My mother-in-law strove to be a Godly woman. Like all of us she fought her own earthly battles. She was haunted by an extreme attachment to possessions that resulted in hoarding, an illness that led to numerous arguments and a mighty mess at her death. She also had great difficulty accepting the choices of others that did not fit her master plan. She and I never had an easy relationship. As a new wife, then new mom, my needs and wants didn’t match her desired plans. I had married her son, but wasn’t really part of her family. I thought of her often, struggling with trying to understand why she didn’t like me or want me. Notably, she thought of me very little.
Arriving for her funeral, I carried my brand-new son and held the hand of my toddler. In truth, I had dreaded coming to see her with a new baby. Our visit with our first born when she was an infant had gone poorly. My mother-in-law’s husband (my father-in-law) was battling liver cancer and there was an urgency for him to meet his new and at the time only grandchild, our daughter. My daughter wasn’t a passive, easy going baby and an overheated house, constant noise from an overly loud TV, and uncertain hands holding her did nothing to ease my daughter’s unhappiness. As a new mom, weeks past my first childbirth, an unplanned and unwanted C-section, I was ill-prepared to deal with the little digs and the seeming lack of appreciation for what we had gone through physically and emotionally to make that visit possible. I was there because it was the right thing to do, not because I wanted to be there. I had no reason to believe it would be any different with baby number two, and swore to avoid at all costs another “just after birth” visit with my mother-in-law. This did not of course, equate to me preferring a funeral to an in person visit. I certainly would never have wished for my children to be short another grandparent or for my husband to lose both parents in one short year.
I have two children. My mother-in-law only met one. The second, conceived just before her husband passed was born just weeks before her own death. The pictures I sent of her grandson sat in her mailbox to be rediscovered by my husband. Her birthday gift, an acknowledgement of her as a new grandmother of two, laid unopened in her bedroom. I found myself grateful we had called and congratulated her on becoming a grandmother to our son, a praise we had failed to offer with our first born. I also found myself angry. Angry to yet again be stuck traveling to her home with a newborn. Angry that she had chosen to not visit her grandchildren in their own home. Angry that she had died and left a huge mess compounded by hoarding, unpaid bills, debt, bizarre investments and unsettled probate for her almost year long deceased husband. Angry because her son and only child, my husband was left alone to sort through her disaster, while adjusting to life as a new father. Just angry.
My anger at her did little to help my husband, who, overwhelmed with the monstrous to-do list her death had plopped in his lap, was severely lacking in time to process his own feelings of despair and anger. I believe strongly in the power of prayer. I also think God provides direction when we don’t even know we are looking for guidance. I prayed for my husband. I prayed to be able to keep my mouth shut. I prayed to know what to do to keep our little family from sinking and tried desperately not to blame my mother-in-law for all our struggles. Resources about how to forgive started flooding into my life.
My path to forgiveness is an ongoing process, but the benefits of letting go of my anger have already been felt by me and my family. The following is a quick list of seven key points that help me as I work to overcome my anger at my mother-in-law and forgive her. I offer them here in the hopes that my story, my experience may help another, maybe you.
Forgiveness does not mean giving up the right to be angry. It has taken me a long time to realize that it is OK to be angry with my mother-in-law. My feelings are just that, feelings. The actions I take in response to my feelings are a different matter, but choosing to forgive and taking actions toward that goal does not mean that I have to suppress or ignore that very real anger.
Being angry isn’t petty and doesn’t make you a bad person. Admitting I was angry at my mother-in-law when she was alive, someone struggling with illness and a terminally ill husband was difficult. Admitting I am angry at the deceased is almost impossible. I notice myself feeling angry with her and then feeling terribly guilty and mean for feeling unkindness for her. It is important for me to remember that my anger is just a feeling, an emotion. It doesn’t define me or her.
Sometimes to forgive others, you also have to forgive yourself. Accepting that I am angry and having negative thoughts about others is humbling and challenging. Those thoughts and emotions do not fit my definition of who I am or want to be. Forgiving myself for not being able to “just let go” of my anger and forgive makes it possible for me to openly experience and deal with my emotions instead of suppressing them or pretending they don’t exist.
It’s hard to forgive someone when you don’t know what you are forgiving them for. List the specific things for which you are offering forgiveness. When I try to deal with my anger with my mother-in-law, I often tell myself that I need to just get over it. I question whether there is really something that needs to be forgiven or if I am being unreasonable or too needy. Doing this simply lets the anger fester and adds to my guilt. Labeling exactly what I intend to forgive my mother-in-law for: not happily inviting me into the family; ignoring my husband’s need to be aware of his parent’s financial position/concerns; and, not developing a legacy box to assist her loved ones, has been instrumental in helping me begin to forgive and in easing my anger.
Recognize any and all good that may have come out of the transgressions. I have faith that good can come out of evil. I look for ways to turn my anger and frustration into positive actions that can shape a better future for myself and my family. Specifically, this experience motivates me to work hard at establishing a good relationship with the future spouses of my kids and to make sure my husband and I leave a clear legacy box explaining our wishes to our children in the event of our passing.
Offering forgiveness to someone with whom you’re angry is a gift to yourself. I have spent so much time and energy being angry. Dealing with all these negative emotions is stressful and takes a great toll on my body, spirit, and my loved ones.
Enlist those with whom you’re angry in your pursuit of forgiveness. The object of my anger is deceased. Talking it over and working towards a better relationship isn’t really possible, but while working to forgive her, I find myself talking to her. I hope that now that she had passed and has been freed of her worldly illness, materialism, and fears, etc. that she can help me forgive her. I pray that she has become my advocate on this journey to forgiveness and peace.
Forgiveness is a journey of healing in a relationship. In my case, my anger was focused on my deceased mother-in-law. In some ways this made forgiveness more doable than it was when she was alive, in other ways it made it more difficult. Learning to forgive my mother-in-law, while challenging, has also been instrumental in strengthening my relationship with my husband, children, and God.
Have you been challenged to forgive someone in your life?