Sunday, March 21, 2010


Mother in law.

Brother in law.

Nephew in law.

Nieces (2) in law?

Niece's boyfriend in law.

Pet dog and cats (3) in law.

Affinity (law)

In law and in cultural anthropology, affinity, as distinguished from consanguinity, is kinship by marriage. It is the relation which each party to a marriage bears to the kindred of the other. In English, affinity is usually signified by adding "-in-law" to the degree of kinship.

According to Merriam-Webster, a secondary definition of affinity is "sympathy marked by community of interest, kinship and likeness based on relationships or casual connection ." To be honest, I'm not quite sure what this secondary definition means. How I'll read it today is that this is a group of people with whom you share a common interest, thus are able to sympathize with. Is this not what we bloggers look for? I suppose in our daily lives we move in and out of various groups where we share a common interest, as we have an affinity for many things.

My thoughts tonight are that of the In Law relationship. This relationship is often the fodder of many a joke and comedic film. I suppose that as in many things in life, there is some truth to the many stereotypes. When we fall in love with a person, we spend most of our time getting to know them first before introducing, or being introduced, to the other side of the family. With our own families of origin we are told that we do not choose them. But do we choose our in laws?

I'm sure that for everyone out there who have a great relationship with their in laws, there are just as many, maybe more, that don't. It can be a charged dynamic, as what parent really wants to completely cut loose the apron strings. What parent can feel 100 % sure that the person being brought over for dinner is truly the "perfect" person for their baby. I suppose that if you meet your potential in laws, and find them to be a complete nightmare, you might want to cut your losses early. Yet, I would hope that is the rare exception.

My purpose in discussing this here is that when we fall in love, and commit to each other by way of a marriage, or other form of commitment, we don't usually think about being connected to this other family without our spouse being in the picture. It's not like we were out looking for a secondary family unit to become part of. Yet if our spouse dies, there we are. And for those of us who were not fortunate to have many years with our spouse, 3 1/2 years for me, it can be somewhat of a strange dynamic.

When Michael and I met, he had only been back in the states for about 4 years. He had been living in Marin County, which is maybe about 30-45 miles from San Francisco, depending on the actual city you live in. He told me he had been thinking that he would eventually move closer to his mother, who was raising his two young nieces, and felt that she expected it too. After all, he was instrumental in helping her find a home in northern California after she wanted to move from San Jose. But something came out of left field, something he hadn't expected, something maybe his mother didn't expect either. Michael met me. We met on April 21, 2006, and very quickly became identified as a couple. Within a month of meeting each other, Michael was meeting many of my family members at my daughters Confirmation, and I was soon after meeting his family, with my three kids in tow, at his mother's home.

That first weekend visit at his mothers home was quite a test for me. Michael had promised his mother that he would build some retaining walls in the front of her new home, which was built on a hill. She wanted the yard to be tiered off so she could plant some flowers. Michael and I toiled in the very heated 90+ degree weather. It was an enormous amount of work, and maybe too much to ask from a very recent boyfriend (me), but I was happy to help. I remember sitting on his mother's porch as the sun was setting. Michael and I sat there, filthy with red clay dirt all over us, and planned out our future. Because we were able to work so well that day, and truly enjoyed working together, we felt like we could see ourselves many years in the future, as two old men resting out on the porch. We decided that if we do make it as a couple, that we would one day sell my home, buy a new one out of the city, and spend a lot of time doing home projects just like this.

From that time forward, Michael and I tried to get up to his mother's home as often as possible. It was important to Michael that he find ways to help his mother, as she had been a single mother to he and his brother, then raised a grandson, and was now raising two granddaughters. We continued our trips up to his mother's home up until the early summer of 2009. At that point Michael's health was deteriorating, so I would have him just visit with his mother while I did the weekend's project. It gave me so much joy to not only help Michael's mother, but to give them some quality time together.

This weekend was only my second visit there since Michael died. His mother goes to San Jose fairly often, so we usually visit at my home. During this visit it felt very odd being there without Michael. Every time I would notice something different, like his young 11 year old niece having grown so much since our last visit, I kept thinking to myself that I couldn't wait to get home to tell Michael. This happened to me over and over during the weekend.

Today I was helping Michael's mother with some gardening. She knows this is something that she and I both greatly enjoy. First we worked on the back yard, which was nice because we could watch the kids playing as worked. When we finished out back, I moved to the front yard. Soon Michael's mother joined me, and we talked, and laughed about memories with the kids, and prior visits. Eventually we were finishing up, and we became somewhat quiet. His mother pointed out how fortunate she and I were that it wasn't too hot of a day. It was actually the perfect weather to be out there. She then commented about that weekend that Michael and I put up the very walls we were working around. She remembered how hot it was, and how she was sending the kids out with water bottles to keep us from passing out. I then mentioned to her what I had been experiencing this weekend, about thinking I would be going home to Michael, and sharing all about my weekend with his mother.

Of course when the conversation went in this direction we stood there facing each other, and once again recognized that the person of interest that brought us together, was no longer with us. We both started to cry, and held each other for some time.

I had to stop and think. How did I end up here? I'm standing in front of a home, 2 1/2 hours north of San Francisco, holding a 68 year old woman, as she and I both cry. Four years ago this scenario wouldn't have made any sense. I was there celebrating the 11th birthday of a young girl. I was there, meeting for the second time, the boyfriend of a 14 year old girl. I had earlier had a heart to heart with a man my age, but who couldn't be more different than I. Who were these people? Why was I there? My two boys were there too, interacting and playing. My daughter couldn't make it, but sent a note card to this woman I was visiting. What will happen in the future? What will we be to each other then?

What is a strange thing to realize, is that I have now known these people longer than I knew my husband Michael. I had never thought of this until this very minute. They must be equally as puzzled, thinking who was that man visiting us this weekend? Up until 6 months ago this woman had a second son that would have stood before her. That man had a brother that he would have had the heart to heart with. Those girls had an uncle that used to visit. Now there is just me.

What is funny to think of, is that I had brought up most of Michael's shoes with me. Michael's feet were much larger than mine, so I can never fit his shoes. His mother told me that his brother and nephew wear the same size as Michael, so they can use the shoes. But I have to stop and think, can they fill his shoes. I mean really fill his shoes? In all honesty, no. Neither of them are the same type of person Michael was. While Michael was self sufficient, and was a lot of help to his mother, his brother and nephew are not self sufficient, and rely on his mother.

That is what places me at that house, with that family. Affinity. They are my only living connection to Michael. I am there connection to him as well. His shoes are too big to fill, but I am willing to put them on and do the best I can.


  1. It was very strange for me the first several times I visited my wife's parents after she died, even though they moved within six months of her death. We had almost eight years to build a relationship while she was still here, so they were truly my family too when she died. But she looked like her mother, just 27 years younger. And there was one visit in particular when that was just really hard for me to take. I'm glad that you are still close with your in-laws as well, and I'm glad you were able to share so many special moments with them this weekend.

    I also wanted to thank you for your candor, in all of your posts, but especially your recent "Mania" post. I really enjoyed reading more about how your kids came to you and appreciated your honesty in dealing with their medical/behavioral issues. Thanks for letting us in on that aspect of your life as well.

    I wish that blogspot would catch up with technology and I could comment from my phone, but until then, know that I am reading even when no comments bear my name.

  2. "Now there is just me." you, friend, are a gift in and of yourself. Michael's mother may feel a deeper connection to you since you feel the intensity of the loss as deeply as she. you cared for her son. you nurtured his soul through the cancer. and you were beside him, caring for him when he died. you have a closeness to Michael that she needs to be close to. you maybe the "in-law' but you have the grace of being Michael's husband. that is the blessing you bring to Michael's family, that and your kindness and compassion. you carry Michael inside you wherever you are.

  3. It's wonderful that you have such a good connection with Michael's family, and particularly his mother. This must be such a difficult time for her -- and you are her connection to Michael too. I am struck by how close you are in what is, in fact, a relatively brief period of time.

  4. You are lucky to have such a relationship. My current husband still has good relations with his late wife's in-laws although the contact is sporadic, but my late husband's family was never close and they were more unhelpful and critical then not during Will's illness, so I have almost nothing to do with them and they seem fine with that.

    It's tricky. People - even biological related - won't always get along.

  5. A thought provoking post, as always. Your writing always shines light on issues that I'm dealing with or thinking about or even trying to avoid. Thank you, Dan. I hope you have a peaceful day.