Allowing Loss of a Family Member to Unite Family

Originally appeared on

I remember the first time l laid eyes on my daughter-in-law, Jami. It was 25 years ago. It is usually the daughter-in-law who is the newcomer. In this case it was the new girlfriend of her father-in-law. I had moved from Honolulu to Chicago. They had already given me a name -- "the Hawaiian Princess!"

We were at a family dinner at Jami's home. The table was set with her finest china, crystal and sterling silver. Dinner was delicious. Conversation lively. I was not at all nervous. I was actually very excited to meet Jami, my husband's son, Steven, and their little boys. I was from "Kankakee, by the Sea," a small town girl and I knew nothing about second marriages or blended families. I was a young widow and very excited to meet this new family. As I lay in bed later that night I thought about the evening at the Good's home. I felt a warm feeling toward Jami and believed she felt the same toward me. Little could I have imagined the turbulence our two joined families would encounter ten years later: the tragedies and betrayals we would face and the power of sisterhood between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law to unite our families.

We've traveled a bumpy road, this daughter-in-law and I. We were beset with a serious family issue within the family. My husband's son, Steven, betrayed his father. They had been very close, until the day Steven ran a coup and took over his father's company. Steven wanted a company with partners, but my husband wanted a company for his family. The Fifth Commandment of the Ten Commandments, "honor thy father and thy mother," meant nothing to him. He became an outcast and a black sheep in our family and in the Chicago business community. The betrayal was so unimaginable that even though my husband loved this son to his core, the two never spoke again. During that time, Jami and the children stuck by Steven. She was a loyal wife and dedicated mother. I stuck by my husband and my family. We did not communicate for years until...

On a cold January morning, seven years ago, we came together; looked into one another's tear filled eyes, hugged and clasped hands. It was at Steven's funeral. He committed suicide. He had bankrupted his father's company and could not live with his shame.

It was a horrific time for my Jami, my husband, the children and my huge side of the family. It was a time to mourn and grieve and question. What would the future hold for Jami and the children? Could we reunite and come together as one large happy blended family? How would my darling husband handle losing a son and a once prosperous business he started as a young man with his blood, sweat and tears?

Jami and I had the responsibility to be catalysts to reunite the families. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law joined together as a team with a purpose.

Jami and I did it! There was no magic formula. We never sat down and made a plan. We acted out of intuition and depended on our own experiences. We were two women who supported and encouraged one another. We were aligned with the stars, two kindred spirits with the same goal.

My daughter-in-law and her sons were faced with the tragedy of tragedies. I wanted to be mother, not mother-in-law to Jami and grandmother to the boys. I was determined to do my best.

Fast forward, to a short time later. My iPhone rang. It was Jami.

"Hey Honey!"

"Hi Jami!"

"Honey, did you get the photograph of the sunset (Jami is a photographer) I sent you in a text?"

"I did! It is beautiful and reminded me of Hawaii! Thank you."

"Honey, I am calling for a special reason."

"Is everything OK? (Isn't that the first thing every Jewish mother asks!?)"

"Oh yes! I just called to tell you I love you so much. I want to call you mom."

"Oh Jami! Yes! I love you. Now I have three daughters: you, Jenny and Lizzie!"

Like that, our family was blended. There is no strife between "the two clans." Everybody attends everyone's celebrations. The grandchildren on both sides communicate with one another through texts. My "three" daughters are girlfriends. We are family.

The "Good boys" call me Honey and they call and text me with news or problems. Jami now has a boyfriend. My husband will never get over his losses but he is loved and respected and our family honors him as the Fifth Commandment declares!

Jami and I have learned it does not make a difference if it is your original family or your blended family. Love is love. Respect is respect. Tolerance is tolerance. Anyway, there is always something going on "in the family!" As I write this story, the future comes to mind. What lesson will I will eventually pass on to my three daughters when they learn they will become mother-in-laws?

'Think through your thoughts. Weigh your words. Bite your tongue. Come from love. Portray your great title of Matriarch. Your responsibility is to be "the blender! Now, go and blend dear three daughters of mine."