Family Reunions Can Help All Year

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Make suggestions with love

For family reunions to do year-round good, worries need to be shared. Not a popular notion. And this column's first stated worry stems from the sudden and achingly premature fatal heart-attack death of 51-year-old James Gandolfini. Doubly sad it was, happening during a father/son vacation in Rome. It made headlines, of course, because Gandolfini is an actor, renowned, above all, for playing the mobster son in the hit TV series "The Sopranos." But this "The Walton's" family fan columnist strongly hopes his real life persona is the one most remembered. Like family members, friends, and colleagues said, he couldn't have been a better or more caring family man, colleague, citizen and person. And how we need such role models in a business rife with the opposite kind - not to mention the ever more ruthless fictional characters the entertainment industry more and more pushes.

But Gandolfini's hefty physical weight reminded me that when someone we love is overweight, especially a male who is no longer young, we need to speak out about it ? and yes, at family reunions. Of course, it's risky, but there are ways to say it that are more receivable than others. You may know the "I" word rule, but may need reminding. For example, it's far better to say "I am worried that you seemed to have gained some weight," rather than, "You really must lose weight!" Yes, speaking out is risky, but considering the possible alternative, it's a risk we need to take, and maybe, keep taking. And most of the Dewing plan to make family reunions more uniting and lasting is about using communication skills to help prevent relationship rifts and disconnects. And, over-eating and over-drinking as well.

Of course, the talk must be shared so the shy and less verbally adept are not left out. And here's to reviving books like Haim Ginott's "Parent and Child" and "Parent and Teenager" former best-sellers with guidelines for young families that apply to all relationships. "Don't blame or accuse, but describe a situation" is a cardinal Ginott rule. "For love to survive," he says, "We must learn to communicate without direct criticism of personality, character, without insult to dignity. Do not deny another's perception.Temper truth with compassion. This manner of speaking breeds respect and allows everyone to retain dignity."

Schools that once taught conflict resolution skills desperately need to revive them and other communication skill courses. But now educators and society-at-large are all about learning a second language, and, above all, technological skills, which don't unite age or other groups, or solve problems the way caring communication can.

Okay, I'll lighten up now with some immediately doable ways to make these family reunions memorable: Don't forget to sing as well as talk, and try to attend "The Trip to Bountiful" play where the audience sings along. Work around the house together. Mine needs it. And for some audacious family civic action, stroll around the neighborhood and yell at speeding drivers, red light-running cyclists and yes, Kamikaze walkers and scooter-riders, too. Incidentally in L.A., bike lanes are placed next to the motor vehicle lane, not next to the sidewalk.

Share some hugs and some prayers. Smile a lot too. Remind me to do these things, too.

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