My mother-in-law and her two grown children were evicted over a year ago (before the pandemic-related eviction moratoriums) for failure to pay rent for three months. She had the money, she simply chose not to pay the rent, and received three notices before getting a court action to vacate. This has happened four times over the 13 years that my spouse and I have been married. We believe she has some mental health issues, but she refuses to seek help. My spouse and I have agreed (with a therapist’s help) to keep that part of the family at arm’s length for the sake of our own relationship and sanity, as previous attempts to intervene nearly ruined our marriage.
Against our better judgment, my spouse and I went to assist them with the latest move, and I came across my father-in-law’s ashes (my spouse’s stepfather). My father-in-law died 10 years ago, and had left behind instructions for disposing of his ashes with his eldest son and my mother-in-law. I thought they had been honored, and was surprised to find the ashes tucked away into the back corner of a closet. I was packing them up when my mother-in-law told us to just “leave them behind,” and that she didn’t care what happened to them. I took the box to the car without saying a word. My father-in-law was a good man, and while we didn’t know each other for very long, he deserved better than being left behind. Because of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to gather all six of the siblings to scatter the ashes. Hopefully we’ll be able to do so this summer once everyone’s been vaccinated.
Today, my MIL texted my spouse, demanding the ashes’ return. We’ve had them safe in our home for over a year now, waiting to scatter them. She has not asked for them back until today, when my spouse and I remained consistent on a boundary that she didn’t like. She doesn’t want the ashes scattered (against my father-in-law’s direct request). I don’t want to give them back to her. I understand, they were married, but she was going to leave them with the trash. I’ve ignored her texts and told my spouse that I’ll only return them if all the adult children agree that I should. I haven’t told the other siblings what she said the day I took them—just that we took them for safekeeping until after the pandemic. Part of me wants to tell them now, since it might affect their decision. She does get evicted fairly often, so there’s a strong chance it might happen again. My spouse isn’t sure what to do, since my mother-in-law is unstable and might lash out at us, along with any siblings who side with us. (I should add that my mother-in-law hates me with a passion.) But my spouse is inclined to think we should return the ashes, as she was his wife and has rights to the ashes. While I know my father-in-law is gone and probably doesn’t care what happens, I still feel we should honor his wishes and care for his remains. Am I being stubborn? Should we return them?
—Ashes to Ashes