What defines a family?
The same DNA? The same mother and/or father? Growing up in the same house? The same last name?
The definition of family varies as to whom you are speaking with.
I have dozens of relatives. Multiple siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. But I’ve always been a firm believer that you are stuck with relatives, you choose your family.
I have chosen mine.
Included in my family is one of my brothers, his wife, his children and their spouses and their children. All told, we number over 20 right there alone and growing. I have a couple of cousins whom I’m crazy about but that’s as far as the ‘traditional’ members of a family go.
And then I have more family. These family members consist of friends that have been together through thick and thin. We are family, not by blood, but by decision.
We have been through bad days, financial problems, offspring problems, job problems, heart aches, absences and just about anything else together. We have also been through death together. Two of us have the unfortunate label of ‘widow’.
That is my family.
They say that in times like this, you learn who your real friends are and who aren’t. Well I am here to tell you that it is true. I am also happy to tell you that just about everyone I thought of as a good friend and as family stood by me through the worst time in my life and are still standing by me. A few traditional relatives disappointed me but to be honest, I don’t miss them that much.
Those that would legally be addressed as close relatives are not a part of my family. We’ve drifted apart as personalities and ideals clashed. I know I should be devastated that they could do no more than a generic Facebook post when my husband died, but I’m not. Maybe because I know them so well and know what they are capable of and, more importantly, what they are incapable of. Some are siblings who could never look beyond their own self-entitlement, some are more distant relatives who are always too preoccupied within their own little world to care about anyone else. All of their reactions or lack of were no surprise to me.
That’s why those I count as family are so important. Because we each made a conscious effort to become so.
Sure, there are times when we annoy each other. But that’s all part of being a family. We accept each other completely, the good and the bad. We don’t have to like the failings that each have, but neither do we condemn them for having those failings. I can trust that even when my faults come glaring forth, my family will not abandon me. They may kick my butt back into line, but they will still be there. Just as I would do for them. My relatives would drop me like a hot potato.
That’s why my family is a blessing.
One of many in my life.
Some people are shocked that I can actually think of my blessings when my world is still destroyed and shattered beyond repair. But nothing in nature is completely one thing or another. There is always a balance. It may not be an equal balance, but there is a balance.
For instance, I am now living a solitary life. No one to call home to, no one to care even if I do come home or when. But I also have an amazing service dog who is a constant companion wherever I go. It’s not the same as having my husband by my side, but at least I have something, someone beside me. There are many widows who don’t have that.
I have to do everything by myself now. But I have family I can call on when and if it is something bigger than I can handle. There are many who don’t have that.
I am able to support myself and keep my home where I lived so many wondrous years with my husband. Many widows have had to sell everything, consigning memories to the highest bidder.
I am blessed with having an activity that I enjoy…or should I say that I enjoyed with my husband. I am still working on getting the enjoyment back.
I ride and show horses. It was something my husband was a big part of. He wasn’t a rider himself, but he took pride in doing the ground work, being the support for myself and my ‘show sisters’.
Since his death, I have slowly been getting back into it again. We recently finished two very big multi-day shows and it was hard. Extremely hard, because everything reminded me of him.
But again, nature is a balance.
Amid the bitterness of not having him there with me, I found out how many people my husband touched over the years. People that we only saw at horse shows. Many came to me to offer their condolences, their support. Some with words, some with a hug and some with just a nod and a smile as we crossed in the show ring. All acknowledging my pain and grief and showing that they cared.
Many were a shock, as I thought they were just show acquaintances with whom I only had passing conversation with over the years. Now I know better and I know that they are my friends.
These are people who are not given to be overly emotional. You have to pretty much be a type A personality to do this sport. We’re a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls who suck it up when things go wrong and just get the job done. Reining is not for wimps and, as a whole, we’re not really a cuddly bunch.
But reiners tell it like it is. So when any of them come up and tell me that if I need anything at all just give them a call, they mean it. And I had a lot of people do that.
I also have the blessing of being a part of a barn where we support one another even when we are competing against each other. Our motto is that we all want to win, but if we can’t win then someone from our barn had better win. They are all part of my family.
When it was my turn in the ring, even though I saw an empty spot where my husband sat each year after year, I also heard and saw the exuberant whistling and cheering from my family. As if they were trying to drown out the silence from that empty chair. And it worked. For a few minutes, I felt that joy and freedom that showing has always given me. I felt the excitement and the accomplishment that I had before. It faded as soon as I left the ring, but because of their efforts, I was also left with hope that I will regain the love of the sport that I thought I had lost when I lost my husband. None of that would have been achievable without them…my family.
My husband was not a famous man. He was not a perfect man. He had his good days and his bad days, his good points and his bad points, but he did have a talent for caring about people. Bringing people into our lives and making them a part of it. He taught me a lot about that. And he showed me how to create a family of people whom I love and cherish. A family who is now stepping up and trying to fill the gap that he left.
There will always be a huge hole in my life, but my family, all of my family, creates a cocoon around that hole, making it a little less raw, a little less painful, a little more bearable. My family keeps me going, even when I don’t want to. My family is always there, even when I don’t need them and especially when I do. My family is always behind me, supporting, encouraging. By blood or by choice, I have a wonderful family.
And that is my biggest blessing of all.