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The Gift of Extended Family

The Gift of Extended Family

As a single parent and musician, I often took extra jobs during the holidays to help cover expenses. One Christmas Eve I agreed to play two services. My boys attended the seven o’clock gathering and then stayed at my sisters when I returned for the midnight sacrament.

Cookies and candles covered my older sibling’s marble countertops. Christmas music played amidst a backdrop of lights and holiday cheer. Excited to hang out with their cousins, Nathan and Sam gave me a quick hug and headed off to play.

When I drove away, they were settled and happy. But I started to cry.

Widowed at a young age, I struggled every holiday season. I wanted to be home with my boys, arranging cookies and presents with a loving spouse by my side. But year after year passed without a new someone so I wrapped presents alone and carted my boys around to hang with family while I worked.

Envy sank into my bones. Jealousy soiled my soul. Intimidated by my sister’s strengths, I lost sight of my own. Instead of appreciating her homemade cookies and atmospheric candles, I wanted to harbor my children close.

However, as the years passed, I began to realize how fortunate I was to be surrounded by extended family that wanted to be involved in our lives. When a neuro-muscular illness slowed my pace more, I learned to value that my sister could create an enviable spread while I accompanied church choirs.

Grocery shopping and cooking wore me out much more than time on a piano bench. So my skill set suited my needs and hers often kept my children well fed.

I still don’t cook much and probably never will. But after 18-plus years of summer and holiday breaks, my oldest now works as a choral music instructor in a local high school. My love of music passed on and now he’s busy with his own church choir during the holidays.

Our lives never settled into a typical family routine. When I finally remarried, blended family stress surprised me, complicating things even more for a time. While I still shed my share of tears, my boys came out strong and intact—and forever bonded with their four younger cousins.

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that extended family helped make them who they are today. Holding them close to nurse my wound would have only hurt us all. Getting over myself, embracing my strengths, and accepting support made us stronger in the end.

And isn’t that what the holidays are about? Connecting with others, stepping out of our shells, celebrating life together more than apart.

How has family enriched your life—especially at the holidays? How could you help one of your family members who is struggling a bit this Christmas?

By: Susan Schreer Davis lives with her husband, their cat named, Eggs, and the challenging effects of mitochondrial disease. She likes wispy curtains that hang to the floor and life with toilets scrubbed clean. Learn more about Susan at

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