Wedding Woes

Give them back. Your feelings don't matter here.

Dear Prudence,

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

Re: Give them back. Your feelings don't matter here.

  • Return the ashes; she was his wife and she gets to decide what happens. You might hate what she decides but that’s on her. Your husband is right, it’s time to return them.
  • If anyone should intercede here it's not you LW.  

    And I get honoring the wishes of the deceased but the ashes aren't your FIL and your actions don't affect the dead but are affecting the living. 
  • MyNameIsNotMyNameIsNot Atlanta member
    Knottie Warrior 5000 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    If there was ever a time for blood talks to blood, this is it. LW needs to sit down and STFU.

    If I were spouse, I would probably call a family meeting with my siblings and mom and try to discuss it together. If spouse would rather just return them, that's fine too. 
  • mrsconn23mrsconn23 member
    Knottie Warrior 10000 Comments 500 Love Its First Answer
    edited April 1
    LW needs to disengage from MIL.   They are clearly not in a good place with the MIL and there's a lot of feelings clouding judgment.  Give the ashes back and tell your partner you're no longer managing anything in relation to MIL.  I think LW and their spouse need to come to some sort of agreement on when LW should be looped in about giving any assistance to MIL (time or money) and then it's time to back off.

    I cannot imagine DH trying to dictate to me or my dad what to do about my mom's ashes.  Hell, we all have small urns at dad's house that we're supposed to put some of mom's ashes in.  Dad hasn't done anything about them yet and the ball is in his court.  
  • VarunaTTVarunaTT member
    Knottie Warrior 10000 Comments 500 Love Its First Answer
    IDK what to think about this.  The thing that's stopping me is that the eldest son was supposed to know as well?  So did mom lie to eldest son?  Also, it seems like LW's DH knew and was involved in the taking of the ashes.  I'm curious to know his inner thoughts more than her perception of his inner thoughts.  I'd also like to know what the other siblings think, b/c I can't tell if they know or not.

    I do think she needs to step out and let DH do what he (and hopefully all the siblings) wants to do.  

    It sounds like she and her DH are doing what they can to minimize and stay firm, but I'd be highly tempted to make arms length even longer after this experience.
  • Obviously return them! Your spouse wants you to and it is his family. 
  • The MIL sounds like a piece of work.  But I'm picking up why she doesn't like the DIL, lol.

    LW, seriously?  WTF is wrong with you?  You have zero say in what is done with those ashes.  Your own husband wants to give them back.  So give them back.  If the H wants to, perhaps he can follow up with his mother after the pandemic about following the stepdad's wishes and he can coordinate that.  But that is in his court.

    As an aside, there was a super fun post on my real estate investing board that was basically "tell me the weirdest thing you have found in your rental or house you bought".  There were quite a few posts talking about finding deceased ashes.

    But one of my favorite stories (totally unrelated) was a woman and her H bought a house in the 90s to fix and flip.  Her dad was a general contractor and her brother (when he was in his teens) had worked for the dad in summers.  The investor was pulling down drywall in the basement and found a board behind it that had written on it, "(Brother's full name) is the Greatest!"  She'd had no idea her father had worked on this house all those years ago.  At this point in time, her brother was now in his mid-30s.  She removed that part of the board and showed it to him.  It also gave her a great source to periodically tease him by exclaiming, "Brother, you're the greatest!"
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  • downtondivadowntondiva member
    Seventh Anniversary 1000 Comments 500 Love Its Name Dropper
    edited April 2
    Return the ashes. They weren't yours to take and it's not your decision what to do with them. While your mother-in-law saying to just leave them is a bit odd, if you didn't want that to happen and wanted to take them, you should have spoken up about it instead of just taking them without permission. I also suggest you let your spouse handle this issue (and any others that come up with your MIL) from on here out.
  • MesmrEweMesmrEwe member
    Knottie Warrior 2500 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    The MIL wanted them left behind causing DIL to "Dumpster Dive" in the sense that to MIL they were garbage.  Had she moved them out to the dumpster she could have legally claimed possession (bad pun..)..  Unfortunately right now is a gray area but MIL knew that DS & DIL had the urn or whatever they were in, okay with it being so since she just wanted them left behind, didn't ask for them at any other point in the before/after moving process, and because of their not being in compliance on something MIL wanted, she decided she wanted them back.

    The wishes were clear that ashes scattered I'm guessing at a specific location with his children present.  While "Blood talks to blood" is the best scenario, it also wouldn't be out of line to talk to all of the FIL's children for input because they also know the level to which MIL is dealing with mental health issues or decide to purchase a burial plot or niche in a columbarium as a middle ground compromise..  
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