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Services designed to help the grief stricken

Associated Press
Published December 26, 2007


LAKELAND - The holiday season is far from the most wonderful time of the year for those mourning the loss of loved ones. To soothe their grief, some churches now offer more somber "Blue Christmas" services.

Beymer Memorial United Methodist and Bethany Christian Church in Lakeland are among a growing number of churches catering to people who have experienced loss and can't share in the joy, merriment and revelry of traditional Christmas festivities.

"I understand personally what it's like to feel all this celebration going on and desperately needing the good news of the Christmas story but feeling out of place because you're hurting so much," said the Rev. Meredith McMillan, whose father died during December more than a decade ago.

Her church, Beymer Memorial, held its first Blue Christmas service this year. She said the lonely, the recently divorced and the widowed have a particularly difficult time during the holidays.

"It's an opportunity to be with others walking the same journey and know you're not alone," McMillan said. "Sometimes that's the greatest comfort you can know - my family is not the only one weeping this Christmas."

A poem sung during the service asked that the gloomy clouds of night be dispersed and that "death's dark shadows" be put to flight - hardly the typical Christmas fare.

But the mood matched that of Clifford Counter's family. His wife of 73 years, Mary Ruth Counter, was at a loss for words to describe what it's been like since his death in June.

"This is the first Christmas we can remember he won't be there," said her son, Jerry Counter.

At Bethany Christian, the service is symbolically held on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Congregants lit candles and listened to Scripture passages offering pleas to God for help and promising peace.

Among them was 75-year-old Mary Londahl, whose husband died four years ago. This year would have been their 49th anniversary.

"I thought it would get easier, but it doesn't," Londahl said.