by Denise Shaw Coryea
Several years ago, my husband called from work to ask
what I thought about picking up our three children and
moving five hundred miles away. He was offered a
Hmmm. Five hundred miles away from our parents and
siblings… my heart did not give my head a chance to
connect the dots about what this would mean to my world
as I knew it. Every fiber of my being answered,
I researched towns, schools, churches and housing
prices before he was home from work that afternoon.
I adore my parents and siblings. They are fun, funny,
loving, intelligent and supportive people. Yet, I always
felt like I didn’t fit in with them. I needed the
space to find out who I was without the constraints of
I learned later when reading Caroline Myss’ books
that this is a stage of spiritual growth--leaving the
tribal energy to expand your own spirit.
What I found when I landed in my new home in a
different state was a kindred spirit. My neighbor,
Louise, and I became the sisters neither of us had had
before. Louise never had a sister, and I couldn’t seem
to create this kind of relationship with the sisters I
was born to. Louise’s parents and brother had moved to
another state, leaving her behind feeling alone and
We created a new extended family, without the shared
history and baggage of years that trigger emotional
Louise’s son Ryan, an only child, was just old
enough to act as a surrogate big brother to my three
children. He was thrilled to have siblings who lived
across the street and didn’t invade his space more
than he wanted.
I knew there was a special bond between the kids,
when I walked into my family room one summer afternoon
to find my toddler daughter asleep with her head on Ryan’s
snoozing chest, the television still playing a
Winnie-the-Pooh video tape. It was the kind of scene I
wished I had experienced with my older brother.
Louise taught me to appreciate the birth family I
found myself resenting far too often. One summer, she
and Ryan made the five-hundred-mile trek back to my
native turf to visit my family.
I scolded my mother for pouring milk on my breakfast
cereal telling her I was a responsible adult and could
manage just fine on my own, thank you very much. Louise
hugged my mother for pouring milk on her cereal. She saw
it as a loving, nurturing gesture that she was starving
for. Her own mother was wasting away in a nursing home.
Louise would have given all that she owned to have her
mother nurture her with a simple gesture one more time.
Over the years, Louise and I have supported each
other through major life hurdles--our parents’ deaths
(both of her parents and my father passed away in recent
years), my divorce, Ryan’s adolescent rebellion, and
her husband’s poor health. We just know what to do to
help each other and step in without hesitation or
missing a beat.
Louise helped me pack up and move out when my
marriage ended. I helped her clean her house for her
father’s funeral. We just do what needs to be done.
The depth of Louise’s and my sisterhood struck us
when we took my mother and daughters to see the movie,
"The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,"
and realized that it was us. We have created a history,
a support system and a spiritual/emotional bond with
each other that defies time and space.
We are family—sisters--by conscious choice, rather
than by birth. We help each other grow, through our life
histories, in a way that could not be possible if we had
shared the actual living of it.
Some level of distance is required for objectivity.
To me, that is the crucial function of chosen family
versus birth family.
On a spiritual level, I believe I chose my parents
and siblings before I was born to help me create an
environment I needed to experience. That environment had
to have challenges to face to be effective. Louise helps
me to grow beyond that environment into a grander, more
glorious version of my life. For that, I am so very
2002 Denise Shaw Coryea. All Rights Reserved.
Denise Shaw Coryea, M.Ed., is a health educator, Angel Coach, mother and author. She loves life and getting e-mail
from people who read her articles. Denise lives in Connecticut.
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