When the Holiday's are Hard: How to Encourage Friends Who are Hurting

There are so many things I love about the holidays. The decorations, the warmth, the music, the cheer, the family, the gifts, the cookies! But for some, the holidays can be a particularly tough time of year because it puts emphasis on things or people they miss. It can often magnify wounds, even if they thought they were dealt with or seemingly fine during other parts of the year. My hope in this post is to share some ways that you can come alongside your people during the holidays and either encourage them in their struggles or know how to care deeper for them. I've asked some of my dear friends who have walked through grief or hardship to share some thoughts on this below. Some of them have lost babies or loved ones, have experienced broken engagements, or are single mamas just trying their best every day. Each is a little different and I pray this inspires you to reach out to your friends who might be having a bit of a harder time this season.

I've learned so much from these friends and family of mine. Not only about what it looks like to trust God in the midst of pain, but also how to care for others when they enter difficult seasons as well. Many years ago I had a friend who lost her twins at 23 weeks. I had only had one friend walk through miscarriage or loss at this point in my life and I felt ill-equipped to be a friend to her in this time of such deep loss. I asked God to help give me the words (or not-- sometimes listening is best), and He taught me so much about what being there for someone looks like. The main thing I learned was just to show up, say their names, be there for her even if I didn't know what to say and treat her like a normal person. I learned great joy and sorrow can coexist. A couple of years ago my husband lost his father to cancer and after trudging through that grief more personally, I realized through our own experience that people don't really know how to walk alongside someone in pain. Usually they don't want to bring it up, so they shy away from the subject all together. We have the chance to really make a difference in the life of our friends and family when we enter into their struggles with them. 

I'd like to introduce you to some of my friends and their stories below. And I'd love to hear from you in the comments if you have helpful things to add. We're all in this together!


 The holidays are synonymous with joy and happiness, but when you're going through a tough season of life it can feel anything but. Last year, I miscarried our son days before Thanksgiving. To say it was a hard holiday season would be an understatement. It was unbearable. The thought of plastering on a smile and making small talk with acquaintances seemed impossible. -- Casey

Here are some of the ways I coped through the holiday season...

- RSVP "No" and don't feel bad about it. It's perfectly fine if you want to opt-out of family parties or work parties this year. Focus on only doing things that lift you up. If that means staying in for a month and watching old movies...do it (that's exactly what I did!). 
- If you're battling infertility or miscarriage, the same goes for baby showers at any time during the year. Send a gift, but don't ever feel obligated to put yourself in that tough situation.
- Get out of town. My husband and I took a trip to Quebec City after Christmas last year. Having something to look forward to was helpful during December and we also had something happy to talk about as we planned our trip.
- Talk to someone. When we experienced our miscarriage, we immediately found a therapist. This was incredibly helpful to validate our feelings and learn coping techniques for getting through each day.


My dear friend Lauren’s daughter, Madelyn Faith, was born into the arms of Jesus in January 2018 at 19 weeks.

- One of the most meaningful things for me is when a friend mentions Madelyn’s name. I think about her every day, and it means so much to know when my friends are reminded of her too. 

- Write down important dates and reach out on their birthday, anniversary, etc.  

- Give a gift - Last Christmas our dear friend gifted us a special ornament to remember Madelyn. It was engraved with her name, birth date, and a verse we had chosen for her. Other gifts I’ve received are a birthstone necklace, a blanket with a personalized message, Christmas ornaments, small handmade baby blanket. 


Less than 2 years ago, I experienced profound grief after a broken engagement. Over time, I’ve gained a better understanding of why the grief shattered so many layers of my heart. The healing process continues. -- my Aunt Carol

Reflections on what promoted healing:
1. I love books. God pointed me to authors who became companions. In each of the author’s lives, prior to their loss and grief, they were deeply rooted in their faith.  Their vulnerability in sharing experiences of what felt like God’s abandonment resonated with me. Reading through the pages of how their journey ultimately brought them back to the goodness of God, brought hope in my pain.Although their losses were deaths of loved ones, I also lost someone who held my heart and was no longer there.
Perhaps these books might be helpful for another:
The Other Side of Grief by Elizabeth Fitch (especially her Reflections at the end)
A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
2. Elizabeth Fitch helped me choose to move toward God, even on days when I didn’t feel like it. She said: “Sooner or later grief comes to everyone. Pain causes us to hide and we can choose our hiding place, either by throwing the full weight of our grief on God or on yourself and the places of isolation where you choose to hide.” On the days I choose to move towards God, I gained a deeper understanding of why His presence was a comfort. He had been here before at the cross, feeling rejected and abandoned. He showed up at times in unexpected ways- through an unexpected phone call, a flower delivery, a card or text with just the right words, or a friend offering a future hope and vision I desperately needed.
What Did Not Help Promote Healing:
Hearing cliches like “time heals”, and “this will only make you stronger” made me feel worse. Though well intended, I also resisted hearing familiar Bible verses such as “All things work together for good to those who love him”.  While I believe God, in his sovereignty, is working out HIS purposes in my life for the  best (to become more like Him) at the time, nothing felt good about it. 

My good friend, Jess, is a single mama to two daughters she adopted through foster care and she continues to foster children, providing them with a loving home. Being a single mom comes with exhaustion, financial strain and many more emotions. Here are some things she told me are encouraging to her:
- When friends check in with us or include/invite us in/to things, I feel really seen and loved. Seeing my friends and family pour into my daughters' lives, especially good men since I am single, warms my heart. 

- Sometimes people just tell me that I'm "super mom" or they "can't believe how I do it all". This isn't helpful. I'm just doing what I feel called to do. What IS helpful and encouraging is when friends are willing to listen to and acknowledge the hard parts of being a single mom and foster mom without judgement. When people step up to really listen and then help when they can, that is humbling and so impactful to me and the girls. 


My husband and I have walked through the loss of 3 precious babies through miscarriage in the past year and a half. We have learned a lot about working through and processing grief and how each person needs something different. -- my sweet friend from church

Things that my husband and I found unhelpful and helpful vary because we relate differently, so I put them into “His” and “Hers” categories:

Unhelpful to Him:
  • When people would make it about themselves - they would try to relate by sharing something similar (but not the same), but it would just feel like they were trying to share their sadness and that they could relate, instead of entering into your grief with you. 
Unhelpful to Her:
  • When people said silver lining phrases like “well you can always try again” or “at least it was early on”. Those kind of statements really invalidated my pain and made me feel guilty or weird for grieving. It also made me sad because they were forgetting that I wanted to know and raise THAT baby and I would never get that chance.
  • Sometimes people would suggest things that could be wrong with my health or things that they had figured out about their health; that would make me feel guilty and like it was my fault that this had happened in the first place. If you’ve had a miscarriage you are already struggling with those thoughts, so you need people to speak truth and not contribute to those lies.
  • It was tough when people avoided asking me how I was or what I was feeling. I think this was particularly difficult because grief is meant to be entered into, just like joy is meant to be entered into.
Helpful for Him:
  • It was helpful to neither avoid it or push him into talking about it. It was great when friends would ask him if he wanted to talk or if he would rather not and just spend time with him instead. 
Helpful for Her:
  • It was so helpful for me when people would acknowledge our loss and would ask me what I needed that day or week. Each day was so different for me; sometimes I would want to talk and process and others I was too deep in grief. But when friends asked, I felt loved.
  • When friends gave little gifts to encourage my heart. One friend gave me a beautiful necklace to help me remember my baby by, and she also included a gift bag with other sweet things.
  • Meals were so helpful for the first few weeks when I was in pain physically and very emotional.
  • It was so helpful for friends and family to enter into the grief with me; especially my husband.
  • Remembering and being reminded where my babies are - free from pain and with Jesus.

My husband and I both agree that being helpful comes down to knowing and talking to the people in your life that are grieving on a regular basis, to know what they specifically need at that time. Also, just being there to love and listen to them makes such a difference.


My dad passed in 2015 and my mom passed in 2017. The holidays never get “easier” without them and I will always wish they were here. What keeps them alive are the conversations my siblings and I have about our holiday traditions and memories. We laugh, cry and reminisce as we attempt to establish new traditions that blend with the ones we grew up on.

It means so much to me when people ask questions about my parents’ lives rather than shying away from the topic because they’re not here. If you’re unsure of how to approach to topic of loss during the holidays (or in general), here are a few ideas that you could use to support someone who is missing a loved one. -- Georgia Mae

Kind gestures around the holidays:
  • We had a family friend that sent us a bunch of stocking stuffers since it was the first year my mom wasn't there to do that for us
  • A friend had a tree planted to honor my dad around the holidays
  • Friends rallied together to treat me to get my hair done
  • People sent meal deliveries, movie tickets or gift cards to restaurants for us to spend time together 
  • Simple, thoughtful texts that they were thinking of us during the holiday season (even years later this still means SO much)
Questions to ask around the holidays:
  • How can I support you this holiday season?
  • Can I help your family set up for the holidays? (maybe there is something their loved one did like string the lights that you can relieve for them)
  • What were some special traditions you shared with your loved one? 
  • How are you feeling as the holiday season approaches? 
  • What's most difficult this year regarding the holidays? (if their loss was more than a year ago)
  • What is your favorite holiday memory with your loved one? 
  • If you knew their loved one, share one of your favorite memories you had with them

For my husband, he says he most appreciates when people naturally bring up his dad, mentions something that reminds them of him, or ask him questions about what he was like. He feels like this shows the people haven't forgotten about him, because he certainly hasn't. I make an effort to let him know when something he does reminds me of his dad or share a memory (like going to the tree farm) with him and his dad and how special that was to me. His dad's birthday is around Christmas, so we always do something to celebrate his life. This year he went to dinner with one of his brothers (the rest of the family got sick) and they reminisced about their favorite memories. Usually we will also get together on the day he passed away to honor his life and again, remember who he was to each of us. 

One thing my husband said isn't helpful is when people go on and on about how sorry they are for him, especially someone he doesn't know well. He never wants someone to feel really bad for him. He says it's nice to hear someone's condolences and acknowledge his dad's death, but he'd rather not have people dwell on how hard this must be for him. McCann will talk to me or his close buddies to process grief and sad moments, but he never wants to feel like someone is pitying him. Obviously it is hard to lose a parent, but he'd rather discuss the really hard parts on his terms. 


I think remembering that each person's grief or struggles are different and so we have to treat them differently is important to remember. What one person finds helpful might not be considered helpful for someone else. In order to enter into someone's pain, we need to try to know and understand them. I think some of the best takeaways for me as I read through my friends' words and try to improve on this myself are the following:

- Just show up for your people. If you feel prompted to reach out or do something for them, do it. Don't put it off. They probably could use your support!
- Don't shy away from saying names of loved ones who have passed away or tell a mom you're thinking about their heavenly babies. They want to know they aren't forgotten.
- Grief never just goes away, but people will learn how to cope with the loss or struggles as time goes on. You're never too late to step in and encourage someone or ask someone how you can support them.
- Asking questions (like my friend Georgia Mae outlined above!) is healing. Not invasive questions, but questions that prompt your friends or family to share memories of their loved ones.
- Reminding friends of Gospel truths while walking through hard times trumps all. Saying cliches like "time will heal" or "everything happens for a reason" probably won't help; in fact, they'll probably make the person feel like you can't ever understand their pain. But telling them that you're praying for them and that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them and sees them and there is hope in Heaven...that is solid truth worth reminding them of. 

I hope this helps you walk with your friends or family through life's valleys or if you are going through a hard season right now, I hope you read this and felt seen. You are not alone in your suffering. Please reach out if you need prayer this holiday season (or any time!)


interior design website / services / portfolio


  1. I appreciate this post, so much! I have lost both of my older siblings - one at age 13 and one at age 28, both unexpectedly. It has made the nostalgia and longing for childhood memories and traditions during the holiday season so strong it is hard not to collapse under the weighted pressure I often feel sitting on my chest. I have learned to try to release this pressure and one of the best ways is in sharing - so you sharing these stories, though difficult, is a true and thoughtful acknowledgement of how challenging these times can be for many people. Keeping memories of loved ones lost alive throughout the holidays and weaving former, missed traditions into new, happy ones is such a special way to feel what needs to be felt and to also make an effort to enjoy the special season as those who have gone before us would surely want. <3

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I'm so very sorry for the loss of your precious siblings. I'm so glad this post was helpful and encouraging to you! I wrote it for people just like you, so that hopefully your close communities will come around you and support you by sharing memories, bringing cards or kind words of thinking of you on these hard days. You're so right-- sharing memories is the sweetest balm to a heart missing a loved one. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas this year, thinking of your siblings and all the joyful times you shared with them. I'll be praying for you! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. xoxo


Thank you for stopping by! If you have a specific question, please email me at hello@michaelanoelledesigns.com. I always reply to emails! Have a blessed day! xoxo

Back to Top