How to Deal With the Death of Your Mother-in-Law

Updated

Mourning your mother-in-law's death represents the loss of an essential person in you and your spouse's life, regardless of the personal relationship either of you had with them. There are many implications of this type of loss that go beyond struggling with the death of an in-law. Your relationships with your spouse and other family members will go through tests, as will your resiliency to bounce back after such a devastating blow. 

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As an outsider to the deceased's biological family, you may struggle with accepting your place in the family's mourning of this loss. You'll question whether you have the right to grieve or to feel sad and lonely when it's your spouse who needs the most support at this time. These feelings can be confusing, but they're all a normal part of the grieving process. Keep reading below for some ways to handle this devastating blow to your family dynamic.

What Might You Feel After Your Mother-in-Law Dies?

Grief is the outward expression of sorrow and is typically associated with the complex set of emotions you feel when someone close to you dies. You can never predict how someone's death will affect you. There are many different types of grief, and what manifests depends on past traumas and experiences with death and loss. 

Expressing any amount of regret when you experience the death of a mother-in-law is natural and healthy. How their death affects you depends on many factors, including those above. But, as with the loss of any other beloved family member, you can expect to go through some common emotional reactions associated with the grieving process. 

Losing an important member of your family is painful. You might find yourself struggling with some or all of the following common grief reactions:

  • Feeling disconnected
  • Shock and numbness
  • Stress and anxiety

Tips for Coping With the Death of Your Mother-in-Law

After the death of your mother-in-law, you and your spouse will likely be grieving at the same time. However, the stages of the grief process you’re each in can vary significantly. Because of this, coping with this type of death has its challenges.

You can expect a lot of mixed emotions to surface as you both experience the effects of this loss. There will be times when things get complicated between you and your spouse. The following tips may help you transition through loss in a healthy and meaningful way.

1. Talk about your feelings

Your spouse may not be the most significant source of support for you right now, but it can help them hear you talk positively about your mother-in-law and how much they meant to you. Your individual grief experiences may be competing, and you might benefit from seeking your support elsewhere.

Your feelings can be as complicated as the relationship with your in-law, or they can be equally as confusing as to why you didn’t grieve so profoundly at the death of your biological family members. In any event, reach out to your support system to gain an outside perspective on your loss. 

2. Exercise compassion

There’s no fixed time for grieving the loss of an in-law. You have permission to allow yourself time to process your mother-in-law’s death so that you can figure out what this loss means to you. Self-compassion requires you to treat yourself with the same care and kindness you would give to someone else dealing with a similar experience.

Be understanding and supportive as you mourn your loss without placing too much expectation on yourself to get through this quickly or help others deal with their grief as you struggle with yours. 

3. Validate your grief

Your grief counts as much as your spouses, even when the person who died wasn’t blood-related to you. Recognize that you have feelings for the deceased, and although they weren’t your biological parent, the relationship with them can often be as meaningful. 

Disenfranchised grief happens when you don’t get the emotional support you need after suffering through loss. Because your relationship with your mother-in-law lacks legal recognition, some people don’t recognize the validity of your loss. 

4. Recognize the stages of grief

Every time you suffer through a profound loss, you react to your grief differently. There’ll never be a time when you confront your grief in the same way you did in past experiences. The pain of losing someone close to you causes you to feel the painful emotions of sadness and sorrow.

These reactions come in waves and can last for several weeks or months. Typical ways you can expect to feel grief include shock, disbelief, anger, or depression. Sometimes all of these emotions, plus more, come up at different times in your grief journey. 

Tips for Helping Your Spouse Cope WIth the Death of Your Mother-in-Law

Helping your spouse through their grief can be a highly emotional experience, especially when the deceased person is their mother. The effects of grief are tightly bound to the length and relationship to the deceased. When a close family member dies, you can expect grief to affect the entire family.

You may grieve right alongside your spouse as you both experience the feelings of profound sadness accompanying your mother-in-law’s death. Although the right to mourn your mother-in-law’s death isn’t exclusive to your spouse, consider the bond your spouse had with their mother since birth.  

5. Allow them to grieve

Your spouse's grief experience is all their own. There's no comparison to how two people mourn the loss of a loved one even when they're grieving the same person's death. Even though you are both grieving the death of a close family member, the responses to loss are vastly different. Your spouse will need the necessary time to process their loss and what their mother's death means to them. Give them the time and space required to accept the death and grieve their loss without comparing your grief to theirs. 

6. Be patient

Talking to your spouse about how you’re both feeling allows them to grieve openly and the opportunity to share their experiences with you. Allow their grief-related feelings and emotions to take shape at whatever pace your spouse is experiencing them without rushing them or trying to fix things for them.

The delayed onset of grief happens when a person dealing with the loss of a loved one might be too busy to grieve taking care of all the final end-of-life tasks. Not until after things begin to settle down do they have time to take in what’s happened. 

7. Recognize grief 

Grief affects everyone differently. Although you and your spouse will likely be grieving simultaneously, the pace and reaction of your grieving won’t be the same. Your spouse may seem fine in the days following their parent’s death, only to find themselves flooded with emotion seemingly out of the blue.

You may not readily understand what’s happening with your spouse when they suddenly start acting out of character. You can help your grieving spouse by recognizing what these shifts in their personality represent and allowing them to express their sorrow without the added stress of explaining the changes in their mood.

8. Honor their sorrow

Many families experience tensions between in-laws, and things don’t often go as smoothly as you’d like when two families join together. Mothers-in-law often have the notorious reputation of being difficult to get along with, making married life a struggle for newly married couples.

Not every family experiences this, however. Some in-laws form a bond that’s as tight or tighter than that to their blood relatives. In the aftermath of loss, remember to give your spouse sincere condolences for the loss of their mother, even if your relationship with your mother-in-law wasn’t ideal. 

How to Remember Your Deceased Mother-in-Law  

Whatever place your mother-in-law holds in your heart and memories, remembering them is respectful to them, your spouse, and their family. Consider all of the happy times shared with your mother-in-law or all of the advice they gave you as you made your way as the newest addition to their family.

In almost every situation, you can find positive experiences shared between you. A unique way to celebrate them is by remembering their legacy after they’ve died. Some creative ways to honor your mother-in-law are listed below to help you when at a loss for ideas. 

9. Create a lasting legacy

You can help create a lasting legacy of your mother-in-law’s life by talking about them to your spouse and children often and in meaningful ways. Talking about someone and how they were or the things they used to say helps keep their memory alive. Mention the things they would’ve said or done in particular situations to express their personality and bring up funny moments to add character to the way you and your family remember your loved one. 

10. Make a memory box 

Remembering your mother-in-law can take on many creative forms. Some ways to preserve their legacy is by putting together a memory box that includes photos, old letters, and accomplishments. You can place their favorite perfume in the box along with a sample of something they liked to wear so that later generations can remember them from more than just old photographs. To add in something extra-special, consider including a voice or video recording of them. 

11. Donate in their honor

Consider the causes closest to your mother-in-law’s heart and set up either a one-time donation or a legacy donation in their name and honor. Most charitable organizations allow for legacy donations that keep on giving from the deceased person’s estate or personal donations added in their name. You can include other family members and friends by asking them to donate what they can and want to help support the cause. 

Coping With Your Mother-In-Law’s Death 

You and your spouse may be going through an especially tough time accepting the death of your mother-in-law. Although the pain of sorrow may seem impossible right now, your feelings of loss will get better over time for each of you. The goal of grieving is to process your feelings and emotions and help you make sense of your loss through outward expressions of emotion.

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