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Putting Loved Ones First in the Real World

When I decided to go on the Power 9 Blue Zones journey, I thought the principle of “Loved Ones First” was a done deal. I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I truly thought I had this one in the bag. However, on closer inspection, I think I am still redefining this principle in my life. Let me explain.

In 2017, our family, meaning Jonah and our kids, made the very difficult decision to cut out all contact with extended family. To say our relationships with our birth families are toxic is the kindest way I can describe them. But making such a choice comes with costs, and here are some of them. We’ve had two family members pass away, and we didn’t attend their funerals. There are cousins, nieces, nephews, and mutual friends I would give anything to have contact with, but know I can’t. And I grieve that loss. 

But the benefits have shown us that we’ve made the right choice, especially when I see my kids and us as parents thriving, growing, healing, and striving for our dreams. There is no doubt in my mind that it is probably the single best decision we have made together as a family. In a sense, by cutting ties and relationships out of our lives, we are living the principle of putting “Loved Ones First.” And let me tell you what, that feels pretty good. And I have accepted our smaller yet more meaningful holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations. 

But the price of our decision continues to reveal itself. Recently, one of my kids asked me what a niece and nephew are because they had no point of reference, no name or face to put to the word. Then I realized my kids are missing out on something special that comes with a family tree. And, although it would seem that even Adam and Eve had to start the family tree from scratch, as a culture, most of us have extended family units. And in a healthy family culture, it adds to and enriches our lives. 

Happy large family gatherings are not only fun, but they also bring more personal meaning to just about every big and small things in life. Imagine attending a family funeral or wedding without family coming together. Imagine holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, births, family reunions, and random gatherings all without family. It isn’t that you can’t have a wonderful event in your life and not celebrate it; it’s more that family adds meaning and belonging. Ahh, there’s the word, belonging.

One of the foundations of my childhood memories was our annual family reunions. As a child, it didn’t matter who the people were; they were family, my family, and I was their family in return. Therefore, I belonged to this group of people simply because I was born. I did nothing to be accepted by my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents other than existing. And that is something truly magical, isn’t it?

Looking back at our choice to remove extended family from our lives, I suppose we did a lot of unhealthy things to replace them. It didn’t work out all that well because I think we were doing it wrong. We were coming from a position of lack and not fullness, so the people we brought into our lives were equally lacking, and we had to go through the process of cutting out new toxic relationships. Ugh.

But here is the good news, and I saw it firsthand after a high school graduation. Jonah and I had just finished helping with the cleanup after an adult education graduation put on by the Office of Education. We grabbed lunch at a local restaurant before heading home, and as you can imagine, other families were celebrating the graduation together. In the corner, Jonah pointed out one of the students who had just graduated who was celebrating with her “chosen” family. It was a hodgepodge assortment of her daughter, son, two sisters, a father, a stepmother, two ‘step-in moms,’ a friend, a son of one of the adult father figures, and another friend. This student proudly called them her family, and there they were, celebrating a graduation together just as any other family would do. 

And then I realized we can do that too! We can choose our own family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and all the rest. Now, I haven’t met them all yet, but I believe that they are there waiting to meet me/us. Am I looking for them? Not really, because that would be me coming from a place of lack, and the small family unit I have is not enough. But I am open to a larger family, as well as the noise and ruckus that come with any large family gathering. I just haven’t met them all yet. And that is okay.

I don’t know if you are blessed to have already been born into a healthy family unit or not, but according to Blue Zones, if you put family first, you can add up to six years to your life. So I think that is an incentive to put “Loved Ones First” no matter how many “Loved Ones” are in your life. And hey, who says you can’t choose who your loved ones are and aren’t? The point is this: spend lots of time with them to live a healthier, happier, and fuller life. 

If relationships aren’t healthy in your life, cut them out and downsize because you are family to yourself first. The quality of Loved Ones matters whether you are related by blood or not. And if you are starting with just one – you – that’s okay, too. You being enough is enough when you decide you are enough! Here’s to the small family units, the large family units, and the chosen family units. Cheers!

To learn more details of my story, pick up my memoir here.

To learn more about the Power 9 Blue Zones principles, learn more here.

Click here to learn more about the Blue Zones Project – Lake County

Trudy Wakefield

Trudy is the owner and editor for The Bloom. The Bloom's dedicated to showcasing all the good parts of life. If it's good news, you'll probably find it here.

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