Dreading Your Family Reunion?

The Root offers tips to help you cope with bad potato salad and cousins you’d rather not know.

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Morley-Ball says some families offer a ceremony on the first night to help family members symbolically let go of old grievances. Everyone writes down a sentence that describes the anger and pain they have against someone. They then place a big X across it. Then they tear the paper up, throw it in the trash and never look back.

Of course, that might not be adequate for serious offenses such as abuse. But Morley-Ball says that because one of the purposes of reunions is to help people define their place and role in the family, reunions can actually be a powerful event for sufferers of abuse—provided they are far enough along in their healing. She says it can be a way to say to a past abuser, “I am unmoved and undaunted.” For people open to such a potential confrontation, she helps her clients map out a strategy to protect themselves in an emotionally charged environment.

Sometimes issues in a family have more to do with finances than family relations. Event planner Trevoir Hudson, of Trevoir Events in Riverdale, Ga., says his philosophy is: “If I can deal with someone at the job, I can deal with my family.” His family meets in Charleston, S.C., every fifth year during the second weekend of August.  The family hosted nearly 400 members in 2005.

This year, he says, the recession is taking a toll on the family. “Some want to come at the last minute, while others have an a la carte outlook on the family reunion fee. We tell them it’s one price for everything if you come or not. Most of the time it is a joyous occasion.”

For family members who cannot afford the fee for their large family, Hudson said, concessions are made which allow them to bring food or dessert for the Sunday dinner, which is usually held at a local church. Or they can help with the cleanup afterward.