Verna Poss was nervous about attending Christmas service this year.
It's her first holiday without her husband, Leslie, who died Dec. 28 after nearly 60 years of marriage, and she admitted she has "been avoiding things a little bit."
However, with some gentle prodding by her close friend, Linda Adams, who attends and works at Warrens Corners United Methodist Church, she made her way last Sunday to the quiet sanctuary where 25 other people gathered for a unique service.
The church's first "Blue Christmas" service was celebrated in a way that encouraged the expression of grief and acknowledged that not everyone is cheerful right now.
The Rev. Carl Chamberlain opened his remarks to the small gathering with the story of his own grief. His first wife died when he was 35, and some time afterward he stumbled upon a service where he found encouragement from others who were going through tough times.
"I've been down that road so many others have been down," he said. "What we're here to do is honor our emotions, memories and loved ones."
He reminded those attending that Jesus knew grief and had cried over the loss of a loved one.
"We all feel these emotions at times. The emptiness, the loneliness, the anger and frustration," he said. "Early after a loss, we expect them. Later, they come at us without warning. . . .
"They are perhaps most debilitating when community and family expect a cheery face during the holidays and family gatherings."
Mourners lighted candles in honor of loved ones, and then Chamberlain began to speak in a soft voice about a way to come out of grief.
"The emptiness we experience in our very human loss is real," he said. "Yet there is something that does fill that void. It does not come automatically, quickly or even when we want it, but it does come."
He said grief can be relieved through the two relationships Jesus recommended: loving God and caring for others.
"Certainly there are times when we need to be carried, but there are other times we can be the one sitting to listen, to weep together," he said.
Poss had tears in her eyes at the end of the hourlong service, after she had lighted a candle, prayed and had time to think.
But Chamberlain's words seemed to resonate with her as she recalled a time several years ago when a grandchild died in Children's Hospital in Buffalo, and the family lighted a candle in his memory and talked with other families.
"Some families there had lost more than one child," she said. "If you listen to someone else's problems, you realize yours might not be so bad."
Chamberlain has held services for those who are mourning for 10 years but moved to the area recently. This was the first one for Warrens Corners, a church at Routes 93 and 104.
Several members said unfortunate occurrences in their church family created a need for this type of service.
Church member Karen Wehn of Lockport lighted three candles: one for a student of hers at Buffalo State College who died two weeks ago; another for a friend who died during the year; and a third for her Grandma Hazel, who passed away a long time ago but is still missed.
"This causes us to sit down and to take time to reflect," she said. "During a time when, for spiritual reasons, there's a lot to do and people to see, it's nice to sit back and know you're allowed to be sad if you want to be sad."