Having a Blue Christmas

I received a flyer in the mail a few weeks ago advertising something called Blue Christmas Service, which is to be held this month at the Bow Mills United Methodist Church. This is described as a quiet church service of prayer, reflection and music for those having difficulty during this season due to grief, illness, depression, stress, family situations or other struggles. It says that this is a time to acknowledge our feelings of sadness and to remember that we are not alone.

I know what it means to be blue at Christmas. December holds memories of several special people in my life who died this month including my father, who died on Christmas Eve. Of course, this includes all deaths, not just those that occur in December. When significant people leave us, the holidays are changed forever.

This year I am thinking of a particular dear friend whose thirty year old, beautiful, vibrant married daughter committed suicide at the end of October. This is horrific and a very blue Christmas indeed for all touched by her death.

We cannot take away the blue feelings that the holidays may conjure up for the people we support through our work - and we can't take away the blue feelings that we may experience personally. Rather than looking for those prescriptive lists of how to cope with these feelings during the holidays, I offer you a list of things that often provide us with happy/sad memories at this time and ask you to share these if it is helpful, or make your own list and acknowledge rather than suppress the feelings they invoke. Whether this is a time "to get through" or a time of joyful celebration - Best Wishes for Happy Holidays to All.

  • a loved one's favorite holiday music
  • holiday photos
  • an empty seat at the table
  • an empty seat at church
  • making a favorite recipe
  • no longer having a reason to buy a favorite holiday food
  • seeing a perfect gift that you no longer have a reason to buy
  • a favorite holiday movie
  • the poinsettia that you never wanted, but he/she always brought you
  • fill in the blank _______________________________________

The websites and books below may help you feel less alone as you work through the pain of losing or grieving the loss of a loved one at any point in the year.

Links

AARP/Grief and Loss - Gives information on how to take care of yourself, how to listen to others who are grieving, normal reactions to loss, and more.

The Compassionate Friends - Grief support after the death of a child. Directs you to local chapters.

Grief And Bereavement - Support resources for grief, bereavement, and death and dying issues, including a comprehensive guide to hospice care and palliative care from Growth House, the Internet's leading portal for information about end-of-life care. Resources for death and dying, hospice and palliative care, grief, and related topics.

Grief Intensity Scale - Created by the Center for Research on End-of-Life Care at Weill Cornell Medical College, this scale helps assesses common thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of people who have lost someone important to them, and helps identify those who are at risk of developing prolonged grief disorder. 

Books

The Art of Dying: How to Leave This World with Dignity and Grace, At Peace with Yourself and Your Loved Ones by Patricia Weenolsen and Bernie S. Siegel (Paperback - October 1997)

The Art of Dying offers much information, including very practical information, for dealing with the end of life, most of which focus primarily on the spirituality of dying, and communicating with loved ones before you die.

At Home With Terminal Illness: A Family Guide To Hospice In The Home by Michael Appleton (Paperback - April 1994)
This unique, easy-to-use guide is organized alphabetically and covers all topics of concern for the caregiver of a terminally ill patient being cared for at home. Written in plain, simple English, this book contains no medical jargon to confuse the lay person.

Being a Widow by Lynn Caine (Paperback - January 1990)
This book provides solace, guidance, and direction for widows. Drawing from her own experiences, Caine outlines practical suggestions for coping with the devastating loss: finding a confidant; turning to bereavement counseling; helping children adjust through strategies she suggests. Throughout, she emphasizes the need for each woman to rebuild her shattered life in her own way.

The Bereaved Parent by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff (Paperback - Nov 1978)
Many parents feel that no one can help because no one can understand the complex ramifications of their tragedy - the exhaustion, the quarrels with mates, the sleeplessness, the panic, the inertia, the horror of laughter. The book will convince you that you can find your way back to the land of the living.

Coming of Age with Aging Parents: The Bungles, Battles, and Blessings by Gail Goeller (Paperback - 2004)
Author and hospice volunteer Gail Goeller shares the beauty and challenges of family caregiving in her witty and sensitive book, Coming of Age with Aging Parents. A must-read for anyone caring for an older loved one, its real-life stories portray everything from dealing with late-night phone calls and parental self-diagnosis to managing angry outbursts, emergencies of all sorts, caregiver burnout and end-of-life requests.

The Courage to Grieve by Judy Tatelbaum (Paperback - October 1984)
Judy Tatelbaum gives us a fresh look at understanding grief, showing us that grief is a natural, inevitable human experience, including all the unexpected, intense and uncomfortable emotions like sorrow, guilt, loneliness, resentment, confusion, or even the temporary loss of the will to live. The emphasis is to clarify and offer help, and the tone is spiritual, optimistic, creative and easy to understand. Judy Tatelbaum provides excellent advice on how to help oneself and others get through the immediate experience of death and the grief that follows, as well as how to understand the special grief of children. Particularly useful are the techniques for completing or "finishing" grief--counteracting the popular misconception that grief never ends. The Courage to Grieve shows us how to live life with the ultimate courage: not fearing death. This book is about so much more than death and grieving'it is about life and joy and growth.

Don't Take Away My Grief: What To Do When You Lose a Loved One by Doug Manning (Paperback - September 1984)
Gently, with warm, consoling, and practical guidance, Doug Manning addresses the painful, often disorientation aftermath of the death of a loved one, helping the bereaved cope with the emotions and confront the decisions that are an inevitable part of this time of radical life adjustment. Beginning with the premise that "grief is not an enemy; it is a friend. It is the natural process of walking through the hurt and growing through the walk," Manning helps readers face up to grief, move through it, and learn to live again.

Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life by Ira Byock M.D. (Paperback - March 1998)
Dying Well brings readers to the homes and bedsides of families with whom Dr. Byock has worked, telling stories of love and reconciliation in the face of tragedy, pain, and conflict.

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan (Paperback - March 1997)
Impressive insights into the experience of dying, offered by two hospice nurses with a gift for listening. The "final gifts" of the title are the comfort and enlightenment offered by the dying to those attending them, and in return, the peace and reassurance offered to the dying by those who hear their needs.

The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living by Ira Byock M.D. (Free Press - March 2004)
Powerful real-life stories culled from Dr. Byock's and other counselors' patients who used the Four Things in all sorts of life situations show the possibility of interpersonal healing and wholeness, even in the wake of tragedy or the face of death.

The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman (Paperback - June 1998)
The authors illustrate what grief is and how it is possible to recover and regain energy and spontaneity. Offer specific actions needed to complete the grieving process and accept loss.

Good Grief: A Constructive Approach to the Problem of Loss by Granger E. Westberg (Paperback - June 1979)
This book describes what happens to us whenever we lose someone or something important. We all need a better understanding of the small griefs in life as well as those larger grief experiences that can overwhelm us. Examines the stages of grief, from stage one -- a state of shock -- to stage ten -- a struggle to affirm reality.

Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold. M.D. (Paperback - September 2001)
Written for caregivers as well as the dying, Handbook for Mortals is an excellent resource for anyone facing the end of life. Warmly addressed to all those who wish to approach the final years of life with greater confidence and how to make the end of our lives a time of growth, comfort, and meaningful reflection. Readers will learn what decisions they need to face, what choices are available to them, where to look for help, how to ease pain and other symptoms, what to expect with specific diseases, how the health-care system operates, and how the entire experience affects dying persons, their families, and their friends. Filled with personal stories of how people have come to terms with dying, faced their fears, and made their choices.

How It Feels When a Parent Dies by Jill Krementz (Paperback - October 2000)
In this moving and insightful book, children speak openly, honestly, and unreservedly about their feelings and experiences after losing a parent. This book heals young people with its reality, with the variety of experiences and feelings presented, with its loving approach to the feelings they have felt but feared no one else had ever felt.

How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies by Therese Rando (Paperback - July 1991)
Whether the death was sudden or expected, from accident, illness, suicide, homicide, or natural causes, this book will help you learn to: Understand and resolve your grief; Talk to your children about death; Resolve unfinished business; Take care of yourself; Accept the help and support of others; Get through holidays and other difficult times of the year; Plan funerals and personal bereavement rituals.

Hope for Bereaved: Understanding, Coping, and Growing Through Grief by Therese S. Schoeneck (Paperback - Jan 2001)
Written by bereaved people for bereaved people who have experienced the death of an infant, child, spouse, parent, sibling, relative or friend by accident, illness including AIDS, murder and suicide. It contains realistic, helpful articles. Relatives, friends and professionals gain insights about grief and learn ways of reaching out to the bereaved.

Living When a Loved One Has Died by Earl A. Grollman (Paperback - June 1995)
Explains what emotions to expect when mourning, what pitfalls to avoid, and how to work through feelings of loss. Suitable for pocket or bedside, this gentle book guides the lonely and suffering as they move through the many facets of grief, begin to heal, and slowly build new lives.

The Needs of the Dying: A Guide for Bringing Hope, Comfort, and Love to Life's Final Chapter by David Kessler (Paperback - October 2000)

Personal stories are intertwined with practical suggestions, and specific instances are frequently used to illustrate techniques, processes, and the importance of telling your story, rather than assuming your family already knows it. Kuhl focuses particularly on coming to terms with one's past. Discussions of family histories, lifelong priorities, and difficult choices are emphasized as tools for making peace among family members and with one's own conscience. The daily life of pain management and support groups is also covered in detail, and Kuhl offers plenty of suggestions on how to begin that difficult conversation in which death is first acknowledged as a rapidly approaching fact. Written for patients and caregivers as well as friends and family, this useful guide will help everyone involved navigate the twists and turns of terminal illness.

Recovering From the Loss of a Sibling by Katherine Fair Donnelly, Paperback - November 2000)
A book for those of all ages suffering the loss of a sister or brother. It addresses the many questions, fears and feelings of surviving siblings of all ages, such as: Will this soon happen to me? It should have been me. Why wasn't it? God must have punished me for the time when I was so mean to my brother. My sister was my parents' favorite and I don't seem to count to them. At work, they have no idea what I'm going through. They think I'm just a sibling. All the focus is on my parents, not my grief.

Remembering With Love: Messages of Hope for the First Year of Grieving and Beyond by Elizabeth Levang (Paperback - June 1995)
The short 1-2 page essays and thoughts, intended to be a "thought for today" format, are especially helpful for people who, because they are grieving, may not be able to focus on longer books, for longer periods of time.

Talking about Death Won't Kill You by Virginia Morris (Hardcover - September 10, 2001)
Morris (How To Care for Aging Parents, LJ 4/1/96) makes a good point: it is better to learn about death and discuss end-of-life issues with family and friends before terminal illness or tragedy strikes. Unlike other writers on the subject, she does not cover basic care of the dying or the stages of dying and bereavement, instead discussing in simple language such issues as life-prolonging medical procedures, the necessity of creating legal documents giving instructions for final care, how to visit and relate to dying people, and how to talk to children about death. Throughout, stories of families and individuals are related to illuminate how to make decisions regarding death and dying.

Understanding Grief: Helping Yourself Heal by Alan D. Wolfelt (Paperback July 1992)
This classic resource helps guide the bereaved person through the loss of a loved one, and provides an opportunity to learn to live with and work through the personal grief process. The many written exercises in the book can be tough to work through, but they are healing. You could easily skip all the exercises and find comfort in reading the text alone. Also, very helpful in understanding and dealing with people who expect you to just "pick up the pieces" and get on with life right after the funeral. The book makes the point that Western society in general is guilty of encouraging those of us who mourn to cut our grieving process short.

When Parents Dies; a Guide for Adults by Edward Myers (Paperback - March 1997)
A practical guide for coping with the loss of a parent, this book was written by a journalist who has lost both. Edward Myers makes it clear that no matter how old we are, the death of a parent can be devastating, evoking intense and complex feelings that have long-lasting implications. Comprised of advice from therapists, practices for self-help groups and first-person accounts, Myers covers the grieving process and differentiates between the impact of sudden death and slow decline. He also offers advice for funeral planning, dividing personal property and resolving feelings such as guilt, shame and isolation.

Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Paperback - Feb 2007)
From one of America's iconic writers, this is a portrait of a marriage and a life - in good times and bad - that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child. A stunning book of electric honesty and passion. 


Bereavement, Grief and Loss - Children

Children and Grief: When a Parent Dies by J. William Worden (Hardcover - December 2001)
Worden goes beyond simply sharing the results of a longitudinal study, which in itself would be helpful. He also identifies those most at risk, and discusses models for intervention. This book is a must read' for anyone in the field of childhood bereavement.

Children Die Too by Joy Johnson (Paperback - June 1992)
For newly bereaved parents needing general grief information. Includes: Feelings, Your Other Children, Grandparents, Friends, Single Parents and Step-Parents, Taking Care of Yourself, and Searching.

The Dying & The Bereaved Teenager by John D. Morgan (Paperback - November 1990)

Helping Children Cope With the Loss of a Loved One: A Guide for Grownups by William C. Kroen (Paperback - March 1996)
Dr. William Kroen offers sound advice, comfort and compassion to any adult helping a child cope with death. Weaving in anecdotes about real children and their families, he explains how children from infancy through age 18 perceive and react to death and offers suggestions for how to respond to children at different ages and stages. Specific strategies are offered to guide and support them through the grieving process.

How Do We Tell the Children?: A Step-by-Step Guide for Helping Children Cope When Someone Dies, Third Edition by Dan Schaefer PhD, et al (Hardcover - February 2002)
Now in its third edition, this classic guide is expanded and updated to feature new material on dealing with trauma and devastation, addressing violence in schools, helping grandparents cope as caregivers, and an enlarged quick-reference "Crisis Section" with scripts, answers, and messages for young ones.

Part of Me Died, Too: Stories of Creative Survival Among Bereaved Children and Teenagers
by Virginia Lynn Fry (Paperback, 1995)
Adults will find much of interest in Fry's discussions of the particularities of children's responses to death; young mourners and their peers will be moved and fortified by Fry's thoughtfulness and honesty. 

Recovering from the Loss of a Child by Katherine Fair Donnelly (Paperback - April 2001)
When a child dies, the pain and shock can seem unbearable. But in sharing, understanding, and accepting this tragic loss, emotional recovery is possible. This book shows bereaved parents, siblings, and others how to cope with one of life's cruelest blows. With inspiring firsthand accounts from others who have survived this heartbreaking experience, this compassionate and reassuring volume can help in healing the heart--and learning to live again.

Talking about Death : A Dialogue Between Parent and Child by Earl A. Grollman (Paperback - September 1991)
Why do people die? How do you explain the loss of a loved one to a child? This book is a compassionate guide for adults and children to read together, featuring a read-along story, answers to questions children ask about death, and a comprehensive list of resources and organizations that can help.


Books for Children and Teens

A Taste of Blackberries (ages 9 - 12) by Doris Buchanan Smith (Paperback - May 1992)
In Smith's moving story, a prank ends in tragedy, and a boy must learn to live not only with the loss of a friend, but with the feeling that he could have prevented it.

Amos and Boris (ages 4 - 8) by William Steig (Paperback - September 1992)
Amos and Boris is a distillation of all the great themes of life: friendship, courage, spiritual ecstasy, the question of an afterlife ("Would his soul go to heaven? Would there be any mice there?"), altruism and love.

Charlotte's Web (ages 9 -12) by E. B. White (Paperback reprint - April 1999)
"Charlotte's Web" is a masterful blend of whimsy, humor, gentle satire, and life-and-death drama. But above all, it is a powerful story of friendship.

The Dead Bird (ages 4 - 8) by Margaret Wise Brown (Hardcover - March 2003)
Finding a still warm but dead bird, a group of children give it a fitting burial and every day, until they forget, come again to the woods to sing to the dead bird and place fresh flowers on its grave. An excellent handling of the subject of death in which all young children have a natural interest.

Everett Anderson's Goodby (baby to pre-school) by Lucille Clifton (Paperback Reprint edition - June 1988)
A simple, poetic telling of Everett Anderson's feelings as he copes with and accepts the fact of his father's death."--Childhood Education. Coretta Scott King Award; NCTE Teacher's Choice; Reading Rainbow Feature.

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf (ages 4 - 8) by Leo Buscaglia (Hardcover: 20th Anniversary Edition - August 2002)
This story is a warm, wonderfully wise, and strikingly simple story about a leaf named Freddie--how Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter's snow.

Fig Pudding (ages 8 - 12) by Ralph Fletcher (Paperback - October 1996)
In an heartwarming tale that explores the challenge of coping with death, eleven-year-old Cliff, the eldest of the six children in his exuberant, loving family, recounts an eventful year.

Hope for the Flowers (all ages) by Trina Paulus (Paperback - May 1973)
This book gives the reader an instant dose of inspiration. It is so filled with joy, hope and the power of perseverance, that it is easier to read than to describe. A perfect book for anyone dealing with anything at anytime.

How It Feels When a Parent Dies (ages 7 - 17) by Jill Krementz (Paperback - October 2000)
In this moving and insightful book, children speak openly, honestly, and unreservedly about their feelings and experiences after losing a parent. This book heals young people with its reality, with the variety of experiences and feelings presented, with its loving approach to the feelings they have felt but feared no one else had ever felt.

Losing Uncle Tim (ages 4 - 8) by Marykate Jordan (Paperback - December 1989)
Daniel tells about his friendship with his uncle and about how he learns that his uncle is dying from AIDS.

Love You Forever (ages 4 - 8) by Robert N. Munsch (Paperback - April 1988)
Love You Forever is a favorite among young children and adults alike. This is a story of a mother's love for her child as he goes through the stages of growing up. The most beautiful part of the story is when the child, all grown up - and his mother is old and frail - cares for her in the same way.

Mick Harte Was Here (ages 9 - 12) by Barbara Park (Paperback - August 1996)
With love, wit, and anger, 13-year-old Phoebe Harte describes her brother, Mick, and the effect his death has on the family. It is a bike accident that kills Mick, and Park does an excellent job of capturing the shock and dissociation that a sudden death can cause in survivors.

Missing May (ages 9 - 12) by Cynthia Rylant (Paperback Reprint edition October 1993)
Summer was a 6-year-old orphan when she met the aunt and uncle who took her home to be their child forever. Six years later when her aunt, May, dies, Summer must find her way alone through the stunned grief both she and her uncle carry inside.

The Missing Piece (ages 4 - 8) by Shel Silverstein (Hardcover - March 1976
What the circle finds on its search for the missing piece is simply and touchingly told in a fable that gently probes the nature of quest and fulfillment.

On Call Back Mountain (ages 4 - 8) by Eva Bunting (Library Binding - March 1997)
Adoring old Bosco, a fire watchman on Call Back Mountain, two boys are saddened when their friend dies but are comforted when they glimpse a running wolf that helps them realize that people who love the land will return to it.

Remembering Grandad: Facing Up to Death (ages 4 - 8) by Gianni Padoan (Hardcover - December 1990)
Promotes the process of inquiry and leads to a feeling of involvement by inclusion of questions or statements directed at the reader. Stimulates children to clarify their viewpoint and to approach these situations objectively. Stories easily relate to child's world and thus become meaningful.

The Saddest Time (ages 4 - 8) by Norma Simon (Paperback - April 1992)
The Saddest Time is a great resource to use with children that are dealing with both the potential and eventual loss of someone they care about. There are three short stories in this book. The first one deals with the loss of what appears to be a middle aged uncle, the second the unexpected and accidental death of a young child, and the third the dying and death of an older person, in this case the grandmother.

Tiger Eyes (young adult) by Judy Blume (Paperback - August 1982)
After Davey's father is killed in a hold-up, she and her mother and younger brother visit relatives in New Mexico. Here Davey is befriended by a young man who helps her find the strength to carry on and conquer her fears.

When a Friend Dies: (young adult) A Book for Teens About Grieving & Healing by Marilyn E. Gootman (Paperback - January 1994)
A simple book, just the right length, that answers all the questions teens have at this difficult time... plus the questions they are too scared to ask. With quotes from other teens, feelings and facts, permission to feel, to cry, to be scared, and most importantly, permission to go on.

Whisper from the Woods (ages 5 - 12) by Victoria Wirth, (Hardcover - October 1991)
A gentle story about the relationship between a wise old tree and the young seedlings in the forest. After supporting the young trees growing up beside him for years with his love and wisdom, the wise old tree falls one stormy night and has to rely on the others. Victoria Wirth's passionate telling and A. Scott Banfill's breathtaking paintings create a moving story about the importance of relationships and the cycle of life.

You Take the High Road (young adult) by Mary K. Pershall (Hardcover - April 1990)
Samantha, 15, believes that everything good has left the world when her baby brother dies. Sam had anticipated Nicholas's arrival every bit as much as her parents had, and witnessing his birth was like experiencing a miracle. With the help of new friends and a sensitive teacher, Sam begins to cope with her despair, but life at home remains difficult. Only by recognizing that change is inevitable does the girl come to understand the nature of loss and her parents' reactions.


Videos

A Land Before Time - Children
A cartoon about a baby dinosaur's loss and grief.

An Early Frost - Adult
A successful lawyer son comes home to make peace with his mother and disgusted, confused father who cannot reconcile himself to his son's gay lifestyle. A stark, wintry movie, its title a metaphor for a life cut short.

Charlotte's Web - Children
Charlotte's Web is a masterful blend of whimsy, humor, gentle satire, and life-and-death drama. But above all, it is a powerful story of friendship.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name - Adult
A film of a young vicar named Mark, sent to a remote Kwakiutl village not knowing he has less than three years to live. Mark becomes a part of the Kwakiutl world, learning its language and ways, and learns valuable lessons about life, death, and the transforming power of love.

On Golden Pond - Adult
Visiting his summer house by a Maine lake with his wife (Katharine Hepburn), the old man forges an unlikely bond with a lonely boy, comes to terms with his daughter (Jane Fonda), and suffers disorienting effects of mild dementia. The film addresses family conflict in a non-threatening way.

Philadelphia - Adult
In this film, Tom Hanks is a gay lawyer who is unjustly fired by his firm because he has AIDS. Denzel Washington is another lawyer who reluctantly takes the case and learns to overcome his misconceptions about the disease, about those who contract it, and about gay people in general.

Tuesdays with Morrie - Adult
After seeing his favorite college professor, Morrie Schwartz, on "Nightline," Albom discovered his long lost professor and friend is terminally ill. During their visits (every Tuesday) Morrie addresses concerns and solutions to a variety of issues including religion, family, embarrassment, relational discomfort, death of a loved one, and the process of dying. The humor throughout helps to balance the sadness of this real life story.

Letting Go - Adult

Final Blessings - Adult