The Elite 8
As we wallow through the dark dullness of February and anxiously await a glimmering springtime, hopefully leading into safely gathering with friends and family, I wanted to write this reflection here. While this is not directly about my mom, I wanted to express some of the feelings that I know we shared…we talked about it often, not believing that we could’ve gotten so lucky.
This is going to be about family; but more specifically, the people who have become family to me: Justin, Jessica, and Drew.
If these past couple years have taught me anything, it is that family—blood related or not—is the most important thing. While I have felt more pain and grief than I could’ve ever imagined, I have also felt more love and support than ever before.
Let’s start with Justin. Justin is undeniably likable…relentlessly funny, sweet as can be, smart, helpful, forgiving, supportive…he has the most beautiful singing voice and is always down for a good time…he’s even a pediatrician for godssakes. It is truly impossible to not love the guy. He entered our lives when I was just 14 years old (if you ask him now, I couldn’t possibly be 23…maybe 15? 16?). We immediately loved him, and thus, he became a part of our family. My mom used to say what a nice “first boyfriend” he was to have…kind, respectful, and treated Kathleen so wonderfully. Clearly he was her perfect match, and, “first boyfriend” or not, he was the only boyfriend Kathleen needed. They were married June 2nd, 2018 in the most perfect, joyous wedding celebration I have ever seen. I’ve never had so much fun in my life, and their love and devotion to each other was evident in the love that was poured out for them on that day. Justin has been a gift to our family. Always providing a moment of light and humor, always offering a helping hand even through his busy schedule, and always giving his love and support to my dear sister. My mom loved him so….she could laugh at his silly facial expressions and smile at his sweet singing voice all day long. He is a brother to me and I know is a son to her.
Then there is Jessica….beautiful Jess. Who, as many of you all know, my mom adored, as evidenced by her outrage at their short-lived break-up. She insisted that Colin would “never find anyone like her” at truly one of most uncomfortable dinner conversations ever. But alas, she was right. They were maybe broken up for a week? Ten days?…regardless, they were meant to be. Jess spent so much time with us the summer after their senior year of college…hanging out in the city, at the beach, out to dinner and shows. She was a complete and utter delight, and we all fell in love with her. She has such a sharp wit and strong sense of self. My mom and I would talk all the time about how effortlessly beautiful she is…striking dark hair, perfect style…while being so smart, so fierce, and so kind. She can go head to head with Colin in any debate…not an easy feat (as I learned in my many attempts when we were children). She is strong-willed, fun, and a loving partner to my brother. She so graciously put aside whatever idea of a perfect wedding she had to hold a small ceremony in Michigan in August for my mom, which, I think we can all agree, ended up being perfect nonetheless. It was a gesture that I will cherish in my heart for the rest of my life. I can’t wait to celebrate their love again (hopefully with a big, loud party….good music, dancing, and drinking) this July. After all this journey has entailed, they certainly deserve it. She, too, is a sister to me, and a daughter to my mom.
And of course, there is Drew. The final piece of our group so loving nicknamed the “Elite 8”. At risk of sounding cliche, I can honestly say that I don’t know where I’d be without Drew. He has been there for me every step of the way with unwavering support in the form of long car rides, soothing guitar playing, trips to Andy’s frozen custard, and GBBS marathons. My mom, Drew, and I used to have so much fun… we could sit and gossip for hours…and my mom and him found no greater joy than to taunt me with horrible accents (it was a shared love of theirs, and an annoyance of mine). Anytime Drew and I would hang out, he would first ask if my mom was home, or if she was asleep yet, so that he knew whether he would want to come over or not—maybe he was just dating me to hang out with my mom? I’m okay with that. When we first starting seeing each other, I wasn’t so sure about carrying on with it because we were living in two different states…my mom, laughing, told me to “just string him along”, which, clearly, ended up working out. Not to mention that on our first date, after my parents met Drew (yes, they met him on our first date—that’s a story for another day), she immediately texted me “Drew is so handsome”. Obviously mother always knows best. He is crazy smart…can always make me laugh…and is the kindest person I know. He cares for others so deeply…he is the person that makes sure everyone feels welcomed, included, and loved. He was like that even at 11 years old when I met him, and I’ve always admired him for it. He has grown in his confidence and I have witnessed him mature into my favorite person and greatest support. No one brightens my mood like Drew does. He is an undeniable part of our family.
Drew once told me that his favorite version of himself was the version that my mom saw in him. That is the effect she had. She saw the best possible version of yourself—the real, true, authentic person in you. I owe every bit of my confidence and self-assuredness to her. She instilled a sense of self-love and gratefulness in me that I carry everyday. I see now that she has given a piece of that to Drew, and, I hope, to Jess and Justin as well.
So while this wasn’t about my mom directly…it is still about her. This family she created…the way she raised us…the values she instilled in us…they all led us to finding our people. We would always talk abut how lucky we were to have this group that gets along so well. My dad and I still talk about it all the time. They’re all my best friends. They’ve helped me to remember what is important, and they’ve kept light and laughter in my life when the whole world feels like darkness. I love them all. So, thank you, Justin, Jess, and Drew…and thank you, Mom.