By Celine Klosterman
CLINTON — For Tom Cannon, December brings one of the biggest reminders of his late wife, Frances.
A holiday enthusiast with an extensive collection of Hallmark ornaments, she “lived Christmas 365 days a year,” he said.
She died in 2007. So for the past few years, Cannon has attended Prince of Peace Parish’s Blue Christmas service, designed to acknowledge and reach out to the grieving.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “It brings back the memories.”
This year’s Dec. 9 service drew about 15 people. Attendance was down from the usual crowd of 50-75 people because of poor winter driving conditions that evening, organizers said.
Holidays can be the most difficult time of year for people suffering the loss of a loved one, observed Annette Lyons at the beginning of the service. She is coordinator of Prince of Peace’s Befriender Ministry. “We invite you to reflect on the pain, the loneliness, the sadness you may feel and to offer your pain to the Christ child. We pray that you will find hope and comfort in knowing you are not alone.”
Scripture readings shared during the service described God’s comfort to struggling people, and piano interludes offered opportunities for reflection. Parish leaders lit candles in memory of lost loved ones, jobs and health, but also to remember God’s gift of hope in the Christmas story.
Attendees prayed as a group, then wrote personal prayer intentions on yellow, paper stars that the participants later hung on Christmas trees near the church’s altar. Each attendee then lit a small candle as a symbol of God’s light in times of need.
Lyons said Prince of Peace began offering Blue Christmas about five years ago, after Father Tony Herold, then the parish’s pastor, read about a similar service elsewhere. She, Deacon Jeff Schuetzle and parishioners Odelia Schrunk, Alexa Tuescher, and Jim and Kathy DeMong created the Clinton parish’s service. “It’s a meaningful, quiet time away from the hustle and bustle, a time to recognize that life isn’t all grand,” Lyons said.
Each year, Prince of Peace sends invitations to Blue Christmas to parishioners who’ve lost a loved one in the past 12 months.
John Wilson, whose wife, Geraldine, died in January, said the service created “mixed emotions” for him. But it was nice to be with people who could empathize with his loss, he said.
Attendee Joyce Hart said that without being able to work through her grief during Blue Christmas, she wasn’t sure how she’d cope. In the past six years, her husband, mother and brother died.
“Sometimes you keep it all in… when there’s so much pain, you’re afraid you’ll lose it if you open up,” Hart said. But leaders of the service expressed her feelings. “They say the words you’re thinking.”