Growing up, I was always used to having a small family with just my parents, my brother, my mom’s father and my mom’s aunt. Holidays were always small, but that’s what I became accustomed to as a child.
When I met Tim and started getting to know more about his family, what intrigued me was the sheer size of it – the number of aunts and uncles and lots and lots of cousins. How awesome was it to have such a big family! I had never known that before in my life. And like most families, not everyone gets along perfectly and family drama is always there in some shape or form. But I think that’s what makes it fun and keeps people guessing.
The longer we dated the more apparent it became to me how great his family really was. And like most big families, there were always big holidays or events every year that everyone tried to get together – Memorial Day, July Day, Labor Day, an annual family reunion and sometimes around Christmas. There was usually vast amounts of food, sometimes volleyball, lots of talking, tons of laughing, (sometimes a bit of) alcohol and so many other reasons to not want to leave until late in the day.
And as the years went on, Tim and I would find other reasons to get most of the cousins together – parties at our house, bowling, nights out to see a random band, dancing or just no other reason than to just sit around and drink and general good merriment. Through this, many of us became even closer over time.
No one was ever meant to be left out or feel unwelcome. Our door and invitations have always meant to be open to everyone with no exclusions. The more the merrier has always been our motto because our house may be small but it’s a good night when our walls are busting at the seams not just from the people but also from the conversations, the laughter and the hilarity that often ensues when we are all under one roof.
And as most things go, life changes. And of course, when it does, it doesn’t always change for the best. The people we love are often changed in the process and the ones we become accustomed to seeing on a regular basis are no longer there. Hearts are broken. Lives are altered. And often times, lines are drawn whether we like them or not. The decisions can often be difficult. But sometimes we are left to remember that it is only a name that separates us, and the strength of the friendship is often more binding.
Throughout my lifetime, I have learned it is often more than just the blood that runs through our veins that makes people family. Many of the people I’ve gained in my life when I married Tim are not only family because they are his cousins or aunts or uncles or grandmothers (God rest their souls), but also they are my family because of the interests we share, the losses we endured together and the joys we experienced as friends.
I am honored to carry Tim’s last name because I believe his family is amazing in everything they are, as both individuals and as a whole. But I know how privileged I am to be able to also call so many of his family members my closest friends because what is family if you cannot call on them in your darkest hour, actually be your truest self in front of them, lean on them when your own strength fails you and hold them when they find themselves in need as well.
And in no way am I discounting my own family as well because I would never forsake the wonderful family I’ve known my entire life because I know my mother and father (God rest his soul) who raised my brother and I in a house built on love. My mother has become one of my best friends as I’ve grown older. And of course, then there’s my brother and his wife who have two beautiful daughters who I am proud to call my nieces. While we have two very different lives, I would never consider my brother to be anyone other than my brother, adopted or not. After 37 years of wrestling matches and all the bickering, my brother and I are who we are. And I don’t think I would have it any other way.
In anyone’s life, families are made many different ways — by blood, by life, by shared experiences, by professional proximity, by trauma and by sheer coincidence.
After recently spending a Friday night with a large portion of my husband’s family, I can honestly say that I’ve come to understand that we are all equally as crazy as the other. So family or not, I believe I am where I’m supposed to be surrounded by the people I am meant to be with in my life. These people make me laugh until my sides hurt. They have sat next to me in silence when I had nothing to say (which is not very often) because the words of grief and sorrow failed me. They have held me when I’ve cried. And they’ve stood in support of me and my talents when other opinions differed. These people are my family.
So families are not necessarily made just when a name is given, but rather through the experiences we encounter, the suffering we survive and the friendships we allow to be made. Family is a broad term that I know I have been privileged to understand in so many different ways throughout my life from the moment I was adopted by my parents to saying “I do” at the altar to my husband.
For in my life, I once again have no other words to express my gratitude other than, “My cup runneth over.”