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When illness strikes at holiday time

Sick girl is measuring temperature

Sick girl is measuring the temperature

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Recognize that no holiday is “perfect.”

Go with the flow. If you can’t travel, or host dinner, friends and families will understand.

Keep as much of the tradition going — eat a Thanksgiving or holiday meal at the hospital. Send your kids who aren’t sick to friends or family to still enjoy the day.

Celebrate your Thanksgiving or Christmas/Hanukkah holiday a second time once the child is home from the hospital.

Use the situation to teach your kids a life lesson that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can make the best of it.

Updated: November 15, 2012 10:32PM

Right now families are focusing on celebrating the perfect Thanksgiving feast with family and friends.

The silverware will be polished. The table set. The turkey will be chosen, and maybe already in the oven.

But then, one of the kids suddenly will become ill with a nasty — and possibly contagious — respiratory or intestinal illness, or something much more serious. And just like that, the “perfect” holiday is no more.

How can families best cope during the holidays when their son or daughter gets sick, and holiday traditions must be put aside to tend to the child?

First, recognize that there usually is no such thing as a “perfect” holiday, said Dr. David Mandelbaum who has been practicing psychology for 30 years and specializes in treating children and adolescents.

“If a child has to go to the hospital, traditions and rituals don’t have to completely change for everyone,” he said.

The Foester family weathered that kind of holiday last year when their then-3-month-old daughter Piper came down with a respiratory virus and was admitted to the hospital.

Mom and dad Lori and Brett Foester spent eight days with the hospitalized Piper while their other three children, Lainee, now 9, Noelle, now 6, and Judah, now 2, stayed with family and friends.

“The children had a great time with sleepovers and friends, but the two older kids knew that their sister was very, very sick,” Lori Foester said.

To make the best of their unexpected situation, the Foesters decided to celebrate Thanksgiving as best as they could.

Her husband’s side of the family took the kids the day before Thanksgiving.

“We made sure the kids celebrated alongside them with all the fun food and fellowship of family. Brett picked them up around 10 p.m., and the kids raved about the night,” Lori said.

While their older kids enjoyed a turkey dinner with relatives, Lori and Brett spent their Thanksgiving at the hospital with Piper.

“A saint of a woman from our church brought us food from Boston Market, and Brett and I celebrated alongside Piper,” Lori said. “It may sound sad to have such a Thanksgiving, but we were truly thankful that she was still breathing and that the medicine was starting to make some improvements to the pneumonia.”

She also thought it was “hugely important” for the other kids to maintain the tradition of a routine Thanksgiving.

“It gave them a sense of peace that ‘everything was OK,’ ” she said. “It took the fear and uncertainty of their sister’s condition away.”

More importantly, she added, “It was still a very thankful day for all of us.”

Maintaining some kind of holiday tradition and “normalcy” is typically what’s best for the whole family, according to Mandelbaum.

“Depending on the severity of the illness and the length of time the child is sick, it’s usually best to ‘go with the flow’ 90 percent of the time,” he said.

Extended family members would certainly understand if travel or dinner plans have to be changed, Mandelbaum said. And in the rare occasions where they don’t, then the family is usually dealing with deeper issues, he said.

“While one parent is typically with the sick child, the other parent might take the other kids to Grandma’s or Uncle Jim’s,” Mandelbaum said.

“The other option is that you tell Grandma or Uncle Jim that you can’t make it this year — ‘We’re going to have Thanksgiving at the hospital,’ and Thanksgiving comes to the hospital.”

For the siblings of the sick child, Mandelbaum suggested that parents turn the situation into a “life lesson” of sorts, a practical education that sometimes plans change.

“You let them know that, ‘Because Johnny is sick, we’re all going to have to work together and compromise a bit and enjoy our holiday at the hospital,’ ” Mandelbaum says.

“In other words, ‘There are things in life that are out of our control that can cause disappointment, but usually, changing plans is not a disaster and we can find alternate ways to have our needs met.’”

Gannett News Service

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