For years, I have had two little signs hanging in my kitchen.
“You Do Not Get to Pick Your Family, but you Do Get to Pick Your Friends” and “Families are Forever”.
Both sayings are meaningful to me because they reflect a reality, we all live with. We all share being brought into life by a family over which we have had no control over and a chance of developing friendships that we chose.
We are born into our families and are not given the opportunity before birth, to pick our skin color, our social status, where we are to live, or who will be our family members, etc. Some are more fortunate and can develop an emotional closeness with their family members while many others are able to achieve this. Thus, we need to take advantage of the honor of having control over who we pick as our friends. And in time, in many cases, these selected friends may be defined as “Our Family, by Choice”. However, in the end, no matter how neglected, abused or lonely one may feel from their family experience, they somehow are still part of our life experience and we do have them in our hearts forever, whether we want that or not, or whether we are left with positive or negative memories.
So, we may not be able to choose our birth family, but we do have control about the selection of friends. Many of us living with chronic conditions find that friends may change. Sometimes it is due to others not believing us, judging us, being too busy to accommodate our changes to be around us, or just plain uncomfortable being around the changes we must face. We aren’t the same person we use to first be, for a chronic medical issue can make you tired, not able to do things you use to do with those friends, and as you all know, living with pain, life can be a struggle. Some find it too sad or too much extra emotional work to be with us. At some point, we need to let them go and fill our lives and hearts with others who provide a healthy substitute kinship now that your life has changed so much.
We have a family by choice and so enjoy their love, support and being part of their lives. So many of our days involve taking care of a medical condition which can lead to taking us on alternative paths from so many leading more conventional lives.
Examples of my chosen extended families include:
- Our consistent visits to the pool, seeing the same group of people that we adore, means the world to us. If someone doesn’t show for a few days, people check in with them to make sure they are ok and even help with cards and food, if needed.
- And then there are my appointments to physical therapy anywhere from three to five days a week. We always look forward to going there and catching up with the staff along with other patients we have gotten to know through the years. Along with enjoying the developed friendships, we find comfort, help with pain and learning how to help live life with medical issues.
- Sundays we attend a Unitarian Chapel and are surrounded by those we love and respect. We share common values and are always taking time to listen to each other, care and help in any way we can. And it was at one of our services our minister brought up this title of Family by Choice that just caught my attention to want to write about it.
- Neighbors mean so much to us, too. We just moved four miles away from a farm we had raised our four sons on. Along with loving the property and way of life, we developed some amazing relationships that are special to us and will remain, despite our location change.
- Food shopping at the same location in time has provided us with support and the caring of others through the years. We always come home feeling recognized, cared about and enjoy sharing life with those we have become close to.
These are a few examples of important people in our lives. We each must turn in various directions to find support, friendship, and love. Sometimes one is lucky to include their family in this list while others only have their chosen family through other experiences and pathways of the life they are living. What is your story? May it be filled with true friends that are there for you, and you there for them.
May life be kind to you,
Ellen Lenox Smith
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain– And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.