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IN THE SPIRIT: Hugs can make Christmas holly, jolly time for all

The song tells us to "have a holly, jolly Christmas" because "it's the best time of the year." Those lyrics do not ring true for everyone. "Holidays are really tough," said Jan Hilde, Grand Forks. "I don't look forward to them like I did at one time.

The song tells us to "have a holly, jolly Christmas" because "it's the best time of the year."

Those lyrics do not ring true for everyone.

"Holidays are really tough," said Jan Hilde, Grand Forks. "I don't look forward to them like I did at one time. Last Christmas, we were at Rob's home where his wife still lives, and I came home just a mess. I don't think you ever get over losing a child. You just have to learn to live with it as such."

Four years ago, Jan's son, Rob Pearson, had surgery for an infected wisdom tooth. He was still in Altru Hospital doing wonderfully when a blood clot moved to his heart.

At age 41, he was gone.


"He was in the best place he could be, and they could do nothing for him," Jan said.

In January 2005, Gail and Andy Swanson, Grand Forks, lost their daughter Kristi Christianson to an aggressive form of breast cancer. She, too, was 41.

"Even while she was sick, we didn't expect it would end this way," Gail said. "It's such a traumatic thing it's hard to put into words. You always feel like she's still here, that she'll call you on the phone or walk in the door. Christmas is such an important holiday, yet it hurts because that person is not with you."

Eighteen years ago, Ruby Grove lived on the north end of Crookston. One night at 11:15 p.m., she heard a wailing ambulance rush out of town, and "I just knew," Ruby said. "I got up and got dressed."

Her 16-year-old son, Shad Thompson, was usually home at that hour. "That's the practical part," Ruby said, "but there was something else or some other voice that said, 'get up and get dressed.' "

Was it God, I asked Ruby?

"Absolutely," she said. "I think God gave me those minutes of preparation almost like he was telling me, 'Take care of these mundane things (like getting dressed) because you are going to be faced with something awful, and I want you to be prepared.'"

"Something awful" was right. Shad was a passenger in a one-car rollover. "It was back in 1989 when we didn't have the emphasis on seat belts," Ruby said. "He wasn't wearing a seat belt, and he was thrown from the vehicle."


Shad suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for six years. He died in 1996 at age 23 while living in Valley Eldercare, Grand Forks.

Some holidays are OK, she said, "and some are horrible. It varies from year to year. It's so whimsical."

Jan and Juel Hilde, Gail and Andy Swanson, Ruby and Douglas Grove, and Deb and Dan Anderson, all of Grand Forks, are the starters of a chapter of The Compassionate Friends at Calvary Lutheran Church, Grand Forks.

TCF is a national nonprofit, self-help support organization that offers friendship, understanding and hope to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. It's successful because it encourages seasoned grievers to reach out to the newly bereaved. In doing so, liveliness that has been kept within begins to flow outward and all are helped to heal.

At 7 p.m. Sunday, a candle-lighting service will be held in Calvary, 1405 S. Ninth Street. Anyone who has experienced the death of a child is welcome.

This will be part of a worldwide candle-lighting event that TCF started in 1997. Held annually the second Sunday in December, it unites people around the world. As they light candles, they remember children who have died at any age from any cause. It's believed to be the largest mass candle-lighting event in the world as it moves from time zone to time zone.

When The Rev. Jennie English approached the Hildes, Swansons, Groves and Andersons about starting a chapter, they attended a Compassionate Friends meeting in Crookston. "We left impressed," Gail recalls. "It was comforting. We shared ideas and found that everybody's concerns are similar."

Calvary's chapter has met four times, and "we've had all levels of loss," Gail added. "Some have lost just recently, some several years ago, yet all experience the same things and the need to talk about it. When you walk away, there's a better feeling."


Ruby said she'll never be over Shad's death. "It gets easier, but you never get over it. There is no magic wand. I think one of the things that draws us together is that we can talk about our children with people other than family. When you bring up the name of a child who has died with others, it sometimes becomes awkward. People don't know what to say. With Compassionate Friends, that awkwardness is not there. It's a tremendous blessing."

Gail agreed that bereaved parents want to talk about their children. "Kristi is still with me," she said. "She's in my heart, and she'll be there always. You think, God has his arms around her and in what better place could she be? You feel kind of selfish because you want her here, but you know the best place is with God.

"We just don't want to let our kids go."

Calvary also has planned a "Blue Christmas" worship service for 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

"It's a time of reflection, healing and prayer for those who are grieving or experiencing difficult times during the holiday season," Pastor English said. "As the culture around us screams, 'Merry Christmas,' we acknowledge together what is not merry for us at this time of year and hold to the promise of the Christ Child. The community is invited to this service."

Sharon Lutheran also will hold a Quiet Christmas service at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The next regular meeting of The Compassionate Friends is at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 in Calvary.

In the meantime, embrace those who try desperately to have a "holly, jolly Christmas," despite their empty hearts. They tell me hugs mean the world.


Dunavan is a Herald columnist. Reach her at (218) 773-9521 or naomiinthespirit@aol.com .

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