There are relatives, and then there is family.
Relatives, you're stuck with. You're related by blood or by law and that's that.
Then there's family. Family is oftentimes comprised of people who are also relatives; I define it as the people you would want in your life, whether you were stuck with them or not. Lucky for me, that includes my dad, my sisters and my brother.
It also includes an assortment of old friends. A few I met in high school, and they connected me to others, so that family grew. (I even married into it for a little while.)
And then there's the one I acquired when I was in college. I don't even remember who adopted whom, but when Mike Rice and I met, sometime back in 1995, the family thing was almost instant. We were brother and sister from the word "go". I met his family, and they welcomed me to the fold. Mike married my dear friend Racheal, and the family began to grow.
We've seen each other through death, and we've seen each other through marriage; they've seen me through divorce and I've seen a few of them through the birth of their children. In every way but blood, we are family, and it all started on a warm autumn evening over a game of Frisbee at EIU.
There have been a lot of memorable events - camping trips, weddings, new cars, funerals, holidays spent together, trips to Arizona to visit (that's where Mike and Rae live these days) and vacations at the lake. And every time we are together, I feel more connected. So I should not have been surprised that last weekend, when Ryan got married (he's Mike's stepbrother, so I guess that makes him my stepbrother, too) we just all seemed to flow together in an easy sort of familial manner. I also should not have been surprised that it was tough as hell to say goodbye.
I will see them all again in July, when little brother Chunk gets married. But until then, I'm still basking in the glow of a certain sort of love that many people only discover among their relatives. I know deep down how fortunate I am to experience that kind of love from people who choose me as their family, too.
The only good photo ever taken of me and Mike.