I was in 7th grade when I lost my dad to cancer. As an only child, our home suddenly felt much quieter. It has been almost 20 years since that grey, February morning when we became a family of two.
My family are the people who were there for us during the 14-month cancer battle – and continued to be for 20 years, just like they said they would. My family are those whose actions I watched as I grew up.
My family is the couple who picked me up from school one cold January day when my dad was about to have his first brain surgery. Logistically, I had to stay behind as my parents went to Minnesota for this surgery. There were too many unknowns for me to make the trip with my parents. To this day, I cry when I think about seeing this couple walk into my school to pick me up. They told me we had a flight to catch. This moment was everything to a 12-year old girl who didn’t know if she would ever see her dad again. I still cry when I think about that drive to the airport and that quiet flight to Minneapolis. For twenty years, they have met up with me whether it be a quick trip home from college or a Sunday brunch. They were at all of those ‘big events’. They were there for those days in between, too. They never left our side. They sponsored my daughter’s junior golf program so she could learn one of her grandpa’s favorite hobbies.
My family is the woman who stayed with me during the numerous trips my parents took for surgeries and treatments. Taking in a middle school girl would not be an easy undertaking for anyone. She got me to those 6am basketball practices. She let me choose the radio station on those drives to school and somehow always knew when I just didn’t feel like talking.
My family is a couple I consider my ‘second parents’. He was one of my dad’s best friends. They have never missed one of my events, and in fact, drove my mom and me 762 miles to the National High School Rodeo Finals the summer I qualified. They have invited us to every holiday for as long as I can remember. They come to my daughters’ preschool programs. We call him “Papa Larry” just like his grandsons do. They moved us into my new house when the windchill was -4. Their son and daughter are the “sister and brother I never had”, except, I do have them. I’ve always had them. Sharing the same family name would not have made me love them more.
My family is my best friend since sixth grade, who has been by my side through it all. She introduced me to the world of instant messenger in middle school. She made the best mixed CDs. From prom dress shopping to wedding dress shopping, we did it all together. We even joined motherhood just three months apart. The week after I filed for divorce, she gave me a stack of cards friends had sent to her from friends all of over the country. She reminded me I could – and I would, get through this, too. There is not a second of her friendship I have taken for granted. My family is her two little girls, who are the same age as my own, who are two of the most incredible little beings I know.
My family is my dear family friends, whose little girl was the first baby I held. She started high school this fall. Her mom was an inspiration for my profession. My high school and college years consisted of sitting around their kitchen table, whether it be to hear the latest or for life advice. Now I watch the way my little girls idolize Emily, and I am grateful for the love that has been shared through the generations.
My family are the friends who moved me out of my house in the pouring rain. They showed up with their trucks and horse trailers and started packing boxes. I was an unorganized mess, an emotional mess. They reminded me that things would get better. They were right.
My family are the college friends, those my daughters call “aunt so-and-so”. They are my sisters – and they are the most loyal friends you’ll find.
My family is the woman who has babysat my children for their entire lives. She was their stability when they needed it most. She taught them how to read. She shows them love and compassion in a way no one else can, because everything she does is done in kindness. She is everything to us.
My family is the boy who loved me when he was 17, and now again at age 31, he loves me even more. He builds us anything we ask for and doesn’t say ‘no’ when we find a new animal to take in to our petting zoo. He builds little houses for my pet pigs, the pet pigs I dreamed of having my entire life, the pet pigs he let me get. He is a coach, a mentor, a constant in our lives. They call him “our Casey”, because there is no categorical term for someone like him. He is not their dad, but they have opened their heart to him. How lucky these little girls are to be loved by so many people.
My family whose bloodlines I share, they are pretty incredible, too. Our time together is few and far between, but I thank God for them and those occasional weekends we get to share. My other family, the ones whose paths I cross every day, they could never know what they mean to me. They could never understand the ways in which their actions have impacted my life.
As a girl, I quickly realized it takes a village. Our joys and our sadness and the days in between are filled with love. As a mom, I understand it in an entirely new way, in the kind of way you can’t possibly understand until you are packing up a life to start again. I appreciate these people in the way That can’t be explained. These are the people who promise you that you can get from here to there, even when you can’t see it yet. They are my family.