Duluth 'Blue Christmas' ceremony deals with grief, loss during holidays

After the Rev. Casey LaCore lost her husband of 44 years, she wanted to provide a different type of holiday service.

Pastor Casey LaCore Duluth Vineyard Church
The Rev. Casey LaCore stands next to the fireplace at the Duluth Vineyard church.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Though many find the holidays a merry time of year, for those who have recently lost a loved one or had a severed relationship, the holidays can pose a challenge.

When members of Duluth Vineyard Church noted that their church has hosted three times the number of funerals as usual, staff decided it was necessary to find a way to acknowledge this reality. Enter the "Blue Christmas" service, 6 p.m. Dec. 4, for those dealing with loss and grief this holiday season.

"It seemed right to acknowledge that and give an alternative space for people to recognize it, too," said the Rev. Casey LaCore of Duluth Vineyard Church. "Especially before we get swept into the craziness of the holiday season."

For LaCore, this service has personal implications. LaCore's husband, Mark, died somewhat unexpectedly after 44 years of marriage. Two years prior, she lost her youngest sister to cancer, and 10 years previously, she lost her mother.

"And I've always felt like, for pretty much my entire life, I've been a person who gets things done, who pushes aside any negative emotions," LaCore said. "But when my sister got sick and it seemed like she was going to die, I felt like there was an invitation from God to say, hey, it might be time to do things differently? What might it be like to feel the feelings in the midst of the sorrow. It was scary for me."


LaCore said her sister's death felt like the hardest thing she could go through until Mark got sick.

"And once again, I felt like OK, I'm going to feel how this feels," LaCore said. "I'm going to work at holding all of the sadness of this and yet also all of the joy of having lived with this man for 44 years. It put the idea in my head that you can hold joy and sorrow together and that's kind of what Blue Christmas is all about."

The Rev. Michael Gatlin of the Duluth Vineyard Church previously worked as a professional artist. He's returned to his roots and has a show on exhibit.

As the holidays approach, LaCore said she's starting to realize all the things that Mark won't be there for: putting up Christmas decorations, going to get the tree, taking the family picture. But she said she feels its important to "both recognize the changes," but to be "incredibly grateful for the time we did have."

"We can acknowledge that there's an empty place at the table," she said. "We can acknowledge the pain, sorrow, suffering and still have hope and still have joy. The ideas don't counter each other. I hope people come and find space for sorrow and for hope."

This contemplative service at Duluth Vineyard Church, 1533 W. Arrowhead Road, will include music, lighting candles of remembrance, readings, and times for reflection and prayer. More information can be found at

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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