Two mothers who both lost their sons join up to host Blue Christmas program at Crystal Lake coffeeshop

The event at AROMA Coffee & Wine hopes to create space where no one has to pretend to be cheerful

Dawn Kincaid and Lisa Orris inside AROMA Coffee & Wine, in Crystal Lake, on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. Orris, has organized a Blue Christmas for anyone in the community that deals with sadness and grief during the holidays on Sunday, Dec. 17 at Kincaid's AROMA.

Oakwood Hills resident Lisa Orris didn’t know what to do when the holidays came around after her 26-year-old son Billy died in a motorcycle crash in August 2015. As a pastor of Hope Church in Crystal Lake at the time, she decided to host a Blue Christmas event to have people who are experiencing grief come together.

“I can’t be the only one that doesn’t think this is the most wonderful time of the year,” she said.

Since then, Orris has been hosting Blue Christmas events every year. After stepping down as a pastor from Hope Church to focus her attention on her nonprofit Silver Lake Retreat, Orris was looking for a place where she could continue her Blue Christmas tradition.

Orris discovered AROMA Coffee & Wine in Crystal Lake and also learned that owner Dawn Kincaid had also lost her son, Connor.

“It’s like everything aligned and was meant to be in a really painful way,” Orris said.

When Connor died in 2016 at age 22, Kincaid participated in a Blue Christmas event at a church.

“It gave me the opportunity to set time away for myself,” she said. “So many people need that time and space that they thought they didn’t have.”

This is the third year the Blue Christmas event will be hosted by AROMA, which opened in Crystal Lake in 2019 at 77 E. Woodstock Street.

The event is meant for anyone experiencing grief and doesn’t always have to be from a death, Kincaid said. From loss of relationships to anyone feeling the tension between happiness and grief during the holiday season, the event aims to allow people to decompress.

“It’s balancing the blue with the merry and bright,” she said.

The event will start at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17 at the coffeeshop. Speakers, including Orris, will share their personal stories of loss while also embracing hope for the future. Attendees can light candles to honor loved ones they have lost, Orris said.

Over the years, Orris has seen a steady increase in attendance, but notes that it is still difficult for a lot of people to admit they need support during the holidays.

“Our culture does not normalize grief,” she said. “It’s so brave to even come to something like this … especially this time of year.”

Kincaid said what helps her get through the holidays is giving herself time to think and feel as opposed to avoiding the feelings.

The event will have support from NAMI and One Million Monarchs, two local nonprofits that provide resources for people experiencing grief. That way, attendees can become aware of the consistent support that is locally available after the event, Orris said.

Her nonprofit, Silver Lake Retreat in Oakwood Hills, also helps people experiencing grief with support groups and retreat options.

Orris has seen Blue Christmas events in churches but never in public spaces. The coffeeshop can make it easier for people to attend and make people more comfortable.

“It’s part of the community where a normal Christmas party would be normally held, but yet we’re doing something that’s a little different and honoring people’s pain rather than celebrating,” Silver Lake Retreat co-leader and Blue Christmas organizer Randi Fike said.

Fike aims to create a healing space by sharing grief stories and light candles to show people that they are not alone in their pain. She hopes that as word of the event grows, more people will know that spaces and resources are there for them.

Orris notes that this time of the year holds the longest nights and shortest days. By creating a space where people don’t have to pretend to be cheerful, she hopes to give some hope.

“Even in the darkness, we’re going to try to see the light,” she said.

Blue Christmas event

What: A space for people “to honor their pain, but also embrace hope for the future,” featuring stories of comfort and hope

When: Sunday, Dec. 17. Doors open 4:30 p.m. program starts at 5 p.m.

Where: AROMA Coffee & Wine, 77 E. Woodstock Street, Crystal Lake

Cost: Free