April 21, 2018
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Holiday church service caters to those fighting sadness

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

CORINTH, Maine — The Blue Christmas service Sunday at the United Methodist Church won’t feature the song of the same name made famous by Elvis Presley.

But some of the sentiment behind the lyrics, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you” most likely will be felt by people at the service.

Clergy, counselors and social workers know that the holiday season is not a time of thanks and celebration for everyone. For many, Christmas and New Year’s can be lonely, discouraging times of isolation, according to Len Kaye, professor of social work and director of the University of Maine Center on Aging.

Homebound elders, people with debilitating health problems, newly divided families or people who recently have lost a loved one are among the many who may feel they have little to celebrate with friends and family members, he said recently.

“The holidays can bring back memories of healthier, more active, more socially enriched times in the lives of older adults and can underscore some of the harsher realities of aging, including physical decline, loss of loved ones, … increased economic difficulty, and above all a sense of separation or isolation from the hustle and bustle of daily life,” he said.

In the case of families that have experienced death or divorce, family gatherings don’t necessarily mitigate loneliness, according to Nancy Webster, a Bangor child and adolescent psychotherapist and University of Maine adjunct faculty member in social work.

“Holidays can exacerbate loneliness,” she said recently.

Being surrounded by family or friends can even make a depressed person, young or old, feel like just a face in a crowd, Webster said. In the case of a divided family, children’s loyalty to their parents can become an issue when they must decide in which home to spend a holiday.

“Very often, the children love both parents and don’t understand why it has to be so rigidly defined,” she said.

The short hours of daylight can increase feelings of isolation and depression. The Rev. Becky Gunn, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bangor, will hold an early solstice celebration Sunday.

“We will consider how the dark can nourish us,” as opposed to looking at it as a negative, she said Friday. “Many of us are affected by the lack of the light and we move into depression because of it. When there’s this expectation of joy around the holiday and you don’t have joy, it can make depression even worse.”

Gunn said the most difficult thing for many people is to become aware of what is happening to them emotionally and physically.

“You need to become aware that you need light and also that you need to be held,” she said. “Then seek out community in which you can be held.”

Several years ago Carol Sherman, a pastoral counselor in Bangor, offered the following advice to help people cope with seasonal depression:

• Re-evaluate your to-do list and cut it in half by eliminating all those things that are not love-related.

• Be in fellowship with other people at events such as church, school or community concerts and plays, or take part in a caroling party.

• Seek out “feel-good” entertainment by reading books, listening to music or watching movies that are uplifting and offer a positive message.

• Do something new such as attending church services or special programs at churches outside your own denomination or community, such as a Christmas Eve pageant, or add a home ritual such as lighting an Advent wreath and saying the accompanying prayers.

The Blue Christmas service will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday at Corinth United Methodist Church, 275 Main St. The Welcoming the Dark service will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 120 Park St., Bangor.

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