Carolyn Hax: Family embraced nephew’s widow. Then she found a new man.

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Carolyn Hax is out. The following first appeared on February 1, 2009.

Dear Carolyn: My brother’s son was tragically killed in an accident last summer. He left a widow and two girls in their early teens. Like many couples, they had their problems, but as far as our family knew, they were working hard to be a family.

Our family came together to support the widow and her children. It left them deeply in debt. After the funeral, my brother, other family members and I also discovered that his house needed major repairs. The family joined with the widow’s permission and did the necessary work.

Shortly after, she announced that she had started a new relationship and let the family know that if anyone says anything negative to her girls about her or this new relationship, she will ban them from seeing her girls. The latest news is that the couple is planning to get married.

Is it needless to say that my brother and the rest of our family are completely devastated by this turn of events? This young woman has shown clear signs of instability in the past (drinking, affairs, jealousy). We tried to include her and did everything we could to protect her and help her in this terrible time. Do you have any advice on how we can deal with this terrible situation?

Grief: Your signature indicates your first step. Painful as any subsequent developments may have been, it is still the pain of your family’s loss that underlies and intensifies your anguish for the widow. Summon all the tolerance you can for her, and realize that both bad decisions and bad reactions to others’ decisions are close companions to loss. Not to mention, his sprint to get married again is within his rights, even if it hurts.

Also realize the nature of this insult on top of your injury. Just from your brief description, it’s clear that you’ve had evidence for some time that your nephew and his wife had a troubled marriage, not “like many couples”, but aggravated by drinking, affairs and jealousy . Serious problems all.

This suggests that an element of your family’s devastation comes from having been forced to accept that the widow is not the poor, grieving, innocent victim you all imagined her to be and somehow needed her to be. Your efforts to help her galvanized the family and channeled your grief into a rewarding mission; It’s entirely understandable that fixing/rising above seems essential to your heroic story, and that story seems essential to making sense of and ordering such senseless and chaotic loss.

Well, she is not that person.

Fortunately, this was never about her; it’s about children who need support, and the memory of your nephew, and to some extent the affirmation of your family’s values. It’s clear you care about helping each other and doing the right thing.

If anything, the more objectionable you find the widow’s behavior, the more valuable your efforts become. A saint can raise healthy girls in any condition. People overwhelmed by their demons are a different story: their children need grandchildren and grandfathers and uncles and aunts and friends who love them and can show that love without judging their struggling parents. A tall order for sure, but for your love group, I suspect it’s doable.

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