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  • Writer's pictureSarah Ellen James

Chosen family & gratitude

Updated: May 7, 2022

Thursday, December 9th

Photo: my adopted parents, B and Irene Batty. Taken by me.

Growing up, I was fortunate in a lot of ways. Parents who were together, who loved me for who I am.

But in every relationship created, even in familial relationships, there are gaps that cannot be filled unless the remedy is sought elsewhere. My grandparents died when I was very young. Most passed before I was even born. I adopted my aunts and uncles and elderly neighbors as makeshift (yet still just as loved) grandparents, until they were all gone too.

With the beginning of this past year and the start of this new one came loss after loss. My uncle, whom I’d always thought of as my grandfather, passed away. My aunt, who is the whole reason I create and draw, and am the artist I am today, passed this March. Even my furry friend gained her wings shortly after my aunt.

After such a series of losses, I’ve come to realize that relying on others is necessary to fill the gaps.

I met my best friend when I was in 5th grade. I remember thinking she was bossy at first, but as we became closer and closer, I realized just how big her heart was. It is not only my friendship with her I have to be thankful for. Her entire family adopted me. They welcomed me into their home, a queer, socially awkward teenager with way-too-sensitive a soul. Even her extended family took me on.

Yet again I have been reminded of the power of chosen families. You have your biological family, of course, but your chosen family is who is there for you through thick and thin. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your biological family, but it can be if you feel safe considering them as so.

You don’t have to go through things alone.

During a visit to Washington state to visit my best friend’s family (a trip that I was so graciously welcomed on), her grandparents let us borrow their beach house for a few days just for us to hang out. They even had a community house with a pool for us to use. To get in, you have to be related to a community member.

As I soon found out, Grandma and Grandpa had declared me as their grandchild.

What sheer bliss. To be loved by another family in addition to your own. To be heard by another parental unit, and to finally have grandparents.

I’ve adopted many people into my little cookie-cutter family. My coworkers are my family now. All my friends’ parents are my family now. And though I am fortunate enough to have a biological family that supports me and loves me for who I am, choosing to allow other people into my heart has given me so much joy and has allowed me to flourish.

I am forever grateful for love and for letting people into my heart. Had I never done that and let the awkwardness get the best of me, I wouldn’t have the chosen family I have today.

This past August, I was invited to be the photographer at my chosen family’s vow renewal. What a humbling experience… Grandma and Grandpa and my biological parents cheering me on, my second parental unit renewing their vows and entrusting me to capture those beautiful and incredibly special moments.

A chosen family can fill gaps in your heart, yes, but they can occupy new space and fill your glass even more if you simply welcome them into your life.

Never be scared to build your own support system. Move out of your comfort zone, talk to people, and create genuine and precious connections.

Your chosen family is what’ll always be there.

Photo Gallery / All photos taken by me.

People pictured: Irene Batty, Aunt Laura, Kai Batty, Bre Batty, Grandpa Terry and Grandma Neila, Grandma Jean, Logan and Ri, Noelle, Helen and Nathan

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