Batter my heart, I guess.

by Janelle Hanchett

I don’t want this to be our new reality. I do not want to continue in a world in which each of my four children grow up with the reality that their great-grandmother was killed by a beloved family member after eating Chinese take-out.

I do not want this unfairness. I do not want this deletion. I do not want the crumbling of safety and innocence this all contains.

I do not want them to know 86 years of life culminated in terror and suffering, and I do not want my mom to hurt, and I do not want these tears.

I feel myself yearning for before, before I knew this as a reality, before my family clung to one another to stand, and our fists fought our tears, and Arlo begs, “Mama don’t make that face,” and Georgia asks while crying in her bed, “Is God with grandma, and will he fix her?”

I yearn for before it steam-rolled our tiny card-house, leaving us here flattened.

I know it was a false safety, but shit it was ours. And I know the way to peace is acceptance, but I do not fucking want this truth. I do not want to accept it.

I fear I talk about it too much. I fear I’m exhausting people. I fear I’m whining, being dramatic, oversensitive. Other people have suffered more. I am not the only one to go through this. Come on, Janelle, knock it off, you are not a delicate flower.

The other day I read a Facebook post with a joke about “at least I didn’t get stabbed today.”

My heart raced at the word as if it flashed in neon and hit my face with a quick cold slap. My blood ran in fear, rage, sadness. Goddamnit Janelle. I am not a delicate flower. I am a raw nerve and it’s not the world’s fault, but they keep fucking with me.

I think a cave would be better for a while.

I fear my kids will get hit by cars. I say “no” when they want to ride their bikes. I fear Mac will not make it home. I fear my mom driving. I fear it all and I panic and my brain tries to soothe me, “Janelle, it’s okay. It’s okay.” But my body and heart don’t believe it.

It’s only been 3 weeks. I have time. I have time. You tell me I have time.

But right now, I do not want this in my heart or mind or body.

I’m afraid if I let it in, I will be destroyed. I’m afraid if I let this pain, this reality, this truth to sink in to my bones, I will be altered and I do not know how. I know I will be leveled, split open, broken up and rebuilt, but I can’t see how, and it’s hard to jump when you can’t see the bottom. I feel myself on the edge. I rock, I hide, I cringe.
But I trust it will be love.

A poem keeps coming to mind. It’s a weird sonnet by John Donne, and I don’t know why I keep thinking of it because honestly it’s kind of a rapey Jesus poem (no seriously, he’s asking to be “ravished” by God), but the beginning has been lodged in my brain for days:

“Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”

I am being broken. I am being burned and overthrown, and I must believe it is for love. It is for compassion. It is to become more in love with you, the world, this life. It is to feel more of your pain, and open my heart to more of the wild rawness of being a human, so I can give and live a little more, a little better.

Not to be good. Not to be a martyr. Not to be all glowing in my goodness. But because I cannot take this destruction without beauty at the end. I cannot withstand the sadness without some meaning at the end. I cannot think of my little family getting broken, blown and burned only to end up angry, lost, and afraid.

No, I trust there is more.

Batter my heart, I guess.

And so I tell my babies we loved her, and we loved her hard, and we love our sick cousin who hurt her, and we will love harder for both those people and for ourselves and our pain, and in that, our lives will be more full.

And I have to believe that is enough. I have to believe my little family will be bathed in a greater love, a light that makes us new.


we've got you

we’ve got you 

57 Comments | Posted in despair | December 5, 2016
  • Sallie

    Strength love and peace to you and your family.

    Mental illness is a hard truth to swallow- you are strong and brave.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.


  • Jessica

    Oh, Janelle. I don’t want this for any of you, either. I wish you weren’t teaching us a master class in grief and love and writing. My mom used to sing this phrase, “It’s all about love, love, love…” over and over. I don’t know if it’s a real song, or just something she made up, but it’s what’s coming to me as I read your words right now. Love.

  • Laurel

    J – your blog has saved me from the brink of parenthood madness many times with your honesty and humor. I was raised Quaker, but it’s been years since I last attended a meeting. But they have a beautiful saying when we need to send love to another in need: I hold so and so in the Light. So, I hold you in the Light. The least I can do for the light you sent me and so many others through your writing.

  • Cassie

    I’m so sorry. My mom passed in August and I refused to accept it. I still feel like she’s just somewhere else. It all fucking sucks.

    • Cassie

      And of course I didn’t even acknowledge the manner of death. I’m wrapped up in my grief, I’m sorry. I imagine that your grief is so complicated because you’re grieving a relationship with the relative on top of your grandma. I am so very sorry.

  • Christina Contri

    My heart goes out to you and yours in this time of grief.

  • Emily

    Oh sweet Jesus no we are not meant to bear these things without the hope of something to come of it — more love, more opening, more ability to hold space with compassion for those who will suffer in the future. But now? I just want to hold you and tell you no, now is for falling apart and breathing deeply and crying and doing all that you can to keep getting out of bed each day so you can attempt to show up even in ghost form for your kids and your mom and yourself. Now is for feeling your pain and for grieving as much as you can. I am so so so so immeasurably sorry for your loss. I pray for you and your family that your path will unfold to less hurt someday and that you will come to find some peace and connection with your grandmas memory beyond this intense moment.

  • Chloe D

    Having been through death of a very close one myself, I thought you explained it really well in the post “I became a mother and died to live”. Death and birth have a lot in common. You never get over it, you just learn to live with it little by little. You never go back to who you use to be before, you just learn how to live with your new self little by little. And you love life again one day. You learn to be ok with the lack of safety in the world and that sometimes, life is just unfair. Talking a lot with friends that have previously went through tragic death of close ones is what helped me the most. I wish you love and strength.

  • Leah Noble

    Janelle, my heart goes out to you and your family. If I, a complete stranger on the other side of the continent can barely believe that this happened, I cannot imagine that depth of the horror and pain you must be feeling.

    So, like Laurel above in the comments, I hold you in the Light.

  • Renee

    Janelle: Every morning in the shower, I attack my prayer list. It is quiet and no one bothers me in there. I do my best praying in the shower. I will pray for your family to gain strength, understanding, healing and forgiveness. Hold your grandmother’s memory close and your kids and Mac closer. Lean on us and we have leaned on you so many times before…….

  • Lisa

    We’ll hold you up till you can do it on your own. Just keep breathing. Hugs and love and tears, for you and with you.

  • Trixie

    I had a bomb go off in my life two and a half weeks ago and while it is very different from your tragedy, reading this truly helped me. Truly. It can’t be for nothing, it will be ok, maybe different, but I have to believe in the end it will make things better somehow. Thank you.

  • Jennifer

    Take all the time you need. Talk about it as many times as you need. You have the hope that all of the pain is ultimately for love and that is a beautiful hope to believe in.
    So sorry for your pain.

  • Beth

    I am so sorry that your family is going through this! First of all, three weeks is barely a blip when talking about grieving. Please don’t believe you should be all fixed up by now. You are correct that you will be forever altered by this, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Unfortunately I have many experiences with death of family members. It sucks. It kicks your ass in ways you didn’t know it could be kicked. Sometimes it leaves you breathless and crying at the sight of a bicentennial quarter, or maybe that’s just me. But you absolutely will make it through. You will be scarred, but you will be. Sometimes it’s enough to just be. Soon enough you will be back to being the kickass bitch we all know and love.


  • kerry

    Yours is the ONLY blog I read…. (funny considering I’m pretty sure I like your blog more than my own)

    I read and re-read your Disney Land Post. I read my mother the part involving your grandparents, I couldn’t get through it without crying. My dad was recently diagnosed with a not-so-fun-but-could-be-worse disease…. your words pretty much summed up my parents lives together. So, thank you for that.

    You are such a strong strong woman. I know this is no consolation; I can’t even begin to imagine your pain. As you say, this is your family’s new “real”…. this is another few threads that weave together the story of you. As huge as it must feel, this is not THE defining story. As powerless as this must seem, don’t let this be THE story that becomes synonymous with your grandmother. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my sister (step) was really torn up by the way her mother passed away the previous year. She was berating herself with what she could have done differently. (she was there during her mother’s last breaths and felt she should have been grander in her goodbye) I reminded her that this was but a MOMENT (albeit a huge one) in an otherwise beautiful life.

    Be well. Mourn in your own unique way. There isn’t “too much” when it comes to friends close to us.


  • Sue

    Oh Janelle,This breaks my heart for you all. I cried every day for six months when My Dad died,he was 78 and had brain cancer so it was not a shocking death, but all that to tell you to grieve as much as you need to, and it will get easier to bear as time passes. I asked my sister in law when her son died from cancer when he was 38, “How do you manage to get up and go to work? I would be a puddle in the floor!” She said, “I put one foot in front of the other and keep on doing that until the day is over.” My other sister in law gets up every morning and prays for grace and strength to do whatever she needs to do that day. I will pray for grace and strength for you, my dear, and ask for peace to come into your heart. Take one step at a time, get through the next ten minutes and then the next, and ask for grace and strength,every day, and as many times a day as you need to. And write to us all, we are here for you as you have always been for us. Blessings and peace to you.

  • Kristine

    Those are such beautiful words to have following you around in these days of grief. I have loved them for years. Yes, love. And also If you were not so full of love and compassion to begin with it would not hurt so much now. Talk all you need to talk, and write, and talk to yourself. This is going to take a lot more time and energy yet. It will forever change you and the ones you love. And yes, yes, more love.

  • Sassette

    I’m so sorry.

  • Scottiev

    I’m sorry. This sucks.

  • Tara Wood

    I just love you guys. That’s all.

  • Chenay

    I’m very sorry, Janelle.

  • Sarah

    So very, very sorry for your loss. Crying for you and your family. Grief is a process that is different for everyone. If people don’t understand the depths of your pain it’s because they don’t understand the depths of your love for your beautiful grandma. Take care of yourself and your family – and let others take care of you, too.

  • Josie

    I believe Jesus is crying with you, sister. Don’t worry about talking too much, who gets to decide the ‘right’ amount anyway? We’ve got your back. Just keep living.

  • Kathleen

    Janelle: I have been thinking of you in the weeks since you first told us about your grandmother. Your post today blows me away with its hope and love. I hold you in the light, as many previous posters have. You share your pain and grief and hope and love, and I believe it will heal you. Much love, Kathleen

  • Teresa

    Sometimes God plows the field before the plants grow. That plow just rips up the dirt, separates it, exposes the dirt underneath… Then the sun and seed and water can do its work. The plowing is so painful and terrible and violent and difficult to endure but it shows us that He is enough. On the other side we’ll understand. But not till then. When my life was plowed by adultery this grief analogy carried me through many days.

  • Pam

    I understand the need to believe some good will come. It will. Though excruciating, keep your heart open to hope… and it will come. It always does. Blessings on your little family.

  • Natalie

    My heart goes out to you and your family. I went through the same thing 4 1/2 years ago when my mother was murdered by her second husband. My children were the same age as your youngest 2. I wish I could tell you the pain goes away – it just gets less sharp with time. Allow yourself not only the time, but the grief bursts that will sneak up and over whelm you from time to time. Keep talking and writing and feeling – it’s the only way to keep going. With the kids, explain it truthfully but in terms that they understand but won’t scare them – mine were 3 and 6. We told them that brains can be sick the same way tummies can be or that arms can be broken, so very bad choices were made. I also was in touch with their teachers to let them know what happened and how we were handling it – so my kids didn’t scare other children or freak out the teachers. We also contacted the Fairview center in Cincinnati for advice – they are the “Mayo Clinic” of childhood grief and they were invaluable in helping our family. My prayers are with you. You have a wonderful community here that supports you – keep writing, we want to hear you.

  • Anna

    Sending you Love and Light.

  • Kathy

    I am so sorry. You are beautiful. This piece is beautiful. I hope that you can find peace in the aftermath of this tragedy.

  • Shannon

    I wish I knew of something better to say than that you’re in my prayers but that’s all I can muster right now. 🙁

  • Melissa

    I’m so sorry your family is experiencing this. I’m sending all the love I can muster from the Midwest. BTW, I’ve missed you in my inbox. xo

  • Cassey

    Just love and beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeg hugs.

  • Corinne

    Thank you for writing these words.

    In your grief, you continue to be a source of inspiration for me.

    Hoping your family feels the warmth of love and joy and fullness soon.

  • Steph

    If ever there was love and beauty, it is you and your family, your despair and your truth.

  • Rose

    every day hurts; till, eventually, it hurts a tiny bit less.
    love and hugs

  • Dani

    Whenever I was upset a friend of mine would offer me a spoon of concrete (“to harden the fuck up”), which usually led to me punching him. Just a little, but it did help. Maybe words are your punching. Janelle, your writing has saved me so many times. Sending you love from my heart to you and your family.

  • Carol

    Two and a half years ago, my husband and my uncle were caught in a rip current while we were all on vacation. After a harrowing ordeal, my husband made it out alive. My dad, my two children — ages 8 and 11 — and I watched my uncle drown less than 20 feet in front of us, despite our efforts to rescue him.

    I have lost other people I’ve been close to. And the grief is shockingly difficult. But this. This trauma topping added to a shit cake. It was nothing I could have ever imagined.

    I still flinch when people using drowning as a metaphor…”keeping my head above water”, “trying stay afloat”…each one still brings an increase in my heart rate, a hitch to my breathing. But when I hear or read hem, I no longer have to fight back tears or the genuine urge to vomit. So that’s progress, right?

    There is nothing you can do but be broken by this. I feel like I’m in the rebuilding stage now…I’m a different person. My husband, a survivor of that day, is different. My children– those sweet innocent children — their path was changed that day.

    Writing will help you process. But no matter what, this is going to hurt like hell for quite awhile. Know that you are not alone sister.


  • Clara

    I’m so sorry.

    I am an improbable fan of Donne, and no help with theology, but I’m no stranger to hurt and sorrow, and the unbearable and unjust hurt of being a human in the world; my work is such that I often see people on the worst day of their lives. And when the worst possible thing had happenedwhat helps, if anything does -nothing helps -it’s this:

    This is how we live now.
    The future will be different.

    There is nothing you need to do. The future is different, and you’ll arrive in it then.

  • Marike

    Oh wow. Your pieces are always so wonderfully written, and with the last two I have had a small inkling of what you must be going through. Batter your heart!

  • Cheryl

    I am so sorry this happened to you and your family. I can sympathize. I’ve lost my grandmother and my dad (not to violent circumstances) and my best friend in the whole world lost both of her boys in a car accident. I tell you this not to one-up you or make you feel silly for feeling this way, but as a way for you to know that you aren’t alone in your grief. Although I’m sure it feels like you and your family are in a little strange bubble of grief and sadness and questioning. There is nothing that can explain or help you understand the “why.” It’s something each of us comes to terms on for ourselves. Everything your feeling makes sense and is normal. Because of my friend’s loss, I try to drive so carefully now because I don’t want her to have to suffer again. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this, but it will take time, but the normal will not be the old normal. I’m really sorry to tell you that. It’ll be a new normal. I am so sorry for your loss. And that it happened in such a violent way. Any loss is difficult and unexpected, even if your loved one has been sick for awhile. One step at a time and you will make it.

  • Jennifer Marshall

    No words, just sending love.

  • Vanessa

    I’m so sorry. Love & light to you and your family. Be gentle with yourself. You can do this. Take care.

  • Dawn Widener

    So so sorry Janelle.

  • Melanie

    You take all the time you need. I’ve had many deaths in my life and they’ve each affected me differently. My older sister was killed in a drunk driving accident when she was 19, I was 14. I still don’t even know what to say when someone else has a death of a loved one, because there’s nothing good to say. So, keep loving the crap out of your kids and your loved ones and one day in the not so distant future, you’ll feel whole again. Be kind to yourself. Sending you love and light today and always.

  • Sim

    Janelle, I’m so sorry for the suffering you and your family are having to endure right now. Grief is not a linear process, so don’t expect this new course to be a straight one. But it is a new course. This is your new normal, and you will all forever be changed by these circumstances. Acceptance is key. You don’t have to *like* it, but you do have to *accept* that is has happened. Resisting the pain will not make it less. So embrace the grieving and accept the pain. A scarred heart still beats strongly, still feels love, still accepts love.

  • Jen

    It does getter better, I promise. It never stops aching, but the pain will dull.

  • Annie

    As one who has come out the other side of a trauma that broke my world, I can say that you will feel peace again. And while I would change it all in a moment if I could, the post-grief me is a better human than existed pre-event. But the grief filled period of change was the hardest thing I’ve ever lived through. I didn’t always handle it well, but I kept trying. It took a while and various methods (yoga, counselling and meditation turned out to be the winning combo) – and it was exhausting. But I want you to know it was worth the effort to change the hyper-vigilant brain wiring. Calm your nervous system, it is on hyper-alert right now, understandably so, but that will wear you out. This is a marathon, not a race – so go gently. It takes time to trust the world again, but you will. I know it’s godawful now, but you really will be ok again one day. I think of the caterpillar who goes into the cocoon and turns into a pile of mushy cells before reassembling into a butterfly. You will do the same. Don’t give up while you are in the squishy cocoon part. Sending much love.

    • Marta

      Annie, thank you for your words. They’ve helped me today, too.

  • Noemi

    Abiding with you in this time of immeasurable grief.

  • Marta

    I hear you, Janelle. So very few words for this. I’m holding you and your family in my heart.

  • Mary Ellen

    Thinking of you and your family, Janelle. Holding you in my heart and in my mind. Holding you in the light.

  • Jesika

    Thank you strong flower ???? Not everyone can talk about this stuff or even admit these truths to themselves. Mental illness is very present today, my brother struggles with Bi-polar, for a long time I feared this would be my moms fate, no matter how hard I tried to help. By the grace of god, somehow my brother has been guided to a sober ranch & is starting the long journey of recovery. I wish him luck & light on this course, lord know the path he takes us on is full of shadows and darkness, we must keep pressing on though believing in ourselves and that we will make it out of the Forrest and once agin into the light ????????????❤️ Keep loving, keep living & keep hugging your babies & man close my dear ???? – your friend the Tumbleweed ????

  • Sharon Tjaden-Glass

    I just wanted to say that I’m thinking about you and your family in your most painful loss. I haven’t stopped by your blog in a few months and just happened across it today. I want you to know that your writing about the tough stuff helps so many people. It really does. Your pain is real and it has its own shape and flavor, but I hope that it helps for you to know that many of us reading your blog cry along with you. Some of us know what a strange world mental illness creates among family members, and our hearts ache for your loss because it could have (and still might) affect us as well. Hugs to you and your family, Janelle. You are loved.

  • Ceciel

    Nothing profound here–just talk as much as you need to. Don’t doubt your beautiful parenting. Holding you in the light. Love and love and love and love.

  • Lisa J

    We love you Janelle. We will be here if you feel like writing and if you don’t. You make the world a better place and I am so sorry for the pain your family is feeling. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help.

  • Paesan

    Even in your darkest grief, your words are tonic for so many of us. You created this community and we send you love.

  • Natalie McConnell

    Um, thank you for writing. It was hard to read, even. Like, my mind got pulled in twenty different directions before I could finish this post. Because my own trauma. It’s it not even close to what you and your family are going through. So, thanks for bringing up the worst moment of my life. Because sarcasm helps. But no really, that you were even capable in this moment of feeling this enough to write about the worst thing so beautifully…it’s something. My mom hasn’t said many thing that I’ve found useful in my life, except this one, as I get older and everything gets harder but better, “it’s a great life for those who don’t weaken.” I’m probably hearing it differently that what she meant, but maybe not. And it’s probably not helpful at all, because, what could be?