Family, in its strictest definition according to Merriam-Webster, means: “a group of people who are related to each other.” This relationship can be through blood or marriage (a nuclear family) or it can mean a whole lot more and in some cases can include a large number of people (extended family). Families are held together by shared beliefs, values, and traditions. Thus your “church family” may fit perfectly into this part of the definition. Common experiences and activities can also join families together thereby possibly adding co-workers, neighbors, or team members to your extended family. But the biggest thing that family is supposed to provide is unconditional, non-judgmental support. That’s a biggie and one that even flesh and blood families struggle with frequently.
The truth is, you’re supposed to be there for your family in good times and in bad, whether it is convenient or easy for you to do or not. That is a fact that most of us forget in today’s world, where we are all very self-centered and often forget to think about how our actions may affect others.
In the broadest sense of the term, a family member is someone you love and can count on, who is always there for you, no matter what, and vice versa. Sometimes the most supportive person in your life doesn’t fit the definition of nuclear family at all, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t family. It’s just a different kind of family. And sometimes that support person is an actual nuclear family member, as it is for me. Early in our lives, that person is usually a parent (who we all know will do just about anything to help their child). But as we (and our parents) grow older we find that that support is not as strong as it used to be. That what once was a one-way street of us coming to them is now a two way street with support being given in both directions and eventually we become that support for our parents. During these times of change we need someone else to turn to, someone who will give us their undivided attention and support, and we in turn give them ours. Often, it is someone who, in fact, has always been there for us but was overshadowed by the powerful “protection” of our parent(s). This person is usually a sibling if you’re lucky (and I am) and eventually a spouse. They become the family you depend on most. And sometimes it’s hard for that sibling who was “the one” for the first 20+ years of your life to take a backseat or even a shared seat with the spouse who is now your number one family member. The problem arises when that rock of support lets us down because they’re wrapped up in their own lives or we let them down for the same reasons. Even if you’ve always been there for each other you sometimes forget that that nonjudgmental unwavering support is still always there.
My sister and I have been through an awful lot together, some good and some bad. I know that there have been many times that she has felt that I have let her down, just as there are a few that I can remember when she failed me.
The point is that my sister and I have always found a way to make time for each other for the big problems, but with our busy lives I’m afraid we’ve been ignoring the smaller problems (even though they’re no less important). We seem to have trouble communicating over a distance of 725 miles, even with the modern conveniences of cell phones, email, texting, face time, etc. We can talk and joke about the day-to-day stuff, but we’ve yet to have a heart to heart talk about all the little things that keep us from being as close as we once were. I’ll be there for her as long as I am able and I think she knows that. And I know that she’ll be there for me.
Unfortunately we usually take those people who are closest to us for granted. We think because they’ve always been there for us that they always will. When we’re in a tight spot, it’s easier to put off/out our most enduring family member and expect them to forgive and forget. And sometimes, due to life’s circumstances, it’s harder for that person who has always been there to be the punching bag and take the hit in order to make life easier for the other.
But family will always be family and we have to find a way to get along (sometimes love isn’t enough) because without each other family doesn’t exist. So this holiday season I hope you take the time to forgive and forget those (petty) disagreements you’ve had with your family (both nuclear and extended) and remember that life can change in an instant. Let go of your grudges and wounded pride and tell them how you feel. Open the lines of communication and talk about it. No one wants to leave this world full of stress and regret. And you certainly don’t want to carry the regret of things unsaid and time not spent with a loved one after they’ve passed on.