‘Blue Christmas’ offers solace after rough year

Courtesy of Stephanie Dial

The chaplains at Mercy Regional Medical Center have prepared the chapel for the Blue Christmas service they will hold Tuesday. The service offers a place to acknowledge the losses and pain people have experienced during the year.

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

“Have a holly jolly Christmas!” “Merry Christmas!” “Happy holidays!”

For some people, those greetings only serve to magnify feelings of loss or pain.

“The Blue Christmas service acknowledges that the holidays can be difficult for those who grieve,” said Chaplain Diana McKenna, director of Mercy Regional Medical Center’s Spiritual Care Department.

The annual Blue Christmas service is Tuesday. The service is designed for those mourning something: “A death, a broken relationship, the loss of a pet, illness, unemployment, loneliness or even the loss of a dream,” McKenna said.

A Blue Christmas service is a time to honor those feelings and find solace in prayer, readings and music reflecting the reality of the season for those dealing with hard times.

In a tradition spanning a decade, two Blue Christmas services will be offered in Durango; the other is at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Dec. 19.

“I remember one year, a first responder was sitting next to a woman who had lost a loved one,” said Stephanie Dial, a chaplain at Mercy. “He told her to talk about it because there’s more room out here than there is in there.”

Mercy asks a member of the hospital staff who has experienced the death of a loved one to speak about the experience at the service each year. Two years ago, Bruce Nielsen talked about the loss of his son in a hiking accident.

“He was tearful and spoke about his great love for his son,” Dial said. “Then he went to the place of his faith and how it had helped him. He talked about regaining hope.”

Nielsen found the experience to be a healing one.

“I just want to be there to support those who are dealing with tragedy,” Nielsen said. “I want to show that you can come through it and be fine.”

Nielsen, who helped build the new Mercy Regional Medical Center and now works in facilities management there, admits he is different from other people.

“I’m not really depressed at Christmas,” he said. “I look at life a little differently. Just because my son was killed, he’s not just gone. He’s still around.”

But even so, it takes one who understands to help.

“Unless you’ve been through it, you have no idea,” he said. “Being able to help others really feels good.”

Dial said that safe place of sharing with people who are going through the same thing is a powerful part of the appeal of a Blue Christmas service.

“We once had a family who lost two loved ones in a year at Mercy,” she said. “They were from Gallup (N.M) and drove in just for the service because they felt it was important to honor those they lost. Then they had some refreshments, got in the car and drove back.”

Why is Mercy holding the service for the 10th year?

“We chaplains are very close to the experience of loss,” Dial said. “We each have experienced loss of our own and hold a tender place in our hearts for those who come. We are companions to one another on the journey.”

abutler@durangoherald.com

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