Gayle Montgomery has an idea for the holiday season when it isn’t so merry: Rethink it.
The River Hills Community Church pastor wants to share “a different way to do Christmas,” particularly for people who have lost loved ones, a marriage, a career or dreams.
“It’s just a time for people to get real about the way they’re feeling,” Montgomery said. “Everybody’s ringing bells and lights are sparkling everywhere you go, and you are not feeling that at all.”
A quiet Christmas service will be held at 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at the church, 104 Hamilton’s Ferry Road. It will be slower, more contemplative and calmer than a traditional Christmas event. Church members will pray with anyone who needs it. Guests will get a small gift to help them re-imagine their holidays apart from feelings of loss.
“We acknowledge we all live in this really broken world,” Montgomery said, noting the first Christmas was far more difficult than the storybook version many celebrate now. “Jesus came into a dark world to bring light.”
Montgomery’s idea for starting new Christmas traditions and dealing with loss come from personal experience. In 2004, her sister became a widow unexpectedly just before the holidays. The following year, Montgomery lost her mother.
“She made all the wheels turn and the lights blink,” Montgomery said. “There’s still a hole there for our family.”
Christine Allen, therapist at Lake Wylie Counseling, said even the word holiday can bring a mixture of emotions from stress to excitement to a “flood of memories.”.
“When a person suffers a loss, these memories and emotions are significantly magnified,” Allen said. “For the person struggling with a loss, especially if it is a fairly new loss, there are added feelings of confusion, guilt, anxiety and overwhelming sadness.”
Some may decide not to celebrate, or feel guilt for doing so, Allen said. Anxiety and overwhelming sadness are common.
“I do believe it is more difficult to deal with grief during the holidays,” Allen said. “However, I have found through my practice, as well as personal experience, that all milestone events are difficult after the loss of a loved one.”
Montgomery hopes the upcoming service will re-frame the holidays for those who need it. She encourages people to name what they’ve lost, then begin sorting through ways of overcoming. There’s no way to avoid the holiday season, she said, but there are ways to experience it without the hurt.
“There’s literally no way to go to sleep before Thanksgiving and wake up after New Year’s,” Montgomery said.
Allen said the upcoming service, or efforts like it to deal with loss, are “very much needed.”
“It’s like taking time to remember our loved ones and supporting others who have also had a loss and understand the mixed bag of emotions that is the reality of holidays and grief,” she said.