November 28, 2012

Blue Christmas fosters hope in time of sorrow

As published in The Erin Advocate

It's not about crying the blues, feeling sorry for yourself or taking a bah-humbug approach to the holiday season, but finding a way to deal with the reality that the festive frenzy of Christmas can be very stressful for people recovering from a loss in their lives.

The Blue Christmas Service will be held this Sunday, December 2, in the lower hall at All Saints Church on Main Street in Erin, starting at 7 pm.

It is a reflective Christian service, with music, readings and candle lighting, honouring our sorrows and finding cause for hope. It may be of interest to people who do not rely on organized religion for their spiritual needs. For more information, call Irene at 519-855-5985.

Losses, of course, encompass much more than the death of a family member or friend. There can be loss of a job, loss of a relationship, loss of worldly goods, loss of reputation or loss of self respect.

People and things in our environment give us a sense of who we are, so even when we know in our minds that change is natural and inevitable, it is still an emotional shock – a threat to our identity. I will be speaking briefly at the service, about how a time of crisis can sometimes help people deepen their faith and relationships with others.

Today, I'm finishing a series about a panel discussion on depression, held last month by the Family Health Team. Rev. Amy Cousineau, who will also be speaking at the Blue Christmas Service, was on that panel to tell of her own struggle with depression, and her husband Fred provided insight on supporting a partner in crisis.

That crisis started in 2006 with news of her mother's terminal illness, and the need to take time off from her job as Rector at All Saints' Anglican Church in Erin. Shuttling to Florida to care for her Mom was very stressful. When her Mom died after six months and Amy returned to work, she was constantly tired. The situation was compounded within a few months by the death of her best friend.

"I felt like I had been knocked down with a blow to the stomach, and I couldn't get up," she said. "If any little thing went wrong, I would get very angry, or start crying, but still I kept on working."

She had anxiety episodes where she would start to shake, and her weight was dropping. She cut back to part time, then went onto long-term disability, and later resigned her job.

"My expectations of myself were outrageous," she said. "I was not paying attention to my body – it was telling me something was wrong."

Support came from her family, her congregation and her faith in God, although that faith seemed more theoretical than practical at the worst times.

"I couldn't imagine any way to survive, but people were holding me up," she said. "It was horrible, such an awful dark place to be."

Fred said that his faith was certainly "stretched" as he experienced all these events and stages with Amy.

"The grief counselling that we went to really helped me – it helped Amy too, but she was in a completely different state, which we didn't realize at the time," he said. "Amy had always been this self-motivated work-a-holic, very confident, a super woman. She always pushed me. That all changed, to a person who was saying they couldn't do this anymore. There was also fear there. Every day was different. I listened a lot."

He offered frequent reassurance of his support, as Amy tried various strategies. He had to give up some things, but made sure to take some time for himself, to do things he wanted to do. Last year, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

Additional help came from her family doctor, a personal counsellor, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, exercise, yoga, massage, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine herbs and acupuncture. She learned how to live with depression.

"I know what my limits are and I honour them. I had to make adjustments to my life and understand myself in a very different way."

Now, she works as a freelance priest and spiritual director, doing weddings and funerals for people who do not have a church connection, hosting retreats and workshops, and doing guest preaching.

In a sermon published on her website ( she sums up her recovery: "I slowly came out of the dark, into the light. I emerged from that dark cave I was in and began to live again. It was a kind of resurrection."