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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.