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Grief shared is grief diminished

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”

This Psalm verse (34:19) has dominated my thoughts of late. In contrast to the “fa-la-la-ing” and the festive scenes that fill our days as we approach Christmas, there’s another reality, known as “blue Christmas.”

Some churches host “blue Christmas” services on Dec. 21, the longest night of the year. It’s a time for people to step away from the lights and jolliness to acknowledge the “darkness” or “tough things” in life that come from the death of loved ones, illnesses or loneliness. In these prayer celebrations, attendees are reminded of Advent hope that reassures them not only of the presence of Christ, the Light of the world, but of a supportive community that walks with them.

The tornados this past weekend stirred in me this idea of a “blue Christmas.” I thought of people who died, those who were injured and all who lost their homes. And as I wrote Christmas cards, I realized how many families and friends would be experiencing their first set of holidays without some loved ones. These and other sorrows battered my spirit.

But there is a cure for sorrow that’s expressed in this Chinese tale:

After her only son died, a woman went to a holy man and asked, “What prayers, what magical incantations do you have to bring my son back to life?”

Instead of trying to reason with her, he said, “Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. We’ll use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.”

The woman left immediately to find this magical seed. Her first stop was at a massive mansion. She knocked on the door and said, “I’m looking for a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place?”

The residents replied, “You’ve certainly come to the wrong house.” Then, they described all the tragedies that had befallen them.

The woman said to herself, “Who better to help these poor, unfortunate people than I, who have had misfortune of my own?” So, she stayed to comfort them, then went on in search of a home that had never known sorrow.

But no matter where she went, she found one story after another of sadness and misfortune. Ultimately, she became so involved in ministering to other people’s grief that she forgot all about her quest for the magical mustard seed, never realizing that it had, in fact, driven the sorrow out of her life. (Story found in Brian Cavanaugh’s “The Sower’s Seeds.”)

It’s likely in these days that we’ll encounter someone experiencing a “blue Christmas.” Instead of avoiding the person or sidestepping their sorrow, offer to simply listen.

Later, we might recite this “blue Christmas” prayer with them, submitted online by Jerie Lukefahr, which reads in part:

God of comfort, come gently among us. . . . When lights and decorations fail to delight our senses, and serve only to deepen our pain and grief, restore our souls. . . .  When we are worn out and beat down, surround us with your peace. When our doubts outweigh our hopes, increase our faith. When we have no energy left to love, love us all the more. When we cannot bring ourselves to pray, pray for us.”

For all those whose Christmas this year will be blue, know that many stand side by side with you.

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

1 Comment

  • This is a wonderful little article and I am very pleased to have stumbled across it. Only recently did I hear about the “Blue Christmas” event – and hopefully can attend one this Christmas. I agree that a grief shared is one that diminishes in terms of its intensity. Alas, in November 2021, I found my partner had said his final Goodbye as he lay down to die in a world full of Japanese toys and 1950s children’s books. Before this, my mother died in September and our little dog was euthanized in October of the same year. Then my doctor and a psychologist strongly encouraged me to move from our house (our Home) for my own mental health. To top it off, I had to get rid of some 2500 books so that I could move into an affordable flat.This simply added to my grief now well out of my control.

    So I can understand and appreciate the huge toll of grief and its attendant life-changing impacts, not only emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, but likewise financially. The story of the woman going from house to house and how it lessened her grief as she listened, this is so poignant. I now attend a Suicide Loss Support Group and it is there that I hear stories and my heart begins to break for the other members, and in breaking, it somehow magically starts to heal within the confines of my own grief experience.

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and insightful story.

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