They know my dating again isn’t an insult to their son/brother’s memory. They know my heart, despite a gaping hole, is capable of loving again. They know that losing a spouse at 32 and expecting me to climb into the grave right next to him is unrealistic and unfair. They know that I’m entitled to happiness – regardless of how I want that defined in my life.

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My love, gratitude and admiration for them don’t get put aside for a new partner. My new relationship’s growth isn’t stunted by my love for them.

Even if there are no grandchildren involved, why should a widow(er) have to close that chapter in her/his life in order to “heal”? You heal with love, support and togetherness. And for many in my shoes, that’s what in-laws represent.

I’m sure my in-laws will be among my biggest cheerleaders if I ever decide to walk down the aisle again and would be honored to be there on that special day. When you have people who celebrate you on your good days and hold you up on your bad days, you don’t just cut them off. I can only hope any future in-laws will hold me in such high regard.

Mom to a feisty preschooler, Kerry Phillips became widowed at age 32. She runs an online support group for young widows and widowers venturing back into the world of dating and is a blogger for The Huffington Post.

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