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EDITORIAL: Community members offer a collective hug to grieving family

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy.

But with last week's tragedies, both on the local and on the national scene, the emotion of joy has been replaced with worry, sadness and fear.

The Sandy Hook Elementary mass murder had us all shaking our heads and asking "Why?" The weekend's news was filled with details that were disturbing and, at times, beyond comprehension.

Closer to home, the death of a young 4-year-old boy had community members grieving and struggling to find ways to support a young family that had suffered through the unimaginable.

On a township road in St. Croix County, between 60 and 70 people stood with candles lit to show their support for the Fitzgerald family. It was a brief gathering, but one that appeared to mean the world to the grieving couple.

Community members, some of them strangers to the family, were there to offer a collective hug and a supportive shoulder to cry on. It was both a touching and highly emotional scene.

A few hours later, in Connecticut, President Barack Obama did a commendable job of supporting the families who lost loved ones in the killings. It has to be a difficult assignment to offer the collective condolences of the entire country, but Obama hit the right tone during his remarks Sunday night. As sobbing could be heard throughout the auditorium, Obama slowly read the names of each of the victims. It was a somber moment that helped the nation better understand the gravity of what had occurred in Newtown.

As Christmas nears, we are left to wonder how we're supposed to reconcile our feelings of grief with the joy of Christmas, a time that promises a pathway to eternal life with God in heaven.

The grief we feel is by no means misplaced. Each of us wishes that there was some concrete way that families struggling through such terrible tragedies can feel the love and support we so much want to provide.

Perhaps the best thing we can do in the end is not to forget. Families that encounter such tragedies usually find plenty of comfort in the days and weeks that follow an incident. But it's those months and years after such tragedies that a supportive telephone call, or a kind letter or email, could mean the difference between hope and despair.

As we look toward Christmas, our prayer is that the Fitzgeralds and others who have suffered great loss will feel the community's collective hug for a long time. It is such support from friends, fellow church members and complete strangers that will make a difference in the grieving process.

It is the kind of gift that you won't find under next Tuesday's Christmas tree, but it's a gift that would please God in heaven and make each of our lives on earth more joyful.