Friends: the family you choose.

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!

2 thoughts on “Friends: the family you choose.

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  1. A sorority sister of mine wrote a saying on the back of a photo frame she gave me as a present once “Sisters by chance, friends by choice”. Even though i’m very close to my blood kin, my friends are my family too. Very well written, Kim.

  2. Thank you for that. My friends are my life force elixir.

    I wrote this journal entry in March of 2008. I think it’s an appropriate response to what you’ve written as my experience has had some similarity:

    “26 March 2008 @ 02:10 pm
    [protected post] Sadness for…..Things
    I learned today that a cousin of mine passed away recently.
    He was a first cousin as well, on my mother’s side, her nephew, the son of her brother. He died after a battle with colon cancer that had spread all over. I am not upset over his passing in the way one would normally be at the death of a family member, because, I never knew him. The last time I saw him, I was perhaps 8 years old. I would not have known him had he come up and bitten me. I am sad that his family is grieving for him, that his parents have buried their oldest child, and sad that I never got to know him.

    My mother’s family has always been a bit of a mystery. When my mother was a toddler, her father abandoned the family leaving behind his wife Ethel, to look after three children all on her own: my mother, and her older siblings Charles, and Patricia. I don’t even know my grandfather’s name, much less ever having met him. I think my mother saw him maybe 4 or 5 times in her life. There were times that they were so poor, that my grandmother could not support them, and my mother spent some of her childhood in an orphanage, until my grandmother could again care for them on her own. I don’t know many details of my mom’s childhood. She doesn’t volunteer information, and none of us ask about it. To this day my mother refuses to eat beans. I have a few extremely vague memories of my grandmother’s house in Jackson, Tennessee.

    My grandmother eventually remarried and had another son named Barry, who is approximately 12 or so years my mother’s junior. In about 1973 or 1974, when I was around 4 or 5, my grandmother died and Barry came to live with us so he could finish high school. My grandmother was 55 when she died of liver cancer. It is one of the rare times in my mother’s life I can remember seeing her cry, the night she got the call that Ethel had died. Barry, being now an orphan, managed to stray off the path of obedience and not adhere to many of the rules my parents had set down for him which were required of him to live under our roof, especially since my parents had three extremely young children to raise. Barry graduated from Spring High School and was asked to leave my parents’ house after they learned he was smoking marijuana in his bedroom. They set him up to attend flight mechanic school, but he never took them up on the offer. Within a couple of weeks of his moving out of the house, they discovered he was living in his car in an undeveloped section of our subdivision. What happened to him in the following years is anyone’s guess. Many, many years later, he called our house to speak to my mother. My brother answered the phone, and she was not there. He left a message but never called back. I recently learned that he lives not far from me. In fact, he lives about a mile from my inlaws and I have driven by the house that is listed as his most recent residence. We have also learned that he lost a leg in a motorcycle accident some years ago, and that he has a teenaged daughter. Most likely, I will never know this cousin of mine, nor will I ever know him. My memories of him from when I was little are very fond. He was very tall and liked to carry us around on his shoulders so we could touch the ceiling. My mother has confirmed that he was very good with us and that we really liked him.

    My mother has always been close to her sister Patty, who lives in Vermont. We see her as often as possible. She has no children and is married to her second husband, Arthur, who is a prominent Burlington citizen. Uncle Art and Aunt Patty are da bomb! My brother, sister and I are like her children.

    Her eldest sibling, Charles, a retired USMC Major, to the best of my knowlege, still lives in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. We used to visit him when we were children, then my mother recounts that letters from him ceased coming. Years later she learned that all of the letters she wrote to him were being stashed away and hidden by his wife Cathy because 1. ) she is crazy, and 2.) her intense hatred of my mother and the close relationship she had with her brother. They have 4 children: Charlie, Bruce, Ginny and Cindy. Like I mentioned earlier, I have not seen any of them since I was a child, so I would know none of them even if I ran headfirst into them. I don’t even know how old they are, only that they are older than my siblings and I. It was their eldest son Charlie who died recently, though I don’t know how long ago. My mom has not answered my email yet. I spoke to Uncle Charles at Christmas when I answered the phone at my folks’ house, when he called, and even though I had not spoken to him in YEARS, I knew who he was.

    I just found Charlie’s obituary on-line: he was only 45, 6 years older than me. I didn’t know this.

    I am sad, sad that there is a whole side to my family that I don’t know, sad that there are cousins I didn’t grow up spending holidays with. Sad that my mother’s family turned out to be so horribly dysfunctional/non-existent. And I am sad that a young man who was very loved is no longer with us, even if I didn’t know him.
    Tags: family, life”

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