Church plans ‘Blue Christmas’DULUTH, Minn. — Grief, anxiety and depression don’t take a holiday at this time of year. In fact, they can weigh even more heavily, according to the Rev. Bill Van Oss, rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Duluth, which hosted its third annual “Blue Christmas” service on Sunday. “We want to acknowledge that, for some people, Christmas and the holidays are a difficult time,” said Van Oss. “Not everyone has positive memories of the season.”
By: By Peter Passi, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
DULUTH, Minn. — Grief, anxiety and depression don’t take a holiday at this time of year.
In fact, they can weigh even more heavily, according to the Rev. Bill Van Oss, rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Duluth, which hosted its third annual “Blue Christmas” service on Sunday.
“We want to acknowledge that, for some people, Christmas and the holidays are a difficult time,” said Van Oss. “Not everyone has positive memories of the season.”
He pointed out that many people still are haunted by childhood experiences related to of alcoholism, abuse or poverty in their lives.
“People can sometimes feel like something’s wrong with them, like they’re the only one who has unhappy Christmas memories,” he said.
This year’s service was designed to deliver a powerful message: If you’re hurt, you are not alone.
“This is an opportunity for people to sing together, pray together and be healed together,” said Van Oss.
Van Oss hopes the “Blue Christmas” community worship service will take hold as an annual ecumenical event, floating from church to church in the city.
Ben Wolfe, program manager and therapist for Essentia Health St. Mary’s grief support services, encourages people to give themselves license to experience their feelings, rather than attempting to suppress them under the guise of holiday cheer.
“If your child just died, you don’t feel like being joyful. Grief is a normal response to loss,” he said.
Instead of denying grief during the holidays, Wolfe encourages people to remember loved ones who have died. He suggests serving the favorite meal or dessert of the deceased, contributing to a charity in the person’s memory or making gifts of the person’s possessions to friends and family members. He said some people have turned the clothing of a loved one into a quilt or a stuffed “memory bear” to be shared during the holidays.
Van Oss said many people attending the service at St. Paul’s were coping with grief from the loss of a family member, and he can relate.
“This will be my second Christmas without my mother, so this service is especially poignant for me,” he said.
In dealing with his own grief, Van Oss said he found it helpful to talk to others who had also lost a loved one.
“Some unfulfilled dream or betrayal, some wound, pain or brokenness brings you here tonight,” Van Oss said at the “Blue Christmas” service before asking service goers to put their grief into words and write them on heart-shaped slips of paper.
Rita Rosenberger, a member of the congregation at St. Paul’s, was moved to tears by the service and the recent loss of a beloved uncle.
“It was a chance to spell out the grief in our hearts and say: this is what it is,” she said after the service. “It was helpful just to be able to share our pain and pray together.”
Wolfe said too often people are told not to talk or think about the death of a loved one.
Rosenberger observed that keeping pace with the holidays and maintaining the pretense of a season filled with cheer sometimes seems a burden, especially when grief comes knocking.
“It’s not all holly jolly,” she said. “It can be an exhausting time of year.”
Wolfe said friends and community members can play an important role in helping people through the challenges of holiday grief and depression.
He said that in the immediate aftermath of a tragic event, the outpouring of support often is evident.
“People are often wonderful right after a crisis,” Wolfe observed. “But after two to three weeks, the Jello brigade usually disappears.”
Wolfe said friends of the grieving can help by making an effort to include them in activities.
He encourages directness, as well. Wolfe recommends people ask how a grieving friend is doing and that they not shy away from naming the dead during this holiday season.
“Even in the absence of a loved one, there is a presence,” he said. “We still hear the voices of people who have been a big part of our lives.”
Peter Passi is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.