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You can choose your friends but not your relatives. Right?

Well, I beg to differ.

I have made some of my friends what I consider an extended part of my family. Adopted them.

And then there are those that are my family, but not by blood. But by some other relationship. A marriage, perhaps.

But there are familial bonds that stand the test of time, circumstance, and all the things that life can do to drive wedges between people. 

My cousin Ray and I have always had a special bond. It really kind of defies explanation because we are quite different. And the older we get, the more our differences on certain opinions and philsosphies come to light. 

Ray is the older brother I never had. One of several, actually, but the male cousin I’ve stayed closest to in both relationship and physical proximity. 

Ray was always the older cousin that never made me feel like one of the “little kids”. He never teased me in a mean way, which went a long way because I felt like I was constantly picked on as a kid. In his quiet, unassuming way, he always sort of….took up for me. Even if that just meant treating me kindly.

Not that my sister or other older cousins were mean….but you know how kids are. And I always sort of felt like I was in the way. A third wheel. Or, in my family’s case (because it’s huge) a 5th wheel.

He and I are opposites in many ways. But made of the same stuff. We don’t just share DNA. We are both passionate. Both writers, whether he admits it or not. Both stubborn and opinionated. Both get exasperated with ignorance and stupidity. Both love our homes, our creeks, our rivers, our woods. And we both love our families with a fierce devotion and depth. 

I know a lot about where Ray comes from. I have an understanding and appreciation for the man he has become, because he could have been so different. I’m proud of him. Men like him are very rare.

Ray and I got married about a year apart. While my first husband and I have now been divorced for 12 years, Ray and Meredith have been together for 18+. 

When I first met Meredith, I eyed her with the usual suspicion for someone coming into my family to encroach upon the territory that is settled, comfortable, and familiar. 

But it didnt take long to go from not knowing her, to not being able to imagine our family without her. Her smile would light up the darkest room. And her laughter and good nature invaded our hearts.

Over the years, Meredith has become synonymous with Ray. Not that they’re always together. She does many things independently of him, and he of her.

But there is a natural ease between them. They have 4 children, all girls. A set of twins included. They’ve lived all over the state. They’ve built a house together. Built a family. Both beautiful. Endured heartache and pain and tragedy and miracles and have come out of all of it stronger and more solid than anyone could have predicted. 

When I got pregnant with Reagan, Meredith also became pregnant. We were happy to plan that our children would be close friends. And so they are.

Emma was born just 10 days after Reagan, and they’ve lived into the relationship and friendship that their mothers hoped would happen all those years ago.

Watching Reagan and Emma has been a little surreal. Ray and his siblings were always close to me and my sister. And history now repeats itself. 

When I was newly divorced and struggling to find my feet as a single parent, Meredith kept Reagan during the day while I worked. She was someone I never had to worry about looking after my daughter. I had other family keep her some as well and I cannot express the ease that this gave my mind. My world changed so much over those few years. It does take a village. I couldn’t have made it without mine.

If Ray is the big brother I never had, Meredith is now as much a sister to me as my own. I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that she would help me whenever and however she could. That she would always listen without judging, love unconditionally, and stand beside me through any storm.

Isn’t it amazing how people can come into your life, by decisions and circumstances that really have nothing to do with your own, yet invade your heart? Become a part of the tapestry and blend in so seamlessly that you just know it was fate?

She’s a woman that inspires me to be better. To not sweat the small stuff. To look for the laughter. And to always be authentically myself.

Ray is that comfortable familiarity of home. Someone that I know will always have my back. Someone that loves me like the kid sister he never had. 

Blood is thick, this much is certain. But so are other bonds. And love, whether we share the same blood or not, is thicker.