On Saturday December 21st, my wife, Barbara, and I were shopping when we heard Elvis Presley’s 1957 song “Blue Christmas” (written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson) play through the store’s sound system. Naturally, I silently sang along with “The King” as he described what his holiday would be like without the girl he loved. On the very next day, we experienced another type of Blue Christmas only this one took place at a local church.
If you’ve never heard of a “Blue Christmas Service,” you’re probably not alone. This special service is designed for those who have lost a loved one, and it’s intended to help the survivors get through the holidays, days when most of society is celebrating.
Barbara and I had never heard of this service until last year, approximately three years after we lost our daughter Maria, at age 30, to cancer. Since then, the Christmas season had become especially sad because Maria’s birthday was on December 21st and because Christmas Day 2015 was the day we rushed her to the hospital, and she never came home; she died in a Hospice wing a month later.
After Maria’s passing, we tried to carry on with our lives, and we did so without the benefit of a formal support group. I guess we weren’t quite ready to share our grief as we tried to get through that first full year without her, the year that everyone says is “the most difficult.” Many people have also said “you should be ready to move on” by the end of that first year. We weren’t ready, nor were we ready the following year. So, during that third year, we finally joined a “Grief Share” group, and with the group’s encouragement, we later experienced our first Blue Christmas Service. Both experiences were simultaneously painful and healing.
During our groups’s weekly meetings, we met others experiencing grief, and we shared our sad stories. Together, we also watched videotapes about grief, and we read through a workbook that helped us process our loss and our new reality. That first group was rather large and included people who had lost parents, spouses, and children, among others; we are now in a smaller discussion group that meets monthly, and we have all lost a child, a group appropriately titled “Parents Supporting Parents.”
In many ways the Blue Christmas Service is like a normal Sunday service with songs, Bible readings, and a message, but it’s different too. It’s different because, essentially, it combines the happiness of Christ’s birth at Christmas with the grief of Christ’s death on the cross and the joy of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. For just as Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, we believe that our dear Maria has also risen into heaven where she will spend eternity with her Creator and where we will join her one day.
Until that day comes, however, we will never completely “get over” our loss, and the Christmas season will always be especially difficult. So, if you see us during these holidays, please do us a small favor and mention Maria’s name when you speak to us. I know that can be difficult or intimidating because you don’t want to make us sad or, worse yet, see us cry. Believe me, we felt the same way about the subject of death before we experienced it in such a painful way.
Ironically, though, when you remember our Maria, you lift our spirits. Yes, we may get choked up, and, yes, we may shed tears, but we will also be so grateful to know that she has not been forgotten, that she is still alive with us. And please do the same for those around you, for those who have also lost a loved one. Mention that loved one’s name and share a memory. Let those who are suffering know you care. For when you do, you are truly doing the work of Jesus Christ, for as He Himself said in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:7).