View from the Pew
Grief-stricken share Blue Christmas
A quiet space of candle glow, reflective prayer and a whispery chorus of Christmas carols, the sanctuary of Waiokeola Congregational Church was as different as could be from Kahala Mall across the street.
Shoppers were rapt in the pleasure of Christmas Present, a bustle of seeking and buying gifts, eating and entertainment with family and friends. If the canned music included that country oldie "It'll be a blue Christmas without you," the words likely were lost in the hullabaloo.
Blue Christmas was the theme of the Wednesday evening service at the Kahala church. Everyone who attended is seeking to cope with sadness this Christmas. Setbacks in life, deaths and other separation from loved ones brought longing for Christmas Past.
"This is not a season of joy for everyone," said church member Bill Green. He told the crowd of about 40 people, "We invite you to reflect on the pain, the loneliness, the sadness you may feel and offer it to the Christ Child."
"The Christmas season reminds us of all that used to be and cannot be anymore," was a prayer read by Henry Klein. "In this season of our longest nights, we offer to you the pain of our hearts, the traumas that some of us cannot put into words."
The very low-key service, adapted from a Blue Christmas format used on the mainland, offered scriptural readings intended to give solace, such as the gospel of Matthew: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
But somehow, the singing of Christmas carols seemed almost cruel. Only faint voices joined in on familiar songs that can't help but arouse memories.
"He had a beautiful voice. I can hear him singing," said Marcella Yee, whose husband, Peter, died in July.
Everyone joined in the ritual of candle-lighting, each taper a memorial, and dropped a written prayer intention into a basket. Not all intentions were for the dead, but also for separations caused by divorce and substance abuse, and other losses.
As Elmer Manley lit the Advent wreath, he dedicated a candle to "redeem the pain of loss: the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. As we gather up the pain of the past, we offer it to you, O God, asking that in our open hands you will place the gift of peace."
Klein struggled against tears as he led the prayers. At the reception following, he explained as he brought food to his wife, an Alzheimer's patient. "She is with me less and less each year," he said.
Hugs and handclasps were exchanged with friends and strangers as they segued from service to social hour in the parish hall, itself a time of solace and support.
"I went through this strong until Christmas came, and it hit me," said Marion Carpenter, 85, whose husband, Walter, died in May. After that, her brother-in-law died. Most recently, her pet dog died. "I'm getting better," she said. "I have to."
Her friend and tenant Doug Ferguson came along to support her. Then, singing "Silent Night," he was surprised by his own tears generated by grief for a friend who, he recently learned, died on the mainland.
Dorothy Wright, whose husband, Arthur, died in July, said she came up with a coping strategy that worked at Thanksgiving. "I put up his picture and surrounded it with decorations. For the children, instead of trying not to talk about Dad, they began talking to him. It made it easier for us, and I think it will help us through Christmas."
Waiokeola recently organized a grief support group that meets on alternating Tuesdays. It will meet at 6:45 p.m. Dec. 20 at the church at 4705 Kilauea Ave. and is open to anyone. For information, call the church at 737-0541.