Building a Stronger Bond — How a Mother- and Daughter-in-law Relationship Grew in Grief
Author: Lalaine Estella
Air Force Staff Sergeant Bryan Turner was 32 when he died unexpectedly in his sleep. He left behind three young daughters, his wife, Nicki Turner, his parents and host of family and friends. In enlisting in the Air Force, Bryan followed the footsteps of his mother, Laurie Turner, who recently retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. While the Turners and their extended family have always been close, in the years since Bryan’s death in 2017, Nicki and Laurie leaned on each other for support in their grief. In tragedy, they found their love grow and their respect for one another deepen as they helped each other through life without Bryan. On this Parents’ Day, we checked in on them, and asked them to share what makes their special mother/daughter-in-law relationship work.
First impression of each other:
Laurie: I remember thinking how sweet she is and how she lit up when talking about Bryan. He actually let us chat for a while in a coffee shop so we could get to know each other. She talked a lot about her family and I knew that was very important to her.
Nicki: Like mother, like son! It was very easy to see where Bryan got his sense of humor, zest for life, and overall warmth. Laurie was just as spontaneous, outgoing, and friendly as Bryan, so I was instantly comfortable around her.
How you help with each other’s grief:
Laurie: We talk about Bryan, we cry together sometimes, but I feel like we laugh a lot as well, at the goof he was. She makes me so proud the way she's handled this loss and how she's helped the girls deal with losing their father. Nicki strives to keep the big guy's memory alive and I couldn't be more supportive and thrilled. Bryan was my only child and she's told me how much he loved me and she has taken on an even bigger role as our daughter. I know Nicki is there for me day and night whenever I need a cry or a laugh. We acknowledge that we are grieving the loss of the same person but in different ways. I don't pretend to know what she's going through, nor does she pretend to know what it feels like to lose a child.
Nicki: She has reached out by phone, text, or even in-home visits to check in and see how I’m doing, especially on anniversaries or special occasions where his absence is most apparent, and emotions are high. She talks about him all the time with me and my children, which I love and know we all need. We’ve cried, laughed, and reminisced over our time that we had with him and acknowledged our mutual desire and wishes to have had more. She willingly volunteers to watch my children when I need someone and has been my biggest supporter as I move forward with pursuing higher education and a new purpose in my life to help others who are going through loss. Bryan’s absence is jarring but having her presence in my life feels like he’s still here and I’m grateful to have her.
How each would describe the other:
Laurie: Nicki is absolutely the best wife I could have ever hoped for Bryan. My granddaughters are extremely lucky to have her as their Mom. She's a great big sister to her five siblings and definitely puts family first. She has always kept Bill and me in the loop as far as her plans (like when she moved to Florida), and the girls’ activities. We have a mutual respect for each other and that has absolutely helped during our grief journey.
Nicki: Laurie has never met a stranger; she befriends instantly any and all who meet her. She’s quick-witted, outgoing, hilarious, and has the absolute biggest heart. She goes out of her way to serve others and makes them feel so special.
Three things you admire most about the other:
Laurie: Nicki is extremely caring, a fantastic mother, and above all, I admire her tenacity to make the best possible life for her children and herself.
Nicki: 1) She’s a fighter — she’s been knocked down by life, whether it was by being diagnosed with breast cancer twice, the loss of both her parents, or, by far the hardest hit of all, losing her son. 2) She’s driven — she was unstoppable in her Air Force career, always aiming high and proving her worth. She worked hard, going above and beyond the call of duty for 39 years. 3) She makes friends with ease — she has always been so warm and friendly to anyone she meets, and I’ve always been in awe of how easily it comes to her.
What Bryan would say today about how you’ve blended your families:
Laurie: The first thing he'd say is "I wish I was there." Bryan would be thrilled that we get to spend so much time with Nicki and the girls. And Bryan would be incredibly proud of Nicki and all of her accomplishments.
Nicki: I know he would be proud of how we’ve continued to blend both sides of our families since he’s been gone. We enjoy celebrating birthdays and holidays together and just being in each other’s company. We are bonded by our mutual love for Bryan and both sides of our families love and adore our children who are, in essence, the last remnants of him on this Earth.
Advice to those who may be struggling with their relationship with their in-laws after the loss of someone they both love:
Laurie: You must put yourself in the in-laws’ shoes and always think before speaking to build a trusting relationship. If not for yourself, for the children, if there are any. The sweetest thing I heard at the TAPS Charleston Moms' retreat was one mother say that her daughter-in-law invited her to her wedding because she always thought of her as her mother as well. Also, be the bigger person, put the children first and be there for the other during the difficult journey. Always look at the positive and don't dwell on the negative. We all have issues, but we can try and focus on how to walk through the journey together making our love ones proud.
Nicki: Remember that you are both mourning the same person, regardless of your connection to them. While our type of grieving may be different, the loss is still the same. If you had not established a particularly close relationship before your loved one passed, it is never too late to start, but keep in mind it does require work from both sides to make it work. If you have children, I know you cling to them because they are the only connection you have left between you and your spouse. But remember, your children are also the only tie your in-laws have to their child as well. They need them in their lives just as much as you do. If your in-laws provide a safe and loving environment, I encourage you to allow your children to be a part of their lives. After all, it takes a village to raise a family and I, for one, am so grateful to have my in-laws be a part of mine.
Photos courtesy of Nicki Turner