“Why did my child die?”
“Why did my spouse leave me?”
“Why is a loved one profoundly ill?”
Beth Hayward doesn’t even attempt to answer them.
“I don’t give people easy answers and I don’t try to explain,” Hayward said. “None of that is black and white.”
For those questions where answers are found in a grey area, there’s Blue Christmas. Now a decade on since its inception, the annual gathering at Canadian Memorial United Church is slated for Wednesday, Dec. 19.
The hour-plus gathering is equal parts safe space and support group, but ultimately Blue Christmas is whatever participants want it to be.
Some sit in groups, some sit alone. Some people talk, others remain silent.
A handful of participants only set foot in the church once a year and have no interest in spirituality.
A couple attended for the first time three years ago after the death of their infant child. They had no religious affiliation at the time and now attend services every Sunday.
“The questions people are asking are the exact same, so it doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not,” Hayward said. “Everyone is looking to connect, looking to make meaning out of their lives.”
A minster at Canadian Memorial, Hayward has headed up Blue Christmas for six years. There are some constants year over year: carols, reading from scripture, candle lighting, cookies and hot apple cider.
Anywhere from 50 to 70 people typically show up and attendees, who range in age between 20 and 80, come from all corners of the city.
Time has taught Hayward to not focus on any one emotion, type of trauma or incident. Grief inevitably seeps in, but takes different shapes.
“In recent years I’ve noticed people are coming because of loneliness,” Hayward said. “Social isolation is an overarching theme in this city.”
A couple of things that don’t seep into the proceedings — the need to be a believer or the need to participate.
“Sometimes in faith communities there’s this pressure of ‘Everyone come sit up front so we can be a community together.’ We don’t do that on this night.” Hayward said. “We totally understand that some people want to sit in the corner by themselves and be in the community that way.”
Any donations made at Blue Christmas will go towards outreach work the church community does in the Downtown Eastside. Outside of financial donations, socks are also welcome.
Blue Christmas begins at 7:30 p.m. and the church is located at Burrard Street and West 15th Avenue.