Slowly getting off this mountain

by Janelle Hanchett

I’ve hesitated to write anything because I feel like I’m a walking cloud of BUMMER lately.

As in: “Heyyy hiiiiii, my grandpa died.”

And a month later, “Hey, what up, my grandma was murdered.”

And now, it’s “Hello. How are you? Our dog died in a freak accident in my daughter’s room.”

Yeah, we woke up on New Year’s Day to find our Labrador, Laser, had died during the night. In my daughter’s room. Just for added horror. Thankfully, the kids didn’t see because Mac and I got there first.

I’m telling you, friends, his death knocked the wind out of me. I spent an hour almost out of my mind, pacing the house yelling and whispering, “Not our dog, too!”

It simply couldn’t be. Not our dog, too.

It simply felt cruel. Mean. Like a few kicks to the ribs when I was already down. I didn’t even have it in me to sit my kids in a circle and give it to them gently. I simply said, “Laser has died” while crying in a doorway, and I let them cry and wail too.

I had no fight left.

Sweet Laser. How do we love them so? The grief is so real.

Our DOG? Our 4.5 year old ball of love and cuddles and warmth? He was the member of the family who was constant, the one who trotted around the house giving joy and hugs and asking for a pat on the head or a belly scratch – pure, uncomplicated love. He was the one who we held in all our grieving. He was the one who held us.

To have him suddenly ripped from our arms in a time when we were already desperate? Well, shit.

I got mad. And then I got really, really fucking sad.

When George found out, she screamed and cried for 15 minutes then crawled onto the couch, pulled a big blanket over her head and body, and stayed there, silently, immobile and non-responsive, for about 3 hours. I pulled the blanket back and saw tears falling from the bridge of her nose.

I patted her back. She pulled the blanket back up.

It was as if she had given up, as if she were saying, “You know what? If this world is like this, I’m fucking OUT.”

Forget all of you.

I could relate. That’s exactly how I felt.

How could they take our dog, too?  Who’s “they?” I don’t know. THEY. The ones who decide this sort of thing: who lives and dies.

God? Satan? The fates? Luck?

For the first time, I didn’t know if I was going to keep getting up and functioning, or if I was going to go to bed and stay there. My life felt pitch black all around me. Dark. I picked up my head and I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t see a way. I couldn’t see what to do next.

I didn’t want to talk to you. I didn’t want to see you. I didn’t want to discuss it. I wanted to pull a blanket over my head and stay there.

If this is the world, I’m fucking out. (And it sure doesn’t help that the outside world has turned into terrifying apocalyptic hell, either.)


And then a few nights ago, I was reading a story in one of George’s favorite books about a man who is walking alone over a huge mountain. He’s way up high among the rocks and trees when a storm comes, and it grows dark all around him, and he loses his way entirely. He can’t see to take a step, and he’s stuck up there, cold and lost, so he crouches behind a rock and starts praying. He asks life or god or whatever to help him, and just kind of trusts, and after a while, a light appears before him, a tiny lantern hovering just in front of him.

He gets up and begins to follow it, but he can only see the small circle of light right in front him.  He can’t see the path ahead of him, on the sides or behind, but he can see his footing for the next step. He can see just enough to take a single step safely into the dark, into the nothing, and know he won’t fall.

The light leads him off the mountain.


I cried as I read that story, because I realized I am that man, but I also have that light. I can’t see behind me, or above or beside. I can’t even see the path, but I can see enough to take one tiny step in the dark, and if I do that long enough, I’ll get off this fucking mountain.

I think about how grateful I am to be sober. I think about a dear friend who relapsed recently, and wonder if he will survive, and I think about how much grace I live daily to breathe a sober breath. To be here for my family and kids and mom rather than in a street somewhere.

I think about my children, my few soul friends, my husband who crawls around the house on all fours so the kids can pretend he’s a horse. I think about my baby’s dimpled hand patting me as he falls asleep, whispering “my mama” over and over again. I think about the vital beauty of the earth around me, and how at the last, it’s really just nice to be alive, you know? Here. Even among the bullshit.

It really is fucking nice to be alive, with you, with the light and the mountain, and even the pain, because I know it’s from the depths of love. For my grandmother, for my friend Laser, for the uncomplicated devotion between a dog and his family, a grandmother and her grandchildren, and my mom and me.

So we’ll keep walking, and the trust is enough for me.


“Once in a while you get show the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

38 Comments | Posted in mental health mental non health | January 25, 2017
  • Sherry

    Yes, you beautiful soul. So many are so grateful for you. You give me hope in this apocalyptic world. People like you are sending kids into the world who AREN’T wearing red ball caps. Thank God for you.

    So sorry about Laser. I can only imagine how that must hurt, and how hard it must be to watch the kids hurt. Ugh. Sorry for your family’s loss.

  • Siri

    Not sure if it’ll still come in handy, but there is a great book (for kids and adults alike) called Dog Heaven. It has fantastically simple illustrations and a sweet, easy message and I can’t inagine anyone not liking it. I’ve brought it to multiple friend after their dogs have died. Bet George would like it. Be well. I’m glad your back.

  • Sarah

    What is the name of that book? It sounds like one I need to own.

    • renegademama

      It’s a collection of children’s stories by an author and illustrator named Reg Down: “The Festival of Stones: Autumn and Winter Tales of Tiptoes Lightly.” Truly wonderful books. There’s a whole series that have been adored by all my kids. I mean, REALLY LOVED. 🙂 The story about the man was just one story, but it stuck out for me, as I described. Most stories are about the forest adventures of Tiptoes Lightly, a fairy, and her friends: Jeremy Mouse, Pine Cone & Pepper Pot (gnomes), Ompliant the elephant, etc.

      There are different books for each season, so we kind of cycle through as the year goes on.

  • Beth

    Keep going. We need you. And you need us. And we’re here. We’re carrying the light, you know.

  • Cheryl Montgomery

    “I think about my baby’s dimpled hand patting me as he falls asleep, whispering “my mama” over and over again.”

    That just made my heart melt.

    • Cheryl Montgomery

      P.S. I just ordered the book too. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Robin

    I know this likely won’t mean a lot compared to all of the lovely and poetic comments here, but you make me happy. You remind me that it’s not just me who loves her family with everything she has and yet still sometimes feels shitty and all alone. So thank you. I adore you. And I wish I could absorb some of your pain.

  • Catherine Forest

    Life is so freaking unfair at times. No. Scratch that. It’s unfair pretty much all the time. Death is painful, but sudden, violent death like the ones you had to go through is this stabbing pain that makes you feel like you can’t breathe, like life will never be normal again… When we lost our beloved dog in a car accident last summer (after our own series of struggles and loss), one of my girls, sobbing through the night looked at me with her big wet eyes and asked: Mom, will the pain ever stop? And the truth was, I didn’t know… but it does, mostly because we choose to get up and keep on going, and just like you said, to focus on the simple fact of being alive and together. It’s the little things that slowly heal us.

  • Alice

    Oh Janelle! We love you. We’re not going anywhere. Take your time to get off that mountain. We’re cheering for you. You’ve got this. Much much love.

  • Nicole

    It’s really is fucking nice to be alive with you too. Your blog helped me find the light on my postpartum mountain. I can never thank you enough for literally being my light (on my phone) through countless midnight feedings and helping me see my way through the emotionally messy first years of parenthood. I’m so sorry for everything that has happened to you recently, and for all of your loss and pain.

  • Daphne Sheaves

    Well, Janelle, it’s very simple. You are the light, and it shines on us all, and it reflects back on you, and life goes on. Now, will you please fucking stop making me cry with every goddamned post????? xoxo

  • history buff

    There’s a book which has helped me through the much less personal grief of the election called “Hope in the Dark,” by Rebecca Solnit, a historian, writer, artist, and activist who wrote it after 9/11 and the misguided war that followed. Everything in that book still applies to recent events. It’s beautifully written and you can read just a bit at a time. As for real personal grief of the kind you and your family are experiencing, I’ve found that the only way out is through. And the way through is different for everyone. Glad you are back and so sorry for the loss of your loved ones.

  • Diana

    Thank you for writing to us even under those circumstances. Wish you all the best.

  • crydiox

    Thank you for writing and sharing and being.

  • Carmen

    I’ve also had a hell of a year, with loss piling up on loss. I found some comfort and understanding in this post by Mayim Bialik. Maybe you will to.

    Thank you for reminding me to celebrate my sobriety (when all I really want to do is drink the sad away).

  • Josie

    I feel your pan. Last year our foster god, our newly adopted dog and my dog came inside and killed my cat while I screamed and tried to pry open their jaws. The horror fades very slowly. Peace be with you and your family, sister

    • Megan

      Oh, Josie. How awful. I’m so sorry. xoxo

  • Amy

    That was truly a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lou Taylor

    I just fucking heart you.

  • hales

    Praying that the universe gives you a break. Take heart we all have times like this and when life deals me a crappy hand I try to find a positive. Yer right who am I trying to kid! I try to find at least one thing in my life that i havent completely buggered up in one way or another. seending you love and light x

  • Chenay

    Thanks for sharing with us, Janelle. You’re an incredibly strong person to see the light in all of the dark shit you’ve been dealing with. Thanks for being honest with your readers; I know I greatly appreciate it.

  • Amanda

    This will sound sappy but hey – for some of us, YOU are a part of the light that is leading us off the mountain. Thank you for sharing your truth. I hope that your pain is lessened by allowing your readers to carry it with you.

  • Kirsten

    Thanks for reminding me to be grateful – for the everyday beauty and the gift of alcoholism. Without it I would never have known the depths of beauty in being sober…I am so sorry for your untold loss recently. Life is both inexplicably unfair and beautiful all at the same time. Thanks for reminding me of that. I can’t express how much I appreciate your raw honesty. Much love to you and yours. Keep writing please. You are breathtakingly good at it xx

  • Jeanne

    Thank you for sharing your vulnerability, your raw and painful moments. Thank you for sharing your sordid stories of addiction and your moments that are so sweet they hurt in a completely different way. You writing helps me verbalize the shit in my head, it has helped me to be brave enough to get sober (6 weeks) and learn that people will still love me when the know how flawed I am. I have been studying kintsugi and wabi-sabi lately and really love what it embodies. Please keep sharing your self with all of us faceless names! You are a light in this increasingly dark world!

  • Lena

    You have no idea how much I needed to hear this tonight, and how much this helped me to read. Seriously, in so many ways. I’m sitting here crying like a mess. The only thing keeping me from pulling the blanket over MY head and saying “if this is it, I’m done!” is my sweet support doggie who’s snoring next to me right now. And holy actual shit, if I lost her, I’m pretty sure I’d find a bridge and jump. Your family is amazing. You’re an amazing Momma for LETTING George react that way – my mom would have told me not to “over react.” Bottle up those feelings – they might make others uncomfortable. (She’s a therapist, btw…) Showing your sweet kids that humans have feelings, showing them that mommies are responsible, and reliable, and sometimes just as frail as they are, and perfectly human in all their capacity for, well, humanity — that’s an authentic example that is healthy and strong. I hope if I’m ever blessed to have children, I can show them how to be fragile and tough, and empty and full at the same time, because this life shit is HARD sometimes.

    I’m so sorry for your losses and I think you’re amazing.

  • Jodi

    Thank you for sharing. My husband lost his grandmother and mother 4 months to the day apart. Our sweet lab who has been gone almost 4 years now, still has big paw prints on our heart. Tragedy and heartbreak come in many forms, only the truly strong realize how much they have to be grateful for.

  • Emily

    I am so, so sorry. The world cries out for justice, but it is in short supply… Thank you for sharing your heart. It means so much to us. Wishing you strength, and joy.

  • Samantha Pereira

    Jesus bloody fucking Christ! I’d been wondering where you were, how you were doing. I’m so sorry. Your poor family. You must be worn out. Fuck. I just keep shaking my head and swearing! All I can offer is profanity… And love and light. X

  • Amanda

    I’ve never commented before but have enjoyed your writing for years. I saw this quote and it made me think of where you are.

    “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”

    Thank you for always shining your light honestly and clearly. You’ve helped keep the darkness at bay for so many. Much love to you all through these hard days.

  • Sue

    Thank you for sharing, and I am SO sorry for your losses. It really is crap when they keep raining down on you without a break!
    You have had more than your share and I have no words of advice except what my sister in law said when I asked her how the hell did she go on with her life when her son got cancer, and she said, “I get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other. It’s all I can do”…
    I watched her do that and she came through as you will also. Just keep going. And thank you for writing, you are the LIGHT for US…

  • Rachel Smith

    You’re having a shitty time of it at the moment – no question. I’m so sorry for all the terrible losses you and your family have suffered. Have you read that meme on FB about grief? It was an old man’s advice to a young woman who was grieving. The whole thing is amazing, but this is one of the best bits:

    “As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph.
    Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.”

    I love seeing your newsletter pop into my inbox. So I agree with everyone else here. Keep going. One minute at a time. X

  • Margo

    Your soul
    Is beautiful.

  • Liz Higgins

    Well, fuck, I probably have nothing to say to help comfort you, but I am still typing this to “extend” my thoughts of comfort :). This all is the shits. Yet, you still manage to come out and write something important and worth reading, and you manage to see the beauty in all that you have to be thankful for. Sending so much love and hugs and peace that this world can offer!

  • liz

    Going to leave this brokedown palace.

  • Loraine

    I got nothing. What Liz Higgins said. I’m still crying.

  • Mary

    One day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time. As a friend in sobriety always reminds me; this life is but a preparation of better things to come. Thank you for your part in my sobriety.

  • Erika

    I just fucking love you.