Brynlee's Journey Personal Thoughts

When the Holidays Hurt | It’s Okay Not to be Okay

When the holidays hurt.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?

For some, it’s the hardest time of the year.

It’s the gift that doesn’t need to be bought this year.  It’s the feet that aren’t going to toddle down the hallway early Christmas morning.  It’s the newborn who won’t be snuggled up in the “first Christmas” footie pajamas blissfully nursing and unaware of the day.  It’s the laugh that won’t ring out during a Dirty Santa game.  It’s the truck that won’t pull in the drive Christmas day.  It’s the tears that won’t stop, the smile that won’t come, the heart that is shattered and broken, it’s when the holidays hurt.

when the holidays-hurt

And all of those circumstances hurt.  Instead of telling those we love to move forward and enjoy this holiday season, we should allow them to sit in whatever feelings they are working through.  No more shouting “You have to be strong!”  Instead let’s whisper, “I will stand by you and love you through this… and you will be strong again, but until then, it’s okay.”  Feelings are not weakness.  Choosing to sit in your grief for a moment or a day or much longer, that is not weakness, friends.  It is great strength.  When you choose to face what you are feeling, no matter how badly it hurts, no matter how deep the wound or how heavy the sorrow, you are strong.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Christmas 2013, my newborn daughter lay in the NICU.  I had her first Christmas outfit picked out and visions of nursing her during the festivities.  She never wore that outfit and she was never able to nurse.  There were no cries to hear, no sweet newborn grunts because she had a tracheotomy and could not make noise.  There would no nursing.  Instead I found myself hooked to a breast pump while our 2 & 5 year old opened gifts that morning.  Tears streaming down my face, I was pumping milk to take to the NICU so that it could be poured into a feeding bag and then pumped into my daughter’s stomach via a g-tube.  This was not at all the Christmas we imagined.  We were still in shock as up until December 7, we thought we were having a healthy baby girl.

Brynlee Dec 16 blog

Christmas 2014, I found myself sicker than I’d been in 10 years- the flu.  But that wasn’t the worst part.  My best friend in this world, my dad was missing- taken by an aggressive cancer that October.  We’d gotten the terminal diagnosis less than 5 months before he passed away.  He was our main baby sitter, my biggest supporter, a best friend to both my husband and I- and still over 2 years later, I cry as I type this.  It hurts.  His presence in my life molded me into the person I am today and suddenly, he was gone.  No one wanted to acknowledge the gaping hole in my heart.  Instead everyone just wanted to act like it was okay or look the other way when I entered the room.  Instead of feeling loved and supported, I felt damaged and unwanted- weak for feeling the loss so deeply.

Daddy Brynlee 2014

Brynlee had undergone 5 surgeries that year with more to come.  She’d undergone palate repair 5 days after my dad passed away.  She was still trached and had a feeding tube.  My life was falling to pieces.  We were in financial ruin after Justin had to quit his job due to a manager who wouldn’t allow him to be there for his daughter’s appointments and surgeries.  You cannot travel with a trach baby alone and we did not have nursing.  He’d started his own business but it takes a while to get off the ground (that business is now highly favored and blessed) and we were drowning.  We’d racked up $10,000 in credit card debt just trying to buy groceries and survive.  That credit card was maxed out and we could barely afford to buy birthday cakes much less Christmas gifts.

November 2014. I wasn’t okay. I wish someone would have told me that it was okay that I wasn’t okay.

What I desperately needed was someone to tell me that it was okay not to be okay- even during the most wonderful time of the year, that sometimes the holidays hurt.  I needed someone to remind me that my grief during the holiday season would not ruin the lives of my children.  I need someone to tell me that it was acceptable to fall to pieces two months after losing my dad and that yes, our year had felt like we were walking through hell and grieving everything we’d lost was expected even in the midst of twinkling lights and cups of hot chocolate. It was not only okay- it was a part of the healing process.



So as we head into this holiday season, I want you to know that you are not alone if you are dreading it.  If you can’t find the strength to smile or hide your feelings, it is okay.  If you need someone to sit with you and tell you that it is okay not to be okay right now, hear me:

It is okay not to be okay- even now during the most wonderful time of the year.

It is okay to feel hurt, to cry or scream, to be angry right now.  If you have lost someone you loved, if your life has fallen apart, if your marriage is crumbling, if your hopes and dreams went up in smoke, if your life is in a thousand little pieces on the floor- it is okay and acceptable to work through those feelings.  You don’t have to slap a smile on your face and act like everything is fan-freaking-tastic.  Do not listen to the voices shouting that you have to be strong- you don’t.  If all you can do is breathe and get through this moment then that is what I want you to do.  That is strength.  I want you to know that you don’t have to be strong because you already are and if you don’t feel strong, just keep holding on because you will feel strong again one day.

when the holidays hurt breathe-and-get-through-this-moment

If you need someone to sit with you and remind you how strong you are and how much what you are going through really does suck and that it’s okay not to be okay right now, I will do that even if I can only reach you virtually.  There are things that happen in life that will be with us for the rest of this life.  There are hurts that will never fully go away.  There are aches that will always be there.  What I know is this- even if your situation cannot be fixed, you will come out on the other side.  You may not come out the same person and you may come out with scars, but one day you will be able to function even as you carry the loss or trauma you are currently facing.

For now, please hold on and be gentle with yourself.  When you feel like your heart is being ripped out of your chest and the holidays hurt, please remember it is a part of the process- an excruciatingly awful part, but that you are strong even if you feel weak because you are here and you are facing your pain.  Please don’t be scared of your mess.  Jesus can handle your mess.  He loves you in your mess.  He holds you in your sorrow.  You don’t have to hide and try to be strong because He sees it all.  You are deeply loved and you can do this.




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  • It helps to know that someone else acknowledges the “not okay” feelings. Although I’m slowly healing, the loss of my mother in April really hit hard. Losing a parent, especially one who you’re very close with, is super hard. (As you know!) I don’t dread the holidays like I initially did but I’m just not much into it this year. It doesn’t feel the same. Prayers to you during this time of year as well.

  • Ohhh my, your story is so tearful, however touching, Whitney. For just a moment, friends like Desiree can put a smile on our faces ….. It, too has been 2 years since my dad had passed suddenly, my dad was visiting my mom who was admitted to the hospital with a brain hemorrhage, when I got the call ….. The hospital called me and said, Janie, you need to get here ASAP, the first and last name of the nurse that had called was the same as a nurse that I worked with at another hospital. I queried, Why, did someone call in? She said, no. It’s your dad, I said what, my dad? She then again, repeated This is Bluewater Health ED calling, you need to get here, I asked, What is his CTAS she said, One, I dropped the phone and screamed, No, ran to the car and sped to the hospital with my husband, called my sons who were closer than I was to go to the hospital. called my brothers and sister to go to hospital. When I arrived, my dad was no longer with us, he passed of a massive heart attack at the main entrance of hospital. I miss him so much, I was daddy’s little girl. I yet had to go and tell my mom who was recovering from a brain hemorrhage. I understand your tears it is okay, not to be okay. At my father’s eulogy this what my son spoke:
    Yesterday I lost a friend, a grandpa, a man amongst men, and a person who has always been there for me for the past 25 years of my life. You were always there for your family, grandkids, wife, and friends who could always come to you when help was hard to find and when we needed it the most. Never did you put yourself before other. Your positive spin on life always influenced myself to push forward and strive to be whoever it was I wanted to be. You taught me about trust, per…severance, and the importance of family. As I begin to start a family of my own, its disheartening to know Hunter will not be able to meet such an important person in my life. He will always know of you through stories that will be soon told for the years of his life and through himself….. Hunter Michael William Soetemans will always have you there for him and our family as you always have been for us. He will know there is an angel watching over him, You will never be forgotten and will always be loved. Heaven has gained an Angel in our sorrows and will become an even better place with your presence. Grandpa, Bill, Dukie, we will always love you forever and may you rest in peace. Love your grandson. Stephen!

    Whitney, In your tears, I hope you find comfort in knowing that people are thinking and praying for you. It is hard during the holidays, my dad was always happy, he would make you smile or laugh, . The grandchildren at Christmas one year, he said to them, What is Christmas all about? Giving, sharing, dad then replied, Okay kids, give me all of your presents, getting them all to laugh. He always too, made sure that mom was appreciated for all the time spent looking for the perfect presents for the family. I will always keep you and your family in my prayers, Whitney. I hope in this letter you find comfort, memory of what your Father gave.

    Take care, God Bless,

  • As I’m sitting here recovering from a double bypass at the ripe old age of 42, all the while missing my daddy who passed away over a year ago, your words sure do resonate with me. I’m not ok, but I know I WILL be someday. It’s just going to be a tough holiday this year. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to