Father John Finnell, of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in South Charleston, stands with four candles that will be lit during a "Blue Christmas" prayer service at 3 p.m. Sunday. The service is meant to help those suffering from grief during the holiday season.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Several years ago, Father John Finnell recalled meeting a family whose loved one had passed away on Dec. 25.
"The woman who had died actually had a young child, so there was great family concern about how they still could make Christmas fun for the little boy when it was a very heavy time for all of them in their hearts," said Finnell, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in South Charleston. "Every Christmas will have a sad memory for them."
Sadness can make the holidays especially hard, he said, so to let those suffering know they're not alone, Blessed Sacrament will hold a "Blue Christmas Prayer Service" at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 27.
"There's a very strong cultural influence for joy and merriment during the holiday season, which is appropriate, but when people have experienced some significant loss, or another reason for sadness, they often feel very isolated and can't get into the same merriment mood and sometimes feel angry or guilty because of their sadness," Finnell said.
Even TV commercials around the holidays can stir up emotions, according to Timothy Saar, a psychologist in South Charleston.
"From Thanksgiving on, everything is geared toward people celebrating, and sometimes TV shows will unrealistically depict what a family is supposed to be like," he said. "Not to say someone wouldn't be going through a rough time anytime they lose someone, but during the holidays those emotions are heightened."
The service will allow those in attendance to sit quietly or share their story of loss out loud or by writing it on a slip of paper.
"You don't have to come and spill your guts," Finnell said. "You can maintain complete confidentiality while at the same time feeling bonded with people in the same situation - that's the real prize of this experience.
"You don't feel isolated, but also you don't feel violated."
Having a connection with others dealing with the same feelings is important, according to Saar, who said that when he first moved to the area from Los Angeles he would get together with others from LA that have moved to the area because he didn't have any family here.
"A lot of times during the holidays, people's support systems [close friends] aren't available, because they're with their own families," he said.
In years past, around 30 to 40 have attended the prayer service. Everyone is welcome, said Finnell, who usually sees different people attend each year.
"Some people are ready to move on from their memories and some people are not. We have some repeats, but a lot of new faces," Finnell said.
Scripture and poetry will be recited to remind those suffering that they are not alone. Simply acknowledging a person's worry or sadness does a lot for the spirit, he said.
"The readings will simply speak about the sadder dimension of life," he said.
Four large candles will be lit, which will symbolize those loved and lost, redemptive pain, caring support and hope.
"Anyone who wants to can come forward to light a candle to represent themselves or someone they want to remember," Finnell said. "All of the candles will be placed on the altar so we can see everyone's sadness together, which makes you linked up with a community, rather than isolated."
The event is free and open to the public. No registration is required. Blessed Sacrament is located at 305 E Street in South Charleston.
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.