"I've learned that there's a difference in being related and being family. Being related is just genetics. Being family is a shared respect and effort made by people that are willing to do anything for each other, and it doesn't require shared genetics. It's easy to be related. It's a lot harder to be family. Make sure to make an effort with your family. Life's too short to make up for it later."-taken from my friend C.C.
This is a lesson I've learned the hard way. Both my parents only have one living brother and their families and with my grandmother's passing this past December my sister and I have no remaining grandparents. As a child we had family dinners almost once a month (seems like everyone's birthday and holidays made this easy) at my dad's parents where my grandmother would prepare enough food to feed 4 times that many people and we would gather around the table where my grandfather would bless the meal and we would tell stories and laugh. After my grandfather passed away in 1999 these family gatherings decreased and within a couple years ended all together. My grandmother had chosen to live in an assisted living, not because she needed help doing things but because she wanted to be around other people. In the past 10 years I'm sure I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen my dad's brother's family (and my mom's brother's family). I miss those Sunday afternoons at Nee Nee and Pa's house where I was introduced to NASCAR and learned about the Alabama-Auburn rivalry. I can only imagine what our family gatherings would be like now since all four of the grandchildren are married and our two cousins and their wives have two children apiece.
We've never celebrated a single holiday or birthday with my mom's brother and his family. Our two cousins on that side are also married and have five children between them, most of whom we have never met. On my wedding day only my mom's brother and his wife were there to support me on what was surely the biggest day of my life up until this point. Something that very few people know is that as I walked down the aisle the one thought that I remember most clearly as I looked at the faces of everyone I passed is that I wish Pa was there. He always supported me and instilled in me the importance of getting a college education. It was his inspiration that drove me to finish my Master's when it seemed like my thesis would never stop needing corrections. I wasn't prepared for the fleeting sadness that this brought. After the ceremony as we greeted all of our guests I realized that my best friend's family whom I have always been close with outnumbered my own family. As I hugged his parents, grandparents, brother and sister-in-law, aunt and cousins I felt so blessed to have a big "family" even if we aren't related by blood. My "family" was there in the faces of my friends whom I had spent every college spring break with, my best girl friend who I met the day I moved into the dorm as a freshman, the many Mat Cats and wrestlers who had been there for both Allan and myself as we went through some of our most difficult times to date, and the other important people in our life standing by us always. It is this "family" that I know will be there for us as we start a family, grow old, return to Auburn for football games, take summer vacations, and experience life because it is this "family" that's been there since our wedding day spending long weekends together at the lake during football season, calling and texting just because they care, and being there for me when my grandmother passed away.
So today as Allan and I celebrate our engagement anniversary (3 years today!!!) I am grateful to my parents, sister, and non-genetic family for always being there to listen to me complain about Allan leaving his socks and shoes scattered throughout the house and stay with me or let me stay with you when Allan's out of town and you know I'm scared being alone (even though I'll never admit it). You all mean everything to me and I can say with certainty that I wouldn't be the woman I am without your friendship, guidance, and love.