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Friends are the family you get to choose

Posted: May 6, 2013 4:08 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Last week, two poignant events occurred in my life. The first was that I celebrated turning another year older, the second being the death of one of my very best friends’ mother after a brutal battle with cancer. During the course of the week, I experienced a variety of conflicting emotions from utter heartbreak of losing someone close to me and also “celebration” that I was able to turn another year older. This was difficult due to the fact that some of the people closest to me, including myself, were grieving the loss of a life during a time that I would normally spend celebrating my own life.

As the week progressed, my best friend and I were able to find some similarities between these two events and also experience some realizations of our own. One of the similarities we encountered between losing a life and celebrating a life are the people who acknowledge these events when they occur in your life. When landmark events such as these happen, you figure out who actually cares about you based on who is there. While a birthday isn’t anywhere near as big of a deal as a death, the same principles still apply, for the most part. There’s something to be said about the people who come to your aid in a time of need without being asked to. People my friend hadn’t heard from in years sent flowers and sincere messages when they heard about the passing of her mother. Not because they wanted some sort of glory or satisfaction from it, but because they genuinely felt the need to express care and kindness for another human being who they knew was suffering a loss. Those types of people are the types of people that should be cherished.

Though there are fabulous people like those that send small tokens of sympathy, there also ones who choose to use someone else’s loss as their gain and a way for them to achieve their own moment in the sun. Those kinds of people are the ones that unfortunately also become obvious during a time of loss. And, unfortunately, they also become people that you realize you no longer want in your life no matter how long they’ve been there. And then there are the people who you think and always assume would be there for you during a tragedy but who mysteriously disappear during this time. Those are also the people who you realize no longer have a place in your life.

We also came to realize the way in which friends turn into family over the course of time. It’s hard to imagine a time when I didn’t have the friends in my life who I would call my best friends but who are much, much more than that in actuality. These are the people with whom the connection between us reaches deeper than any friendship or relationship ever could. While they aren’t blood related, I believe them to be just as close and connected with me as any family member could be. There’s a quote that says that friends are the family you get to choose and I find this to be extremely accurate. Their families have, in turn, become an extension of my family; my family has become an extension of theirs, too. Their siblings are my siblings and my siblings are their siblings; my parents are like second parents to them and their parents are like second parents to me; and we watch out and take care of each other as if we were connected by blood. And we would never, ever knock before walking into each other’s homes or ask before opening the fridge for a snack. In times of grief and also in celebration, it becomes very apparent who these people are.

When your heart is broken by death or repaired in jubilation, the people who are standing by your side are your family regardless of blood line. It’s usually the ones who are simply there that are these people. The people who don’t have to say anything or do anything besides be there but you automatically feel more at ease and safer because they are there. During times of loss, there are never any “right” words to say because it doesn’t change the fact of the matter that this person is gone. The most you can really do is to be there as a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold or as an outlet for a passing smile or laugh or even just a reminder that, eventually, things will be OK.

So the next time you suffer a tragedy or celebrate something of importance, look to the people who are standing by suffering or celebrating with you because those are the ones who matter. Time and time again I’ve heard, strangely numerous times recently, that the people who are saying the most or talking the loudest are not always the people with the most important things to say.

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