Living in Exile


A little over a week ago as I was having coffee with some of my widow friends, whom I met at a family grief retreat last fall, I realized there are pent-up emotions that haven’t been released since the death of my husband.  These emotions  have been trapped inside me surrounding my heart and keeping me from fully loving myself.  I’ve ignored this subject for quite some time, but after many interactions it’s become too apparent that I’m not the only widow that has been led to feel like they are ‘Living in Exile’.  (Note:  Exile can be defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as the state or a period of forced (or voluntary) absence from one’s country or home.  In this blog, I’m defining exile as the state or a period of forced (or voluntary) absence from one’s family.)

It is difficult to perceive the complexities of the human mind.  What are people thinking, feeling, seeing, or hearing that ultimately lead them to make the decisions they do?  You may have been given no reason at all for why someone makes that decision, but without them even realizing it that person has directly impacted the way you now view the world and yourself.  I’m getting anxiety as I sit here and type this out, because I’m afraid of the judgement that I will receive for doing so.  However, accept this as my permission to freely judge me (which I know you may already be inadvertently doing), because now  there are no shackles that can constrain my heart and the hurt that I’ve experienced will be set free.  No more feelings of shame, regret, rejection, abandonment or fear.

July 7, 2015, the night before Andy died, we were in the car on our way home from his softball game where he had hit not just one, but TWO home runs for the first time in his life.  He was on cloud 9, which got us super excited and we started dreaming about the custom car shop he planned to open within that next year as well as purchasing the house we had lived in for almost 3 1/2 years.  That night we were both finally on the same page about what we wanted and it felt like anything was possible.  After his death, I wanted to fulfill those dreams we shared and in the months following that is exactly what I did.  Almost instantly the planning had begun for our home purchase and makeover starting with the outside working our way in.  Siding, windows, finished basement, main level kitchen/bath remodel, and exterior landscaping were all on the list of things to be done.  This work was expedited when (after a brief discussion with my brother-in-law (BIL) and a warning heeded from a close family member) the decision was made to move my mother-in-law (MIL) from Missouri to Minnesota  to live in our home.  The kids and I were so excited about this news and that excitement amplified when my BIL had started talking about moving up to Minnesota as well to be close to us once he had finished his term in the Air force.  This was exactly what my kids needed and having them close to us was like having a piece of Andy to fill the void in our hearts.

After my MIL moved in and we started getting settled it was so nice to have someone willing to pick up the slack around the house.  I’ll be the first to admit that I avoid housekeeping like the plague and cooking has never been my strong suit, so when she offered to help with those things a huge burden was lifted off my chest.  What I wasn’t perceptive in realizing is that when you ‘off load’ a burden of your own you better be sure that the person receiving is capable and willing to support it, because with too much pressure they too may crumble.  A couple of months went by where I started feeling like we were getting into a groove.  My kids were fed and house chores were getting done and I constantly mentioned that I could hire someone to do these things if it got to be too much; however, she assured me that she could handle the load.  Keep in mind, that by this time, the numbness from losing Andy had started to wear off and the searing pain of his absence was radiating through our house.  The negative energy was so overwhelming  that it was beginning to slowly suffocate us with each day that passed.

After four months since my MIL had moved in, the basement project was almost complete.  I could feel the negative energy starting to dissipate with the additional room we had to breathe in the house.    We were also still waiting to hear the news of whether my BIL would be moving up to Minnesota. One Monday night, the kids and I were in our new basement sitting on the floor folding socks talking about our day when my MIL entered the room to sit with us.  We were quickly interrupted with her saying “I have an announcement”.  With no warning whatsoever, my kids and I were told that she was moving out.  While I knew this was eventually going to happen, I didn’t know that she was going to move the next weekend.  It took me probing her with a few questions to find out not only was she moving out, but that she was also moving back to Missouri.  The rug was pulled right out beneath us.  The look on my kids’ faces sent me spiraling out of control.  I stormed up the steps, jumped in my car, and drove up the street and sat in the parking lot of a local pub.  I never went in, but in that parking lot I made a few phone calls and if I’d been thinking clearly I would have never confided in one of the people I did.  That person had told my MIL, whom also told my children, that I was up at the bar drinking.  I calmed down a bit and decided to go back home and face reality.  There was nothing I could do other than try to understand why she was leaving and how we could change her mind.  It was too late she had already made it up and apparently she had no idea that it would happen this soon, which is why she had waited to tell us.  We also later found out that my BIL had decided to re-up in the Air Force and wasn’t going to be moving to MN. After all was said and done, my kids were crushed and had experienced another one of the most difficult losses in their lives. Why?…because the piece that remained reminding them of their dad had been stripped away from them. They didn’t understand what they had done to cause all of this (I assured them it wasn’t them).

I had been told that I was a terrible parent and my kids didn’t listen, that it was none of my business what decisions my MIL made, and that I had no right to know what she had planned because it didn’t concern me at all. Whoa. Was she right?  Was I really a terrible parent (sometimes)?  Did I say something to offend her (probably)?  What are these differences between us that keep her so distant from her own grandchildren?  These are the things that I’ve continued to ask myself for the past two years and have yet to get answers to, because since the day my BIL moved her out we became almost non-existent to him.  He has made no contact with my kids or I at all. The friends that helped her move eventually became distant and non communicative with us.  And while we maintain contact with my MIL there is nothing that I do that will ever be good enough, because every time I turn my back something is being said.  Regardless of the negativity I’ve made every attempt to act like nothing happened and stay connected with little reciprocation. I never will be able to understand what I had done to offend those that banished us from their lives; therefore, I’ve decided to use this as a public opportunity to apologize for any wrong doings that may have occured during a prolonged period of grieving.  I’ll either get some long-awaited answers in response or use this to completely let go. Let go of the relationships that once were and the ones that will never be. I choose for my family to be surrounded with peace, joy, happiness, and love. At the end of the day, my friends and family that remain give me that. There may be some of you that are still living in exile from loved ones after great pain or loss. If so, break free from the shackles surrounding your heart and join me in re-entering the goodness of the world surrounding us. It will set you free.

6 thoughts on “Living in Exile”

  1. Very well said, Erin. You are not a bad parent. Whatever made your MIL leave you may never know or understand. Especially if she won’t talk to you or your BIL either. It is on them, not you. Keep on doing what you are doing. Being there for your kids but also take time for yourself. Love and prayers coming your way, sweetie. You got this babe! Love, Mama Seyer

    1. I wrote a similar post a month ago, believing I was part of such a small minority deserted by family when you need them most. Unfortunately I had 100s of responses from grieving families in the same situation.
      Heartbreaking especially for our children. My huband also died suddenly, not in an accident but from heart attack, misdiagnosed by Dr as indigestion.
      My MIL BIL and SIL havent spoken to us since my husbands funeral. We were soulmates for 24 years and blessesd with 2 beautiful children 10 years and 10 miscarriages apart.
      I too will keep trying to stay positive and keep doors of communication but i will no longer try to understand “what have I done” etc etc frusrating, confusing and incredibly painful.
      I pray to my husband every night “keep me sane, keep me safe and keep love in my heart always”.
      Keep On Keeping On X

  2. Erin you are and always have been one of the strongest women I know. Whatever may become of this unresolved situation you will overcome it all. I praise you on your honesty and strength. Thank you for always being an amazing time model to me through your parenting and wonderful outlook on life. I am truly blessed to call you my friend.

  3. Thank you for sharing this Erin. Who are we to judge ? We each have our own journey , our own stories , our own consequences. If it was that easy to please everyone’s opinions – lol. Keep pouring your thoughts and heart out on your journey of healing . You are an amazing person and mom – you are being exactly who you supposed to be . Hugs to you.

  4. Family is strange nowadays! Whatever the reason was for her leaving, the point is this – why couldn’t she be honest with you? Why didn’t the BIL try to intervene on the situation? All families have things that they do that irritate others but putting it out there gives everyone the chance to work it out and move forward. I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband. In your grief you really didn’t need this added drama. It’s your MIL and BIL who have issues. Spend your time focusing on your beautiful children and your life together. These people (MIL/BIL) have lessons in empathy, compassion and forgiveness to learn. Hugs!❤️

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