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Will your true loved ones please stand up

February 2011

A loved one is “a person you love, usually a member of your family,” according to the Word Web Online and the Free Dictionary by Farlex. The MacMillan Dictionary definition is: “someone you care about very much, especially a member of your family.”

I often work with families during times of stress. These families can be caring and loving or members might be in conflict or estranged. Nothing surprises me, except that the term “loved one” seems to be always defined in the context of family.

Who is the person you trust most with your secrets, the person you turn to when you need support or advice, who you would want to advocate for you if you were in the hospital? Who would you trust to care for your children or grandchildren, who you would trust to manage your financial affairs? In good times or bad, who is the first person you share your news with?

This person is not always a blood relation. While we often have special relationships with our family, sometimes our closest person, our “loved one,” is a close friend. I find that women, who have special relationships with their girlfriends, understand this more than men. The young generation refers to such a friend as a BFF, or best friend forever. These friends are in our lives by choice.

If a person dies without a will, there is a formula of how the succession is divided. It distinguishes between whole blood and half-blood relatives. If there are no children, parents or siblings, their possessions might end up with a distant niece rather than their truest loved ones.

In my family, there was a rift when my ancestors arrived here from Europe in the early 1900s. Every so often I will be informed of the birth of a new cousin, names that are unfamiliar to me. Recently I discovered that someone I knew through a close friend is my cousin. We were fascinated by this discovery and became friends. Yet I have some cousins with whom I have no contact—no animosity, just no contact.

My interest in the term “loved one” arose when I had the unfortunate experience of spending much of my time with my closest friend in palliative care. While I was a constant visitor and advocate, the room for loved ones was called the “family room.” While my caring and love for my friend resembled that of love for a close family member, I was not recognized since there was no family relation. When asked to identify myself, I learned not to say best friend but rather relative, and if questioned beyond this, I added cousin. No one seemed anxious to talk to just a friend.

Every so often, I clean out my memory box. Here I find cards from people who were at one time loved ones in my life, never imagining a time when they wouldn’t be. While they bring back many special memories, they are no longer defined as my loved ones.

Some loved ones are constant during our lives, and many of them are our family. But we do have a wider range of loved ones. So, while it is important to have a will and a mandate in the event of incapacity, it is also important to review your instructions periodically to make sure it is in sync with your present situation. Deaths, divorces, and family rifts may be reasons to update your instructions.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my loved ones. You know who you are, no need to stand up.

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