For most, the holiday season is one of cheer. For others, most notably those who have suffered a loss – be it the death of a loved one, a divorce, or other trauma – Christmas, Hanukkah, the New Year, and all the attending merriment can be insult added to injury, a constant and contrasting reminder of grief.
Reverend Erika Hewitt, minister at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Goleta, has set out to provide a comforting, open, and pressure-free environment for anyone in the community who might be grieving, and is holding a “Tender Hearts, Tender Times” service on Sunday, December 14.
“Sometimes,” Hewitt said in a recent phone conversation, “the merriness gets forced down our throats : That first Christmas [after a loss], people lose their bearings. They don’t know how it’s ‘supposed’ to be. [Live Oak] is creating space to acknowledge that.” And what makes Rev. Hewitt’s service so special is that it is just and only that – an acknowledgement of trouble and grief, without any pressure to share a story or emote. “I don’t ask questions,” she said. “And we’re not going to go around the circle and talk about it.”
That discreet and welcoming attitude has helped make Hewitt’s previous services, held in other parts of California, a success. This will be the first she’s held in the Santa Barbara area. The timing, she said, was prompted mainly by her own congregation’s needs. “This year my congregation has had a number of deaths and has been going through some rough times,” she said, adding that “the fires just make it that much more poignant.”
Hewitt also emphasized that the service is intended for anyone who would find it comforting, whether or not they’re members of her congregation or even of any. Unitarians, as she pointed out, “tend to be pretty open and on the agnostic side,” and her service is meant to be both interfaith and oriented toward mutual support, rather than religion.
“If you’re already in a place of sadness and struggle, and you’re going to be carrying this weight of loss with you,” she said, “instead of trying to deny that hole in you, why not be in loving company where everyone is longing for something, where others can bear witness and provide hope?”
Anyone who has experienced a loss can relate to her description of the sensation of emptiness and lack that attends major grief, and she hopes that the sensation of community support the service will provide can address that feeling somewhat. The service, she said, is meant to help mourners “feel more grounded, and marshal their resources to face the holiday season.”
The “Tender Hearts, Tender Times” service will be held at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, at 820 N. Fairview Ave. in Goleta, on Sunday, December 14, at 10:45 a.m. Childcare will be provided during the service. For more information, call Live Oak at 967-7867, email Reverend Erika Hewitt at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the congregation’s Web site, liveoakgoleta.org.