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Being There For Friends Who Don't Have Family
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, March 2011

Years ago, when I wrote SISTERS, a woman whose sister had died attended a Sisters Seminar. She commented to the group how lucky everyone was to have their sisters and brothers alive. She listened to people discuss both the joyous and painful experiences and interactions with their siblings, then shared that she could never again fight and then make up with her sister. Nor would she be able to work through the difficulties which she now realized, years later, helped her to grow as a person. Those conflicts provided her with important life lessons which only her sister could teach her. Her comments triggered the discussion about the value of appreciating that when there is life there is the possibility of hope for healing and transformation within relationships.

In some families, the adult siblings and their spouses or children consider one another "personas non grata" and they do not seriously factor into one another's lives. They may see one another from time to time but the interactions seem coated with protective shield. People "walk on eggshells" and there is little if any depth of true sharing, feeling or comfort. In many cases, although they see one another, they continue to hold onto the pain and hurt that transpired, often years before, and sometimes, unknown to the other people in the family, and refuse to consider either forgiveness or reconciliation. Sometimes, the difficulties are rooted in personality differences that one or the other family member find intolerable. This can result in family members avoiding one another and falling away from each other's lives. They look outside of the family to form bonds with friends who serve as surrogate family which can be a healthy and comforting substitute.

A friend recently shared with me, "I guess I always find myself on a sustained search for my very own nurturing, welcoming, organic family that is fantasy based, and simply doesn't exist. All the more reason I cherish my friends who invite me and my children to join their celebrations. As we all know so well, we can't have everything we want in life. And isn't it so ironic that so many who have sisters, brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents with whom they could share holidays and vacations can barely stand to be in the same room with them for even a minute?"

For these dear friends it is important to open your homes, set your holiday tables, and plan vacations together. The concept of friends as family can go a long way to offer healing comfort where there is serious pain.

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