St. Edward’s Advent wreath candles were utilized during a Liturgy of Remembering ceremony as part of the parish’s Blue Christmas Celebration. Four candles in total were lit: the first candle was to remember loved ones who were lost, the second to redeem pain from a loss, the third to remember oneself during the Christmas season, and the fourth to remember one’s faith and the gift of hope given through the story of Christmas.
St. Edward’s Advent wreath candles were utilized during a Liturgy of Remembering ceremony as part of the parish’s Blue Christmas Celebration. Four candles in total were lit: the first candle was to remember loved ones who were lost, the second to redeem pain from a loss, the third to remember oneself during the Christmas season, and the fourth to remember one’s faith and the gift of hope given through the story of Christmas.

It’s a familiar refrain every December: the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet in the midst of Christmas wonderment, it can be easy to forget the many parishioners in the Albany Diocese who are struggling with grief and loss.

To that end, Maria College in Albany and St. Edward the Confessor parish in Clifton Park are offering events for local Catho­lics who find the holidays to be a bittersweet time of year.

Coping with Loss

For the past four years, Maria College has hosted “Coping with the Holidays after Loss,” an hour-long program organized by Eileen A. Clinton, a bereavement professor at Maria College, and Sister Victoria L. Battell, RSM, chief mission officer. This year’s program was held Nov. 26 on the college’s Albany campus and focused on strategies for coping with pain and loss during the holiday season, and setting goals for managing one’s pain. 

“A lot of people are struggling,” said Sister Victoria. “It’s just part of our Catholic faith that we reach out to those in need.”

The event focuses around four main coping strategies:
•  acknowledging one’s grief or feelings and talking with family
•  gathering knowledge on the various methods for dealing with grief
•  remaining positive and focusing on getting through the holidays
•  choosing to focus on being proactive, and making plans for the future. 

When setting goals, attendees are reminded: “be gentle with yourself and others” as everyone grieves differently, said Sister Victoria. “This is a difficult time for everybody, but this is a place they can feel heard,” she said.

Other suggested goals include not being afraid to ask for help, focusing on reducing stress levels and setting realistic expectations for the holiday season.

Changes in holiday traditions are a large focus of the coping program. Since so much of the holiday season revolves around traditions, the loss of a loved one may make it difficult to experience the traditions that once meant so much.

Annual traditions often include “very simple things,” such as who carves the turkey or who distributes presents each year, said Sister Victoria. But when the loved one taking on that role is lost, it can be hard to deal with the void.

Things like leaving a plate at the dinner table in memory of a loved one, or forging new traditions in honor of a lost loved one can help the mourning process while still keeping traditions alive. Other actions, like volunteering, journaling, and recounting past stories of a deceased loved one can help with the coping process.

Sister Victoria recalled one wo­man who has attended the Maria College event every year since its inception. She said the event was her way of tracking how much she’s improved from last year.

“I think it’s helping people to feel heard,” said Sister Victoria. 

Blue Christmas

Linda and Tom Molloy, parishioners of St. Edward the Confessor parish, also saw a growing need in their community for those dealing with loss and pain: “A lot of people struggle during this season,” said Mrs. Molloy. 

The couple organized the parish’s first Blue Christmas Celebration, held in sponsorship with Cursillo Movement USA, an organization that strives to empower laypeople to be active in their faith. The Molloys are both lay directors for the Albany Diocesan Cursillo Secretariat.

The Blue Christmas gathering was held Dec. 16 at St. Edward’s and was open to anyone struggling with grief, loss, unemployment, ill health or isolation during the holiday season. 

“With all the turmoil in the country and world, a little bit of hope is needed,” said Mr. Molloy.

Ten years ago, the Molloys offered a Blue Christmas event at their previous parish, Corpus Christi in Round Lake. The couple said their time volunteering with hospice and bereavement organizations made them see “such a need” for people struggling during the holidays. 

“Some people just feel isolated or lonely,” said Mrs. Molloy.

The event included Scripture readings, songs, and a candle-lighting ceremony. At the start of the session, attendees were invited to write down what was on their mind or why they came in, and place the paper in a manger. In the weeks after the event, volunteers from Cursillo will pray over the cards. 

Attendees were invited to stay afterward for refreshments and private discussion.

“We just want people to know there are people out here who care, and they have people with them,” said Mrs. Molloy. “God is with them and cares for them.”