The images and memories of the holiday season are sometimes a source of sadness for Adriane Clayton.
“I lost my mother three years ago in February, and her birthday is a week before Christmas,” Clayton said. “It’s really difficult around the holidays because I really miss her.”
Clayton is among a countless number of people who sometimes dread the approach of the season that seems to mandate joy with its brightly wrapped packages, holiday parties, upbeat carols and visits from family and friends.
To help those who are struggling with grief, loneliness and hopelessness, a number of congregations and organizations offer special worship services, classes, seminars and support groups.
Two years ago, the Rev. Maureen Webber and the Stephen Ministries group at Bath United Church of Christ began offering a Blue Christmas service for people experiencing loss. The service is traditionally offered on the longest night of the year (the winter solstice) Dec. 21. This year, there will be two services at 2 and 7 p.m. The church is located at 3980 Bath Road in Bath Township.
“This service is for people with any kind of loss: divorce, loss of job, loss of independence and, of course, loss of a loved one,” said Webber, associate minister of pastoral care at the Bath church. “Our goal is to help people find a sense of comfort and to validate their feelings. We want them to know that there is someone who cares and that God is with them, even if they don’t feel joy.”
Services include readings, hymns, prayers and an opportunity for those in attendance to light a candle in memory of a loved one, if they choose.
Stephen Ministries’ congregations typically offer programs around the holidays to help the hurting.
The lay ministry provides trained caregivers to give one-on-one help to people who are hurting, lonely or going through a life crisis. Founded in 1975, the program is now in 11,000 congregations, representing more than 160 denominations.
An Advent Remembrance Service, now in its eighth year, will be offered at 7:30 p.m. Sunday by the Stephen Ministries group at Northampton United Methodist Church, 852 W. Bath Road in Cuyahoga Falls. The service includes a candlelight ceremony, the hanging of ornaments on a tree, brief messages from those who have lost loved ones and refreshments.
In Green, the Journey to Peace Bereavement Support Ministry at Queen of Heaven Catholic Church sponsored a two-session program before Thanksgiving to help people prepare for coping with loss during the holidays. The ministry was established to provide information and spiritual and emotional support for those who are grieving.
Like the Stephen Ministries groups, the bereavement support ministry offers sessions throughout the year. A six-week series of classes will be offered in April.
More information can be found at www.queenofheavenparish.org or by calling 330-896-2345.
“Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. We want to help people understand that it’s OK to take as long as they need,” said Sue Lyons, who leads Queen of Heaven’s support group. “We recognize that the holidays are especially difficult.
“People expect you to celebrate, even if you don’t feel like celebrating. We try to help people recognize that they can say ‘no’ and that they can express that they need some time alone.”
Outreach to those who are grieving and struggling with loss is not limited to religiously affiliated groups.
The Minority Behavioral Health Group, in West Akron, has been partnering with churches and community organizations for the past 15 years to provide workshops and seminars to help people cope with stress during the holidays.
The agency, at 1293 Copley Road, provides culturally specific counseling and education and prevention programs. It is facilitating a program called “How to Deal with Sadness During the Holidays” at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays through Dec. 17 at East Akron Community House, 550 S. Arlington St.
The community center’s program includes two facilitators — a cleric and a therapist — who give participants guidance on how to cope during the holidays.
“There are a number of things that cause stress, sadness and anxiety during the holidays. It can be the loss of a loved one, stress that comes from working, shopping and all the other responsibilities that people are dealing with at this time of year,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Dennis, executive director of the counseling center and senior pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. “Our goal is to help people with tips on how to cope and to help connect them with resources available in the community.”
Clayton, who serves as executive and operations coordinator at East Akron Community House, said she encourages anyone experiencing low spirits during the holiday season to attend. Each session is facilitated by different presenters.
“I rely on my faith to get me through and I find comfort in knowing that my mom had a strong relationship with God,” Clayton said. “But it’s still difficult. I’m open to suggestions about ways to help with the pain of missing her.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.