Get new posts from Carol’s Hope blog sent directly to your email inbox!

How to Help a Grieving Friend at Christmas

It was Christmas, 2005. Eighteen days after my husband had moved from my arms into the waiting arms of Jesus.

All I wanted to do was crawl under a warm blanket for about three years, until the gaping wound in my heart had healed, the elephant on my chest been removed. But grieving is a process you can’t sidestep. I found myself sleeping about eleven hours a night, often with a two or three-hour nap in the afternoon. Grief felt so HEAVY.  It weighed me down. In a daze, I moved from one thing to another, planning and communicating with friends about his memorial, filing for insurance and social security benefits, and taking care of immediate needs.

I thought my life was over. “How do you go on when half of you has been ripped away?” I sobbed. And yet, the very day of Jerry’s death God gave me Jeremiah 29:11 to claim as my own: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.” I knew that withdrawing into myself would not honor either my Jerry or my God. I stumbled on–an ache I thought would never leave my heart, tears accompanying me to bed, the body pillow I hugged a very poor substitute for that living, breathing man beside me. And yet, the God who is FAITHFUL and TRUE promised never to leave nor forsake me.

I felt His care through family and friends who loved on me, who didn’t try to “fix” me, who let me cry or talk or be silent or a distant guest, lost in my own thoughts as others laughed and talked around me. My brothers supported me in a myriad of ways during and after Jerry’s death. My nephew and niece, who rented an apartment from me, came to my back door every night for weeks, to check in and hug me. My sister-in-law and niece had prepared and frozen quite a few individual meals for me. On each Tupperware container was a scripture or note of encouragement. And, having been widowed three years earlier herself, Mom listened and prayed and grieved along with me.

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

As we celebrated Jerry’s life a few weeks after his death, I knew my family and many friends who also loved Jerry, grieved with me. But two days later, during our family Christmas, I felt like I was in a bottomless hole. With hollow, red-rimmed eyes, I watched others open gifts. Their muted affirmations of thanks swirled around me. I wasn’t quite “there.” This was my first Christmas in 24 years without him, without his laughter and teasing, his presence, his gifts, and gifts for him. It seemed surreal that life could continue when mine had been so radically altered.

It must have been hard for my loving family to watch me, as they reached out to me with hugs and tears throughout the day. They were dealing with their own loss, of a son-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle.

Friends expressed love in a variety of ways. The day after Christmas, a dear friend sat on the floor in front of me and listened. The first person to whom I told the whole story of Jerry’s last day on earth, she loved me by squeezing my hand and murmuring words of compassion as I spoke.

How about you? Are you lonely this Christmas? Can you reach out for help, to a friend, a local church, a counselor? Be with people who will allow you to grieve at your own pace and in your own way?

Conversely, if you know someone who is having a hard time this Christmas, look for ways to encourage them.

  • Don’t try to “fix” your friend. Listen meaningfully and hug appropriately.
  • And oh, avoid giving advice (unless asked) or telling the person “this must have been God’s plan.” A woman approached me very soon after Jerry’s death. asking “What is the Lord teaching you through this time?” She must have caught my look, which said “Teaching me? Friend, I’m just barely hanging on by my fingernails.” “Spiritualizing” is NOT helpful. Listening IS.
  • Prepare a meal, or invite them to attend something with you. (And if they say no, ask again later–they may not have been ready yet to do anything public.)
  • Send a card or note telling them you’re thinking of them.
  • Offer practical help, such as grocery shopping, a ride to an appointment, or help finding resources such as grief recovery groups.
  • Pray for them.
    • Now.
    • On the phone.
    • In person.
    • Privately.
    • However the Holy Spirit suggests.


Click on the link at right for more ways to help a grieving friend.






  1. Karen O'Connor says:

    Carol, this is another beautiful post–and one that hits home with me, because this year I am the griever and you are the friend grieving with me through your kindness and friendship and listening ear. Thank you. I love you and Don so much

    1. carolnl says:

      Karen, your comment is so meaningful to Don and me. We love you dearly. I feel I haven’t been there enough for you (and you needn’t respond to that, I’m not looking for a boost, just wishing I’d done more). And we do grieve with you – your loss is enormous, but we too lost a precious friend in Charles. Much love!!

  2. MarJean Peters says:

    Oh Carol, this is awesome! Thank you for baring your heart to help heal others! God is redeeming your loss and sorrow by using it to heal, help, and encourage others. Great advice I hope to memorize by heart! Thank You, dear friend!

    1. carolnl says:

      Thank you Jeannie! You are such an encourager. God has redeemed my pain and given me much joy with Don. But my desire is to use my pain to encourage and help others. Thank you for affirming my openness. I love you.

  3. Columba Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing your pain, Carol! Anyone grieving this Christmas needs these words. I’m going to share your post on Facebook. Blessings!

    1. carolnl says:

      Thanks, Columba! I’d love for you to share my post, and pray it will help someone who is hurting, as well as those reaching out to help others in pain. Blessings!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.