Blue Christmas: Responding to loss
Blue Christmas: Responding to loss

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I began writing this commentary thinking of those who have experienced a significant loss in their lives: a loved one who is no longer present, an awaited birth that did not take place, a job that was lost or did not materialize — therefore no money for gifts.

But as I reflected on the song “blue Christmas”, even hearing Elvis Presley singing in my head, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you,” I decided that I need to direct this to those whose Christmases are filled with holiday greetings, carol singing, and all the celebrations that go along with the welcoming of the Christ Child.

Why? Because you and I are the ones who can make a difference in the lives of those who are lonely and sad, just trying to make it through the season.

Fortunately, the church and society has begun to take note. There are publications and articles about how to cope with a “blue” Christmas, services designed to recognize that Christmas is not a joy-filled season for everyone. Google produces pages worth of psychological tips and suggestions. I would refer the reader to them simply to provide an awareness of others.

Sometimes it is too much information and grief is hard work for those immersed in it.  Sometimes is is just difficult seeking ways to live with new realities. They may not have enough energy or interest in life to read and implement any of these suggestions, especially if it is up to the individual to reach out and ask for help.

You and I, the Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God, can help those in need of comfort. If you plan a service of healing or a remembrance service, personally invite those that are suffering and offer to attend with them.

Christmas Eve is not the time for one of these services, however, three days after Christmas is Holy Innocents Day (December 28).  This is when we remember the children who were slaughtered by Herod. “Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:17-18)  This feast would be the perfect occasion to remember others whose loss has been overwhelming.

Services are wonderful ideas for remembering our losses.  However, be aware that the person or family you have in mind may not be able to attend. What could you do for them? Send a card (carefully select one that is appropriate) or simply write a note that says “I am thinking of and praying for you.” A phone call saying the same thing and perhaps offering to do a specific errand or bring a special treat. While it might not be the best thing to invite them to your family celebration, a quiet dinner, lunch or cup of coffee would be most welcome. One friend invited me to a children’s cookie making party. I couldn’t attend but it would have been a wonderful distraction for a few hours.

Last year after my husband died in mid November, I found Christmas almost unbearable. For my children and grandchildren, I put my feelings aside and entered into the family experiences with a lot of love and help from them. At my request, we did not hold Christmas dinner at my home. In fact we ate Chinese food after going to a movie that afternoon. Time does help and this year, I am able to think about returning to some of our traditions from years past.

However, I now think of Christmas differently. It is a joyous time to remember Christ’s birth and exchange gifts. It is also a time to be grateful for the Christmases past that we shared with those who are no longer with us. It is a time to share stories and personal memories of those we love.

I have no personal experience with other losses– like the loss of an unborn child, but I do know couples who have. They have found ways to remember that child in simple ways of love and prayer. Hanging a special ornament on the tree, donating to a children’s hospital or organization that gives to children.

Most of all we need to give thanks to God for the love, strength, and courage to face each day. For it is through our faith that we know in God’s time we will be joined together with our love ones again, and in God’s love, where the celebration of Christmas will be filled with true joy.

May you have a blessed Christmas!

Amy Dyer, Ph.D.

Amy is the James Maxwell Professor of Christian Education and Pastoral Theology at Virginia Theological Seminary.

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