|Title/Topic: What to Say During the Holiday Season|
|Posted On: 10/15/2009|
|Oct 15 2009, Arkansas (KFSM) Holiday gatherings are fraught with delicate situations. Should you offer the recovering alcoholic a drink? What if your niece with an eating disorder isn’t eating? How do you wish “happy” anything to a recent divorcee?|
It’s almost enough to drive a prospective host under the bed until January. But don’t despair. With a little planning — and sensitivity training — you can ease the tension that inevitably builds around annual festivities that focus on excessive food, drink and togetherness.
“The things you say can ignite bombs or defuse them,” said Jill Brooke, a certified stepfamily coach and editor of FirstWivesWorld.com, a virtual community for women transitioning through divorce. “If you want to be the architect of your own happiness, take a leadership role. Be prepared.”
Always start by having someone close to your guest ask about any special needs ahead of time.
“Involve them in the discussion so they’re not blindsided,” said alcoholism recovery pioneer Karen Casey, who has written more than a dozen books on the topic.
If your guest…
Has struggled with an eating disorder: For an anorexic, large amounts of food can be horrifying; for an overeater it’s an invitation to binge, said Cynthia Bulik, director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Instead, offer small portion sizes and small plates. Try not to push food, comment on how much someone is eating or say, “You look so good!” The person with anorexia hears, “Thank goodness you put weight on.”
Say this: “It’s great to have you here with us.”
Is a recovering alcoholic: Try not to make someone who isn’t drinking feel like a party pooper. People who have undergone treatment might be struggling with a variety of triggers, including people, places, times and smells, said Dr. Morteza Khaleghi, a psychoanalyst and addiction specialist who wrote “Free From Addiction” (Palgrave MacMillan, $14.95). Find out whether your guest is comfortable around alcohol or whether you should serve drinks in a discreet place or throw an alcohol-free party.
Say this: “What would you like to drink?”
Has food allergies: If several guests have different food allergies — or you’ve got a vegan, meat lover and raw foodist coming — organize a potluck meal. If you’re unsure about allergies, consider eliminating dishes that contain the most common and dangerous food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish. Or provide a basic dish with sauces — often a source of hidden allergens — on the side, according to the Food Allergy Initiative (faiusa.org.)
Say this: “If you’d like to double-check the ingredient label, I saved it for you.”
Is newly divorced or separated: Have someone close to the recently single person talk to them in private before the gathering. “Ask whether it’s a taboo subject or whether they care if we ask how it’s going,” said Cheryl Dellasega, author of “Forced to Be Family” (Wiley, $24.95) and a professor of humanities and women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University. Don’t ask “Who are you dating?” or be nosy under the guise of love.
Say this: “How is your job going?”
Has lost a loved one: Most people do want to talk about the death of a loved one immediately after the loss, according to John James and Russell Friedman, Founders of The Grief Recovery Institute. They suggest bringing up the topic in a sensitive way. Then let the person decide whether to talk about it. Try to avoid saying, “It just takes time,” or “Don’t feel bad, he led such a full life.” None of those remarks helps, the healing process.
Say this: “I heard about the death in your family. I can’t imagine what this has been like for you.”
Has lost their health: “Grief comes in waves,” said Elizabeth Cohen, LCSW, coordinator of counseling services for Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter. When someone has a chronic illness, be a presence and let the person know you are thinking of him. Gentle questions are fine; just take your cues from your guest.
Say this: “I’m free next Saturday afternoon. Is that a good time for me to come over to help you cook/shop/decorate?”