The Family You Choose

Both of my parents left their families behind in pursuit of their dreams.  They met each other in the desert oasis of Las Vegas where they were both performers.  They had a whirlwind romance, married two months after they met, and soon started a family.  They both came from large, close-knit families, but travel was seldom feasible or affordable.  So, they filled our home with friends who became our “framily”, the family you choose.

Whether for backyard barbecues or Thanksgiving dinners, our home was filled with joy, laughter, and celebration.  I had many honorary grandmas and grandpas, two sets of god-parents, and countless bonus aunts and uncles.   I realize now that many of these honorary “framily” members were also alone in Las Vegas – fellow victims of distance or circumstance.  We became part of each other’s support systems.  We laughed together, we celebrated life’s milestones together, we cried together, and we navigated the seas of life together.  We were family.

I learned some of my first lessons about compassion watching my parents care for members of our “framily” in their times of need.

I was only eight or nine years old when Edna, a widowed woman in her 50s, called in tears explaining that her adult daughter had just been taken by ambulance to the hospital in a diabetic coma.  I remember Mom and Dad dropping everything to sit vigil with her in the hospital.  I remember them standing with her at the graveside.  And, I remember Edna being at our house for every holiday celebration after that day.

I was eleven or twelve when Millie called in panic because her husband Arthur, who had dementia, had taken their car and was missing.  My Dad is the one who met the State troopers when Arthur was found driving the wrong way the interstate.  I remember my parents helping Millie find a care home for Arthur.  And, I remember Millie joining us for every holiday celebration after that so that she wouldn’t spend holidays at home alone.

My parents never hesitated to help friends in their times of need.  And, their home became the center of “framily” gatherings… events that were unbelievably meaningful to people who otherwise would have spent the time alone.

Nearly 40 years later, I realize that just as my parents did, we have surrounded ourselves with “framily”.  Jon and I live hundreds of miles from our immediate family members, and we have adopted (and been adopted by) many fellow nomads. We celebrate milestones and holidays, and we help one another in times of need.  My children have honorary grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles who love them like their own.  And, our lives are richer for each of these people being a part of it.

I am honored to be able to carry on this tradition of caring for our “framily”.  Whether it is picking up groceries, shoveling snow, or helping someone care for an ailing loved one, we get at least as much from these acts of kindness as they do.   We are always sure to invite single “framily” members to join us for holidays and celebrations so they won’t be alone.  And, I hope if I ever find myself alone in this life, that someone will invite me to join their family celebrations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in severe isolation of people without close family nearby.  With pandemic restructions now lifting, consider extending an invitation for your upcoming events and celebrations to someone you know who is alone.  At the very least, someone new in the mix might stop Uncle Earl from telling that embarrassing family story… again.  And, you never know, you might just find a new member for your “framily”!

Written by: Darra Wray

Darra Wray is a Care Consultant and Certified Senior Advisor with My Care Companions in Boise, Idaho, a company she founded to streamline and simplify the administrative side of care.  You can learn more about My Care Companions and the My Data Diary+ family information management software tool at www.mycarecompanions.com.