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Do right thing despite widow’s awful behavior

Washington Post

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

Our family came together to support the widow and her children. He left them deeply in debt. After the funeral, my brother and I and other family members also discovered their home was in need of major repairs. The family joined together with the widow’s permission and did the necessary work.

Soon after, she announced she had begun 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 forbid them from seeing her girls. The most recent news is that the couple plans to marry.

Is it superfluous 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 have tried to include her, and did everything we could to protect and assist her in this terrible time. Do you have any advice on how we can deal with this horrendous situation? – Grieving

Your signature tells your first step. Painful as any subsequent developments have been, it’s still the grief from your family’s loss that underlies and intensifies your distress over the widow. Summon whatever forbearance you can toward her, and realize that both poor decisions and poor reactions to others’ decisions are close companions to loss. Not to mention, her sprint to remarry is well within her rights, if hurtful.

Realize, too, the nature of this insult atop your injury. Just from your brief description, it comes through that you’ve had evidence for some time that your nephew and his wife had a troubled marriage – not “like many couples,” but instead weighed down by drinking, affairs and jealousy. Serious problems all.

That suggests an element of your family’s current devastation comes from being forced to accept that the widow isn’t the poor, grieving, innocent victim you all envisioned her, and in a way needed her, to be. Your efforts to help her galvanized the family and channeled your grief into a rewarding mission; it’s completely understandable that her straightening herself out/rising above would seem essential to your heroic story line, and that story line would seem essential to your making sense and order of such a senseless, chaotic loss.

Well, she’s not Mary Magdalene.

Fortunately, this was never really about her; it’s about children who need support, and the memory of your brother, and to a certain extent the affirmation of your family’s values. It clearly matters to you that you pull together and do 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 under any conditions. People overwhelmed by their demons, they’re a different story – their children need grands and greats and uncles and aunts and friends who love them, and who can show that love without judging their struggling moms. A tall order for sure, but, for your loving group, I believe it’s a doable one.

E-mail Carolyn at, or chat with her online at 9 a.m. time each Friday at
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