Choosing Family


hikeIt has been said you can pick your friends but not your family. And, yet I feel I picked mine, friends who, over the years, developed into a second family.
We met because our husbands worked together. There were four families in the beginning and having recently moved into the area all of us were desperate to connect with other couples. At the time the women were all stay-at-home Moms, so we formed a playgroup thinking it was for the children. But, we realized we were just as desperate as our children for companionship and so our group became a mother’s time, too. Eventually, the other two families moved out of the area leaving just the Rome’s and Renaud’s.
Our lives soon became entwined. We shared many of the same attributes, one of them being the age of our children. The Rome’s had Jason, and then we had Catlin. Janine and Matt followed with Kyle and our Kristen rounded out the crew. They grew up together like cousins, sharing meals, bathtubs and bedtime stories.
Janine and I were there for each other through many ups and downs especially because our husbands traveled frequently. At any given time we knew if the day seemed to be stretching on forever or we just couldn’t face another dinner of beans, weenies and toddler conversation we could call one another up for some adult company.
Friday nights were the best with impromptu get-togethers. The pizza would be ordered and the kids would run wild through the house as we adults kicked back with a few beers. We were oblivious to the commotion as we laughed about the week’s events and made plans for our next adventures. Many memories were made during those times and our bond as a new family grew.
It was our times at Lake George that sealed the deal. Almost every weekend during the summer, our two families could be found either camping or picnicking on the islands in the Narrows of the lake. Who wouldn’t connect over setting up tents in a thunderstorm, camping through a hurricane, tube rides, cliff jumping, raft floating, steak night, moonlight swims and roasting marshmallows over an open fire.
Through it all, we were there for one another, for the laughs and the struggles, the good times and the bad. We knew each other’s imperfections and loved each other in spite of them.
As our children grew, we celebrated graduations from high school and admissions into college. We naively assumed we would be there together for the weddings and the birth of our grandchildren. And yes, we had big plans to travel on great vacations together. But, it wouldn’t happen.
Matt Rome died this past September at the age of 55. He lived the last five to six years of his life slowly losing the ability to hike in his beloved Adirondacks. He struggled to continue using his prized possession, a boat kept at a marina on Lake George. The last time he went for a cruise it took Janine, Paul and me, using everything we had, to get him into the captain’s seat. And still Paul had to drive for him. Matt lost his ability to bring tears of laughter to our eyes with his stand-up comedian act. His brilliant mind, the one that could beat us all in any trivia challenge and the one that could solve any computer problem, slowly faded. He became lost in hour upon hour of dizziness. He went from cane to walker to wheel chair to recliner. We forgot what his voice sounded like because that left him too. Eventually, even communication by hand was difficult. Through it all, even into the end, no doctor could figure why.
Our two families rallied together, as did so many of the Rome’s friends, to support Janine, Matt and the boys. In the end it was all we had to offer. Our chosen family is missing an important figure but we are still intact. Our children living adult lives still remain friends. Janine will always be one of my most trusted confidants. As families do, we will regain ourselves and once again we will find times to laugh and have fun together. But, always there will be a toast to our friend, father, husband and chosen family member, Matt Rome.