’Til Death Do Us Part: Widowhood & The In-Law Factor


About two weeks after my husband Steven passed away at the age of 50, I received a letter from Social Security directing me to come into their office for a little chat about what type of “benefits” were available for survivors.

I met with a youngish sort of lady, who rated a zero on a personality scale. She curtly informed me that at the age of 48, after 29 years of marriage, I was no longer married but single. She further informed me that I was no longer related to my in-laws.

Her words cut my heart like a knife!

I barely heard her mention that due to my young age, I was ineligible for the usual survivor benefits. She went on to explain that she could cut me a check for approximately $267 now and when I turn 60, if I’m not married, I could come back in to apply for my husband’s Social Security benefits.

I left the Social Security office in tears and went home to weep for the next several days.  All of this emotional havoc was wreaked on me for a measly $267!


A welcome phone call

It was during this waterfall of tears that I received a call from my mother-in-law, Lucille.

The first time I met Lucille, I was participating in a foreign fair at high school. She was wearing a sea-foam green and white checkered house-dress and her hair was in a short, no-nonsense, don’t-mess-with-me style.  She was carrying a large purse and moved in a fast-paced, efficient sort of way. There was business to attend to when you were the mother of 10. Time was always of the essence.

Lucille is always busy, whether at home or at school. The word relaxation never seems to have penetrated her vocabulary.

By vocation, Lucille is a wife, mother of 10, grandmother of 21, and great-grandmother of five, first – and a school teacher second.

Whether tending to her enormous vegetable garden, bandaging knees with little boo-boos, or whipping up her daily feasts for whoever might drop by, she is always on the run.

Despite operating at a whirlwind pace, Lucille is never too busy to sit and chat with whoever is in need of advice at the moment. After all, she’s in the business of mending broken hearts.


A tight clan

All 10 of Lucille’s children inherited the sweetest sort of dispositions from their mom and dad. They are there for each other during good times and bad. Although they all have their own unique personalities, their common bond as brothers and sisters ties them together very tightly when need be.

By the time their oldest brother, my husband, Steven, passed away, the remaining eight brothers and sisters had already lost their sister, Kristy, to an act of domestic violence, and they had also lost their nephew, my son Daniel, to a massive brain aneurysm.

Now after my visit to Social Security, Lucille’s phone call turned into one of her little heart-to-hearts with me. She informed me that the lady at Social Security was full of nonsense and that I was still a part of her family and would always be as long as I wanted them.

You heard that correctly: the Tess Family still wanted me!

My sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law echoed Lucille’s sentiments and continue to include me in their plans for holidays, birthdays, weddings or whatever is on the busy family agenda at the moment.

Now that I am dating again, it sometimes feels odd to refer to this large branch of my family as the in-laws, and I wonder if they will still be my in-laws if I do marry again.

But then I simply remember Lucille’s unequivocal message: “You are part of this family as long as you want to be.”

I think I’m going to keep the Tess family for a good long time, and if I do marry again, perhaps they won’t be the in-laws, but they will remain the best friends this lucky lady ever had. And you can take that one to the bank!



  1. Verna M. November 22, 2014 Reply

    My husband passed away in May, 2014. He only had one brother and his parents are gone. My children take good care of me, but I wrote his brother and sister-in-law and asked if they thought we were still related.

  2. Helen-450889 July 22, 2011 Reply

    My in-laws are my family. My mother-in-law is as much my mother as my biological mother. She told me that if I marry again, that she would not be losing a daughter-in-law. Instead, she would be gaining a son; if he would be comfortable with that. She also added that she would love him and that she wants more grandchildren.

    • Barb Tess
      Barb Tess July 22, 2011 Reply

      Dear Helen,

      I am so touched by your story! What a terrific mother-in-law you have. She must have studied in the same school of thought as Lucille! 🙂 My mother-in-law is adamant that if I marry again, my husband would need to become a part of the Tess family as well. I think it would be an absolute hoot to see my honey interacting with this large family that’s full of sassy business and sweetness all at the same time.

      Blessings to You!

      • Kevin-744622 July 27, 2011 Reply

        This is shicken soup for the heart and soul. Wonderful story and rellywhat a wonderful woman you have for a mother in law, good for her!

        • Kevin-744622 July 27, 2011 Reply

          Sorry big fingers, chicken was mispelled. Blush blush.

          • Barb Tess
            Barb Tess July 28, 2011 Reply

            Hi Kevin,

            Thanks for the kind comments. May you find in-laws just as wonderful as mine! They’re keepers for sure.

            Blessings to you!

  3. Therese-729865 July 22, 2011 Reply

    Thank you for this beautiful story. Made me cry (the good cry)

    • Barb Tess
      Barb Tess July 22, 2011 Reply

      Thank you so very much Therese. Your words are truly music to my ears! I married so very young that it was almost as if I grew up with my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law. We’ve been through so much together that I can’t imagine them not being a part of my life.

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