Most of my original nuclear family is dead. My mother passed away in 1991 at the age of 46 from the complications of drug addiction and starvation. My father passed in 2008 due to pneumonia, heart failure, and diabetes complications. My brother was found dead in a hotel room from an apparent drug overdose in 2009.

I have one brother left. He is a cop in Arlington, married to a lovely lady who is a cop in Mansfield. They have two precious daughters. I am not part of their lives. My brother made it known to me that he really did not want to continue any sort of relationship past my father’s death. We got together to distribute our brother’s ashes in 2009 and have not spoken since.

My extended family is…distant. On my mom’s side, lots of cousins live way far off. It’s hard to get together. There has been lots of divorce, lots of fragmentation. With my mother gone, sometimes people forgot to let us know there were events. Years in youth ministry and renaissance festival have kept us from going to family reunions and connections have been lost. On my dad’s side, everyone is busy with their own kids and grandkids. I am not Christian enough or conservative enough to fit in, the mutual connection of my father is gone. Trav’s family doesn’t gather as a large group, and we feel somewhat alienated there, too (I think it’s the tattoos. And maybe the Obama/Biden sign from 2008 still in our garage). I absolutely think my brother and sister in law and their two kiddos are the cat’s meow, but somehow we just never manage to spend time together (for the record, walking the nature trails this Easter with Mason and Abby was an honest-to-goodness 2012 highlight).

So, who do I think of as family? Who do I think of when I need to laugh or cry, or borrow something?

My friends.

Dorothy is the mother I never had. She is kind and generous. She loves without judgement. She only gives advice when asked (do people realize how valuable that is, to wait to be asked for advice, rather than offering your opinion so freely?) She shares enough of her own struggles that I feel like I am privy to her own inner life.

Ellen is the mentor I adore. She is in her seventies and in chemo but her spirit is indomitable. She is a passionate theatre artist, a fiery liberal patriot, a loving (if unconventional ) mother. She has refused to sit down and accept aging as an excuse to wither.

Serena is the cool aunt. I may never have met a more independent woman who still manages to nurture and love so selflessly.

Sylvia, Sherry, Brandi, and Stacy are the sisters I wish I had. The first feeds my spirit, the second two feed my need to laugh, and the third feeds my need to talk about absolutely anything (but especially kids).

Jeff and Jono are the brothers to replace my lost two.

Dane cannot be explained. But I love him like no other.

Robby, Shannon, and Piper have become the surrogate brother, sister, and niece that I lost. I see their family growing in love and adventure and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.

Rileigh and Mandy and Daniel and Brandon are the children of my heart.

I have looked with envy at friends like Chellie and Dorothy, whose nuclear family bonds are so tight they are a true force to be reckoned with. In those families, if there is a crisis, the brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents answer the call. They spend holidays together. They have slumber parties with all of the cousins.

If you have blood family that is close, be thankful. Revel in those memories, for nothing can replace them. If you don’t, create your own family. Love can be found and nurtured in any old place. Last Sunday, I think I may have met some new sisters to add to my list. I cannot wait to spend time with them.

Tell your family, whether biological or heart, that you love them. This is my love letter to my heart family. Mwah!