The Family You Choose: My Sister, My Friend

AngelsLast night I was on the phone with my sister and the funniest exchange took place. It went something like this: 
Me: You are so much wiser than me, I always respect what you say and how you handle yourself, and I always have. Even though you are younger than me, I always think of you as the big sister.

Her: It’s funny that you say that, I feel the same way, but I think of YOU as the big sister. 
Me: Well I guess that makes us the oddest set of twins that have ever lived!

It had been a rather typical conversation for us, starting out on one topic, and meandering about between the very serious and important things going on in our lives, interspersed with jokes; some a little crude, some a little catty, but most just silly. We talked about men, upcoming dates, or possible interesting men on the horizon. You know, sister stuff, girl stuff. This conversation did veer into some territory that we don’t cover as often, and I am not sure why it went where it did, but it is how the above exchange happened.

I suddenly found it very important to explain exactly why she was my favorite person ever. About how the concept of the traditional family has been redefined and that it is more common to hear about step this and half that. I even went off onto this bizarre side example of taking a map of the US and overlaying it with a family tree. I talked about how at one time the closer members of the family on the tree would also be closer together geographically, and how that is just not the same anymore. So many of us live so far away from each other. For example, my parents live 800+ miles away from me. I am lucky if I see them twice in a year. The last time I saw them it was for about 90 minutes over lunch when they stopped by on their way to my nieces birthday party to see two of my other sisters, their kids and my daughter. (Yah, figure that one out.)

This is when I told my sister that I wanted to write this blog, and as of this writing, it is on its third iteration. The version I told her about started like this:

I need a vacation. I need to get away from everything for about a month. It would have to, in some ways be a working vacation because I can’t leave everything for a month, but I need a change of surroundings for a while. If I could pick any place I would like to go for a month, I would choose Columbus, Ohio.

Before I continue along these lines, let me explain, just as I would have to explain in that version of the blog why, of all of the places in the world, I would choose Columbus, Ohio. It’s simple really. I would like to go to Columbus and meet my sister, my younger twin, this woman that I have been talking about for the last 500 words.

I have known my sister Donna Kay since June of 2011. I had been seeking bloggers of different Chronically Awesome conditions for the site to build the blogging community here for education and advocacy. This was before the advent of The Chronically Awesome Foundation, sort of a precursor to it. I got two emails in one day after tweeting that I was looking for bloggers. The first was from Donna Kay herself, the second was from a Twitter acquaintance (and now excellent friend) Daina. Donna was writing to offer her services as a Crohn’s blogger and Daina was writing to tell me about her friend Donna who was an excellent writer with Crohn’s. They literally came minutes apart. I had just responded to Donna and moved on to my next email, which was from Daina. If this wasn’t some sort of destiny, I don’t know what it was.

When Donna and I have talked about this, which we have several times, we laugh about how the events unfolded. We had emailed a few times and then we had our first phone call. I explained to Donna that I had to prepare for the call because of my paralyzing fear of the telephone. Once we were on the phone we spent time talking about some blogging tips I had for Donna, and things I knew about my particular audience, and how I marketed each blog post. We did not talk much about personal issues, and neither told each other until much later that we could “just tell” that we would become fast friends.

Fast friends, well that was most certainly an understatement. Since that day (and after a few notes and conversations where I had to convince Donna that while she wrote a blog on my site, I was not her “boss”), other than a few unforeseen emergencies that life throws upon us, rarely a day has gone by that we have not spoken, texted, hung out on Google+, or emailed.

 Donna Kay is my sister by choice.

When I think about what I would most like from any family member in my life in the way of support, love, caring, and understanding, I can really put it into a single, two-word name: Donna Kay.

Donna always knows when something is bothering me before I tell her. She knows because she has paid attention to my patterns. If she knows I am not feeling well and I sleep for a day that does not worry her. If she does not hear anything at all from me for two days, she worries. (And the same applies conversely) When Donna asks how I am doing, it’s not the conversational “How are you?”, she really wants to know. We know each other well enough that I don’t have to give her a long drawn out story about my health to convey how I am feeling, we are sisters and we feel what each other is going through.

We did a project through our podcast where as hosts we traded places for a day and blogged about each other’s health condition in order to better get a handle on what each other goes through. Donna knows me; she knows what I go through. I believe that I know what she goes through, but when I don’t, I am not afraid to ask. I ask because I care. That’s what family does.

I am sure you are thinking that because we work on the foundation together, blog about health together, and do a health podcast together, that all we talk about is health and our conditions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We talk about so many things. The topics are vast and come fast and furious. We can change topics on a dime and give you nice cents change. We talk about pop culture, politics, food, and gossip. We talk about our non-mutual siblings and parents. We talk about our unshared childhoods and what we are doing or have done on a given day.

Then there are “Our Thursdays”. It almost sounds romantic, so get your noggin out of the gutter. We both, coincidentally (or by alignment of the stars) have doctors appointments on Thursdays, one right after the other. When I leave for my appointment, Donna is just leaving her appointment. It takes me about 40 minutes to drive to my appointment. I call Donna from the car and we talk for the entire drive. We do this every week. It has become, quite frankly the highlight of my week. We laugh and have a great time. Sometimes we pick the conversation up again after my appointment, which happens to be therapy. There have been several times I have cried for that drive home as I describe to Donna what transpired, and what I learned over the last 50 minute hour.

In a time when the definition of family is being changed right here, right now, we have an opportunity to build our families as we see fit. We can surround ourselves with the people that make us feel loved and supported. Technology has already made distance a non-issue, and many of us live so far away from the family that in previous generations used to all stay in one house, or on one farm. Families no longer have to be those we were raised with, those who share our DNA, or those who took us to school or church when we were children. Families can be families of choice; the people we collect in our lives and hold close and dear. Familes can be those people that come to understand us in ways that those who raised us, or lived with us for the first portion of our lives no longer have touch with. That is not to say we will never have love, or use, or need for our families of birth (well, some may not), but the people we ultimately go home to may not be those who we used to go home to.

Just as we no longer wear the pigtails of our youth, we sometimes must grow into different relationships, relationships that fit us in ways that make more sense in our ever changing lives. And, if you find that you are missing something in one place, but can have that hole in you filled elsewhere, fill the hole damn it! There are enough troubling things going on in any life, much less a Chronically Awesome one, that if you can find a sister, or a brother, a mother, or a father in the least likely of places, grab tight and love hard. That is what Donna Kay and I do. Even across the miles, we are able to grab tight, support much, and love hard. (Oh, and we laugh so fucking much!)

So, do I find it odd to have a sister on the other side of the country that I have never met? Odd? No. Sad? Yes. Sad enough that I hope to change this situation soon. If I can’t get to Columbus, then I am going to need to get Donna Kay here. Two years of not hugging my sister is too long. It’s time to fix that. After all, it is the ONLY THING wrong with our relationship.