I want you to know a few things about grief.

by Janelle Hanchett

I generally try to avoid writing “helpful instructional” posts, mostly because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing (you know, in life), but every now and then, fate hands me some piece of information that I think may be helpful to others, so I share what I know. For example, alcoholism.

And now, traumatic death and grief.

For those of you who don’t know, on the evening of November 9th, 2016, my grandmother was murdered by my mentally ill cousin. I was pulling out of my kids’ school parking lot the next morning when my mother called, screaming.

And in that moment I was inducted into the traumatic death grief circle. I don’t love it here, and hope you never join me, but you or somebody you know probably will.

I want to write what I’ve learned about grief because let’s be honest, nobody knows what the hell to do when a friend’s sister, child, spouse or parent suddenly dies. Nobody knows what to do when somebody’s loved one slowly dies. I didn’t. I sent a text or call or card, flowers or food or chocolate, and moved on. If it was a close friend, I showed up once or twice.

I see now that I could have done better for my friends. And I will now.


It’s not surprising we sort of suck at this. We live in a culture that does its best to protect us from aging and dying – botox, face lifts, endless “anti-aging” creams, sending our elderly to homes – so I get the feeling most of us don’t want to move too close to the topic of death, and the grieving among us become death beacons. We’re like giant glowing WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE marquees.

And who wants that?


When it comes to death and dying, we want to show up for a moment, touch it for a second, then recede quickly back to our fantasy of safety. There’s nothing wrong with that fantasy. In fact it is necessary for life: How else would we feel comfortable every day hurling down a freeway in a box of metal with thousands of strangers who are probably texting?

Delusion of safety.

And believe me, after having it ripped away, I realize fully how we NEED that delusion. Because I’m terrified all the time now, and I sure won’t weep when that’s over. (My dog suffocated in an insulated lunch bag 5 weeks after my grandmother was killed, and we found him dead in the morning, and it was precisely at that point my psyche shifted into random death can occur at any moment mayday WE ARE NOT SAFE mode. And now I’m weird AF but getting better.).


I’ve read a lot of posts about “What not to say to grieving people,” and while I suppose that’s helpful, I’m not into it. People say stupid shit. People said profoundly insensitive things, and honestly, if you message a person whose grandmother was murdered wanting details of the crime because you saw it on the news and you’re living out some detective fantasy, nothing I can say will help you. And yes, that happened. More than once.

But most of the time, people just don’t know what to say. Every time somebody said, “I know what you’re going through. My grandma died last year of old age.” I wanted to be like, “Yeah that’s not actually the same thing as having your grandmother stabbed to death by a family member so please stop,” but I knew that person was trying to reach out, to empathize, to help. So for sure their words were not “perfect,” but it’s small, you know?

It stung because it reminded me of my own sense of isolation and loneliness – as in, what sort of freak has this happen in their family – but during those first couple months, damn near everything hurt like hell. Everything reminded me of the trauma. I had to get off the internet entirely. I was a raw open wound and the world was unknowingly chucking salt into the center of it about 80 times a day. So it was more about ME than them. They were never gonna win with me. I hurt too much.

Plus, how can we make hard and fast rules about what to say or not say in a time as personal as grief? For me, I had to make some sick ass jokes. I needed to laugh about some really dark shit – not at the expense of my grandmother, but rather, the situation in general – because the weight of my sadness was crushing and I needed relief to breathe. At some point, I needed maniacal laughter, maniacal laughter to open a vent and let a little of the insanity of the situation out – my brain unable to hold it. My heart unable to house it. My thoughts unable to reason with it.


It’s not about saying the perfect thing.

It’s about showing up and meeting people where they are and I think we do that through opening our eyes and really seeing people, in all their grieving mess, and not making it about ourselves, our comfort, our fear. I know immediately when I’m around a friend who I can be honest with and those with whom I need to give the “Oh I’m fine” runaround.

But here’s what I really want you to know:

Grief is a physical pain. It hurts the actual body. In headaches, tension, anxiety, exhaustion – my bones ached. My face. My head. So I appreciated physical help: laundry, cooking, food, cleaning.

Grief scatters the mind. I straight up forgot about a button on my car that unlocks the doors from the driver’s door. I used it a thousand times, then forgot about it entirely for weeks. I’ve missed more appointments the past 4 months than probably the past 3 years of my life. I will commit to something on Thursday and forget on Friday. I can’t figure out simple questions. I grow confused easily. So I appreciated people’s patience with my mistakes and when they didn’t require me to help solve their emotional problems as perhaps we had done in the past, because holy mother, I HAD NO MORE TO GIVE.

Grief makes you super weird. My pain moved from a freight train slamming my body to waves of panic and terror and sorrow to a gray cloud descended over me all the damn time. A heaviness. A strange apathy. And then, at the strangest moments, the wave comes again, and I think maybe I can’t withstand this one.

And I want you to know how much terror is involved in grief like this. If this is true, what else can be true? What else can be taken? 

Every time my kids want to ride their bikes, I want to say “no.” Every time my mom doesn’t text back at night, I wonder if she’s been killed, and my body physically responds. A friend showed up unexpectedly at 9:30pm one night and my heart raced for 30 minutes after because I thought he was the police, there to tell me somebody had died. The simple walk to the door had me panicked. This happens 10 times a day, still, in response to random tiny events. My intellect says, “Janelle, this is nonsense. Stop. My body and heart say: ‘DANGER.'”

I walk around with that inside all the time, and the world doesn’t know.

So yeah, it’s weird and dizzying and painful for a long time, in a literal, material way – and sometimes I feel like I’m going to get carried away into oblivion, and just then, I get a message from a friend that says, “Hey I’m thinking of you and you don’t need to respond but know you are buoyed, and we will not let you drown.” And I cannot tell you how much I think those messages actually made me survive.

And it was the people who kept sending them and calling two weeks, one month, two months after it happened – and still bring it up sometimes – that helped me beyond measure because they give me permission to keep talking when I was afraid to “bring people down,” and they slammed that sense of isolation.

Because in our busy lives coupled with the desire to distance ourselves from death, once the funeral is over or a month has passed, the world says, “Oh you’re fine now let’s get back to the usual programming,” and that is precisely when the agony settles in: Reality to the new life.

But where did everybody go?

Back to life. Back to the routine. I get it. But there are a few friends who stick around, who keep showing up, who keep asking, “How are you?” in a way that really wants to know, and they keep us alive. They keep us above water.

So now I’m going to show up for the grieving when everybody else has stopped asking. When everybody else thinks it’s “over” and “time to move on,” I’m going to come to your door through word or body, and I’m going to say, “Hey. I’m here.”

And whatever happens with you will become the power to get us both through. Your world is falling, and I know it, but I’m here with you so let’s get weird and real until all the waves have crashed, and we’re just sitting here again in the sunshine.

I’ll remind you it will come, as they have done for me.


With my Arlo a few days before she died. I don’t know what I’ll do when he outgrows those dino pajamas. She thought they were so cute.

  • Robin Jenkins

    Sorry, I wasn’t finished with my message and hit the wrong button. I just wanted to reach out and give you a hug. I agree, people don’t know what to say but I appreciate every person who asks how my mom is doing. Mom consumes my thoughts and life but I try not to talk about it because I don’t want to ‘bore’ anyone. Those who ask anyway are angels. Life is random and I can’t imagine how hard it is to comes to terms with your grandmother’s death. With mom, I’ve had a chance to reflect and say goodbye. Will I get Alzheimer’s? Who knows. This disease is foreign to our family and I plan to live the hell out of life because I don’t know what’s in store for me. Life is random dear Janelle and your grandmother and my mom are searing reminders of that. I wish you healing and happiness. Live your life as your grandmother would want you too, it will make her smile. Love you, Robin

    • renegademama

      Hi Robin! So good to hear from you, old friend. AND YES. Being asked to talk about it is so lovely because the grief is all-consuming, but also, I don’t want to bore people or bring the negativity, etc. It’s a true gift to be asked about it. Love you.

  • Debra

    My older brother was abruptly killed in a car accident twenty years ago. I remember when they told us in the hospital waiting room ( I didn’t even know hospitals have private waiting rooms for this), it physically felt like someone tore a hole in my heart. And to this day that hole ACHES sometimes.

    Goodbye is a word whispered daily in the heart.

    • April

      This happened to me, too, just like how you said it. My older brother was killed in a car accident twenty seven years ago this March. I was 18. They shuffled us into the chapel and I knew it was going to be bad news. Somehow I had passed one of the EMTs before I had met up with my parents and I asked him how my brother was and he said “not good.” When I heard this, I thought, not good, but that means still alive. He just wasn’t allowed to tell me the truth.
      You don’t get over it. You just put it away.

      • Risa

        Two HOURS in the waiting room, hours after my husband had been declared dead after being flung from his motorcycle and run over by a truck. Nobody had called me. I only found out there was an accident because my town at the time had a Facebook group. I had to call the local sheriffs to confirm the accident, and find out where he’d been taken. He was dead before I even knew anything had happened, and they still made us wait two hours before telling us.

        This August will be 8 years. The waves of grief don’t hit as often, the cat made of grief that sits on my chest doesn’t make itself known like it used to…but yea, that’s the only cat I’ll get to have the rest of my life.

        The super dark jokes do help a little, though. I’ll never stop cackling a little bit calling him my LATE husband, given his “early is on time and on time is late” mantra that meant my time-blind ways drove him INSANE. (Suck it, Ben, you will ALWAYS be later than me now..! Somewhere I’m sure that irritates you.) You do whatever you fucking have to to get through.

  • Nieves

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for continuing to write with such, such, I don’t know insight into our (un)common experiences.

    I’m wishing maximum healing to you and your family.

  • Nikki

    How do you always know exactly what to write? I have no idea. I rarely comment here and yet you always know. On Tuesday night, my 10 year old nephew died from a “rare” brain tumor that strikes pretty much only children under 12 and has NO survivors. None. It’s been 8 months of trauma and I got your post as I am in the middle of packing to go to my brother and sister in law. To do what? I don’t know. Sit with them. Buy groceries. Take one of their other sons to baseball if that’s what he wants to do. I really have no idea what to do other than show up. It was like you wrote this post for me. I know you didn’t, but that doesn’t matter. Since Tuesday I have been walking my own kids through their grief, walking my parents through their grief, swimming in my own grief. Tomorrow morning I step off of the plane and dive into the deepest grief. Thank you for your words. I will probably read this post a few million times this week. Much love and I hope you find your own peace.

    • Erin

      Oh…so many hugs to you and your family. My heart aches for you.

    • Sherry

      Yes, what Erin said. So many hugs to you and your family, Nikki. This hurt to read. I’m so sorry.

  • Bridgette

    Thank you for this post. As someone who has so much empathy, I’m always floored when something tragic happens to those I know — even just a fellow parent at the kids school. I craft letters in my head, imagining all the things I could do, but doubt and fear of saying or doing the wrong thing often makes me do nothing.
    Showing up. I can do that. I can be a person to listen and just be.
    I’m so sorry you and your family have had to face this. Sending you all love.

  • Anne

    Thank you for this.

  • Angharad

    Thank you for that, I needed it. You could get the Dino PJs made into a Memory Cushion. I’m doing that with my Dad’s shirts & ties. He died very unexpectedly just over a year ago & I still physically feel all that grief. Not all the time now though. There is light & air between the crashing waves. Xx

  • Teri

    So very sorry for your family’s loss. I can’t even imagine the rawness you are going through. My father passed away peacefully 2 weeks ago at the ripe age of 90 and our grief is palpable. Thank you for sharing your observations of your grief process–and I, too plan to “show up” because that is what helped us, just like it helped you. Everyone says “…if there’s anything I can do…”. There is. Show up. Let them know you care and will do that which is for them, physically or emotionally impossible. Gods bless you and your family, Janelle. Keep writing–we all love you!

  • Rosie

    We don’t know each other but I am sitting with you and helping you hold this grief.

  • Heather

    I want to say all kinds of things right now but the words are hard. Impossible. I’ve started sentences and deleted them. Maybe it’s because there are no words. It’s not enough to say, “I’m sorry,” or “my condolences” because what you’ve lost is so much more than a person or people. You’re shaken. Grief becomes a piece of you. You’re different now. Everything is different now. And yet, it’s not. It was like this all along. Or was it? There’s no way to describe it. You have to have lived it. But you’d wish this on no one, not even for the comfort of having someone who understands and can discuss it with you.

    Please know that you’re not alone, even in the moments when it all feels so heavy that you you might shatter into a million pieces. In those moments, think of the person who just “joined the club,” this suffocating, indescribable, painful club, or the person who is about to and doesn’t know it yet, is just seconds away. In that moment, send a little prayer or intention or energy or even just a breath out into the universe so that they can have yours when they can’t catch their own. And yes, keep showing up. I don’t know you, but I love you. And if we don’t have this basic level of humanity – of life and death and grief and love and everything in between – what else is there?

  • Kristol

    Hey Janelle,

    I’ve been following you for a while now. I’ve been such a fan and even though you don’t know me, nor I you, I want you to know I am here. I was there when you hated Calliou, I was there when you worried about Arlo being your last baby, and when your sweet G-ma was so abruptly taken from you. I don’t usually comment (this might be my 3rd), but I felt compelled to let you know I am here. Praying for you daily, liking pics on Instagram, reading every post. May you heal from this grief and continue to make this world brighter. One day at a time. Wishing peace, blessings and comfort to you and your beautiful family.

  • Andrea

    I am so grateful to you for putting this perspective out into the world (which is basically how I feel about all your posts). This is a thing I needed to hear, that it’s okay to still be fucked up ten months after my mother died during a cardiology procedure (again, NOT THE SAME THING as what your trauma). Thank you.

  • KatharineS

    Hi Janelle,
    The words you put out into the world help other people cope. I hope knowing that helps you.

  • Kristy

    You have such a gift in your writing. Thank you for communicating so eloquently a story that needs telling. The photo of your grandmother is so poignant – she looks quite young and vibrant and beautiful. So very sorry that you and your family must endure this terrible trauma, I can’t imagine how hard that must be but your writing conveys it well.

  • Tina

    I’m so, so very sorry you are going through this. I can’t imagine the pain that comes from losing a loved one that way. I’m so sorry that happened, that your grandmother was ripped away from you.
    I will say I know what you mean when someone comes to the door unexpectedly and you start to panic. Nearly 20 years ago, on Christmas night, just, I mean JUST after my husband looked at each other, with the little ones in bed and said that was a pretty good Christmas, at 10:30, my phone rang, and we looked at each other, because no one calls that late. It was news that my cousin had died unexpectedly and they had just found his body a few minutes before. To this day, if the phone rings after 9 or 10 o’clock, I start to panic (which, really, the only people that call that late are my in-laws). But I still panic and shake when I pick up the phone.

  • Kristy

    Also wanted to leave this, thought you might be interested…
    “McInerny’s show is called Terrible, Thanks for Asking, and she begins each interview with the same question: How are you? The responses she gets go way beyond the typical “I’m fine.” McInerny deals with death, loss and coming through trauma.”

  • Laura

    Hi Janelle,

    Your words continue to place beauty on subjects that are ugly, and once again you have me in tears. Thank you for sharing what you are going through – I cannot imagine being in your shoes, but I am SURE you are going to help so many get through horrible tragedies such as you have experienced. My mother lost her brother to a terrible crime back when she was a new parent, and 40 plus years later she will often say folks don’t know how to act around families that are in this kind of grief. I encourage you to publish this somewhere, everywhere! because I think it will help SO MANY PEOPLE!

    You helped me get through my postpartum depression. Keep writing. We all need you!

  • Vanessa

    Janelle, I am so sorry for you and your family. Thank you for sharing your life and your beautiful writing.

  • Kay

    Oh Janelle. I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing and please keep sharing. There is something very different about grief when death comes at the hand of another, isn’t there? I have not encountered much grief compared to many nor lost anyone so close as a grandmother (yet), but the grief I have encountered is confusing–my best guy friend from high school… throat slit by one of the soldiers on base, here in the States, where our men are supposed to be safe. A young mom I was coaching through PPD shot herself and left behind a toddler and new baby. This is a fucked up grief, that’s what it is. I miscarried this past year, and I felt an odd sense of relief to have “normal” grief this time.

    I think American culture in particular is exceptionally ill-prepared to cope with death. So many other cultures have mourning periods and rituals and basically a social contact on “what to do with grief.” Not here. Just as you said, we live in a culture that thinks it can outrun and outsmart death. As if death were an exception, “not supposed to be.” But… last time I checked… 100% of us die. After thousands of years of death, why do we still suck at dealing with it? Why are we so unprepared when it is GUARANTEED. I have no answers. Because I still suck at grief.

    People mean well, they really do. They want so badly to give comfort. But sometimes there is no comfort, and the comfort they offer feels insulting. I think the best thing we can do for the grieving is to accept that there is no fixing this and there is no comfort and all we can do is sit with them in their puddle of tears and say, “well, this sure is a load of shit. Fuck this.” And when the grieving try to stand up again, we hold their hand. And when they get sucked back into the blackness–and they will–we sit right back down and tell them it sucks. I think the best thing one of my friends did was to give me “permission” to be right where I was.

  • Ave Guevara

    Janelle, you reached into my heart and put my feelings into your amazing tapestry of the written word. I am so sorry for this horrific situation that robbed you of your beloved grandmother and life as you knew it. My BFF of 30 years and godmother to one of your writing students, my daughter, died at our homestead less than 2 months ago. It was a peaceful death, but grief is grief, and it’s in waves and tsunamis and indeed separates us from the rest of the herd. People don’t want to hear that “you’re STILL depressed?” It was expected, after all she was ill. My pregnant niece commit suicide 12 years ago, my other close friends 14 year old son died after riding his bike from a non threatening heart condition and my grandmother, at 97 was murdered by a homeless man she let stay at her house some years back. Everyone denied it was murder, the homeless man walked away, and my uncle neatly dispersed of all her belongings without ever giving me the chance to fly to her home and take some of her lace hankies, gloves or aprons. I am so sorry for what you are enduring and it does change us forever and indeed, once changed, we walk and live on eggshells knowing that we are all up for grabs in any moment. Life becomes unnerving. I embrace you with loving ease and would somehow like you to know, though you don’t know me, that this 62 year old grandmother is out here for you anytime you wish to connect, I will listen.

  • Janeen

    Janelle, I’m deeply sorry for your loss and for the way your grandma left this Earth. Thanks for sharing your story. I lost my father father unexpectedly 3 weeks ago and it’s sucks. It really really sucks. You discribed the pain of losing a love one so well. The pain is incredible. For me it felt as if all of the wind was knocked out of me. It hurts. I try to embrace the pain the same way as love but that shit hurts. I know through time it will lessen and not come as frequently but until that day I’ll keep working through it.

    All the best to you. I’ll keep you in my thoughts, heart and prayers. xo

  • Fatima Naylor

    I know grief well. It doesn’t discriminate either. Also, our dog suffocated on a dorito’s bag. It was fuckn awful. Love and light to you.

  • Chris

    Grief hurts, and pain isolates us and turns us inside out. With time as grief lifts we again cherish the memories of time spent with those we loved. If we survive loss we are changed and often made more humane and compassionate as we are often humbled and softened by loss and appreciate vulnerability as the one thread that unites us all and opens us to love.

  • Josie

    This world is totally screwed sometimes. These things shouldn’t happen! I am with you in your grief, dear one. We are all here and we are not going anywhere. Peace to you and all of us.

  • Alice

    The cost of love it’s grief. The deeper the love, the deeper the grief. Trauma is an incredibly powerful thing that alters the way you function in ways that are hard to understand. I know it sounds cliche but please consider seeing someone who specializes in psychological trauma. While i haven’t endured this particular kind of trauma i know the long term effects can sneak up unexpectedly even once you feel safe again. For over four years I’ve been reading your blogs and you inspire me often in matters of loving my family- i have 5 kids and i really identify with your perspective. Thank you for being unapologetically you. For being real. For being honest. For assuring the rest of us kindred spirits that we are not alone in this crazy journey. Delusion of safety- you’re right about that. But we gotta live anyway- dangerously even. *hugs*

  • Cheryl

    Your grandmother is so beautiful. I’m so very sorry you and your family have to endure such pain. Your writing and photos are important. Thank you for being able to share in only the special and talented way that you can, it is meaningful. Wishing comfort and peace to you and your family.

  • Patty Omerza

    I am so very sorry for your loss, not ‘just’ the loss of your Grandma but in such a horribly tragic way. I, in no way can understand all you have and continue to go through, but I’d like to share a few lessons that might help as you continue on. First a condensed version of my story of losses…My Mom passed away 12 years ago. It was after a 3 month nursing home stay for a broken ankle. An aside: my parents and I had been distant for years what with them supporting my verbally abusive ex-husband during the divorce. Being the caregiver of the family, I stepped in when my brother called and asked me to go and see what had happened with her. Through a long three months (I live an hour away and was there at least every other day), I discovered my Dad had Alzheimer’s (none of us kids knew…and he was fairly advanced). I doctored with him and got him diagnosed. A week after she got home (I had to wash my hands of the situation for a week…her alcoholic tendencies came back…none of the 5 siblings stepped up), I had to check in. I found my Mom on her bedroom floor, lying with her ankle broken again, in her own feces and naked. She was lucid enough to tell me she’d been there since the middle of the night and it was now 4:00 in the afternoon. My Dad denied it and yelled that he’d only been there for 15 minutes…he had to walk over her to get out of the bedroom. Yes, it was a horrendous scene. She lived another week in the hospital while they tried everything to bring her out of her sepsis but to no avail. My Dad died a little over a year later after 7 weeks in and out of the hospital…he had COPD, wound up in a room with an undiagnosed Influenza A patient, his body rejected a blood transfusion and finally succumbed to his lungs hardening. It was with my Dad’s loss that I took it the hardest. I had been angry with my Mom when her behavior came out as not wanting to take her meds right and I blamed her death on that. When she died I was still caring for my Dad, so I didn’t have much time to think. With Dad I realized I was now alone, an orphan, and would never take care of them again. A month later our chocolate lab was hit by a car and suffered a broken leg…we really couldn’t afford to pay $600 to fix it, but I looked at my husband with tears streaming down my face and said “I just lost my Dad, we’re not putting Hershey down because of a broken leg!” Hershey lived another good 6 years. Then two months later my Mother-in-law sat us all down and announced that she had Stage 3 Breast Cancer. While I thought I was feeling stronger by that time, all I could do was sit there and silently cry. I couldn’t do a thing to help her. I literally couldn’t. I didn’t stay with her in the hospital (as I had every time my parents had a surgery or procedure done), couldn’t take her to chemo, nothing. I felt horrible, but I knew right away that I just couldn’t do it. My psyche was too torn up. My Father-in-law was able to be there with her throughout the entire thing. (Now he has Alzheimer’s and my Mother-in-Law is there for him…and I’m strong enough to help as much as I can…through 4 major surgeries and hospital stays, etc.) A good friend lost one of her parents and again, I just teared up…I just couldn’t go to the funeral. I always thought of myself as strong and could always help everyone, but I couldn’t do it. My point in this not-so-short story…IF you find that it’s too hard for you to be there when a friend’s or relative’s loved one has passed, it’s ok. They will understand. Send the card, flowers, or food…you need to take care of you first right now. For you and for your family’s sake. One more note…I’ve stopped writing the anniversaries of my parents passing on my calendar. I’ve found it doesn’t matter. I wind up teary on that day and at some point realize why. Give yourself a break when that happens. Acknowledge the moment, feel the sadness, honor them and then move on and smile at your children. I truly believe that our loved ones are in Heaven, happy and healthy again and smiling down as they watch us with our children…and laughing their asses off when our children talk back or misbehave. After all, they surely would have if they were alive. Remember the funny moments and laugh…those are the memories they would want us to think about. And share those with your kids. The family got in the habit of calling my Mom ‘Swamp Sucker’…she, along with the rest of the family, used to deer hunt (we only ate venison at home) and at one point she fell in the swamp on their 40 acres of land…big nose first. There were jokes about her big German nose…she’d even sing Jimmy Durante’s “Ink, a dink-a-dink” before we’d fall asleep in the camper on trips…lots of belly laughs. She made the best chocolate chip cookies. And Dad gave the best big bear hugs. There were plenty of jokes with him too. Especially the time when Mom decided to play a prank on him and sewed the front of his boxer shorts closed. He didn’t realize until he got to work (he was a foreman in a mine) and had to go to the bathroom. I can imagine the expletives that were said at that moment…HAHAHA. He came home to his wife sitting at the table giggling. There were lots of good memories. May yours of your Grandma give you more smiles than tears. Hugs from a fan…and friend.

  • Joanne

    When my husband took me to meet his father’s family for the first time, it was Christmas. We’d been dating for about 8 months at the time. We’d been there for a couple hours and I was getting to know most of his family when we got a call saying to get to the hospital. His father (who I’d never met) had had an allergic reaction to a medication he was taking and his kidneys had just…shut down. The doctor’s couldn’t help him. We got there about 30 minutes before he slipped into a coma, and he died three days later on December 27th without ever regaining consciousness. Being in the midst of that family’s grief was absolutely heartbreaking. I felt like such an intruder because I’d just met these people and hadn’t dealt with grief like this since my grandfather died when I was 11. I mostly tried to keep out of their way and let them be there for each other while keeping the younger kids busy and was later told that this was the best thing I could have done. It’s been 6 years and my grandmother-in-law still talks about it every Christmas. The rest of the family just roll their eyes and wait her out, but they don’t understand that you don’t get over this sort of thing. Not ever. People NEED to talk about it over and over again. Thank you so much for this. I’m definitely printing it out and taking it with me next Christmas.

  • L.V.

    There was a traumatic death in my family. I hear you. I remember the panic at unexpected phone calls and visits, I remember the waves of grief slopping over my head. It will never go away completely, but it gets better. It gets easier to get through your day, the panic recedes. Thank you for sharing your story, it was very brave of you.

  • Andrea Mae

    Showing up. The rest will follow. Trauma. Fuck. It points in many different directions. My hope is your fears will subside, although it is always there. I feel you in my own right.
    My Bonus Dad died on Thanksgiving 2015. It lead me to become a Death Doula, volunteering with my local Hospice. It was a way to wrap my head around how, in our society, folks not truly acknowledging what happened… many just do not know how.

  • Nicole

    Oh, man, was I bawling this morning when I read this. My mom committed suicide right before Christmas, and I have to say the same thing… it’s not like any other kind of death. I found it hard to even say those words for weeks, I had to hand the phone to my husband so he could tell family members what happened while I just sobbed. And I’m still raw. The most innocuous thing in the world sends me off the edge, and I can’t seem to get my head together, despite, you know, having to be productive at work and teach classes and be a parent and stuff. And I’m terrified of suicide now – my sisters, my kids, myself. It’s like I spent my whole life not having a blue couch and I never really thought much about blue couches and then one crashed through the roof into the middle of my living room and it’s just lying there amid general devastation and chaos and I have to walk around it every day and now I can’t NOT think about fucking blue couches. Those whose family members have committed suicide are 400 times more likely to commit suicide themselves. Let that statistic screw with your head for a while. Sorry. I know you were writing about something else. But I think our experiences have been similar, and I appreciate your putting that into words. Hang in there.

  • Liz Higgins

    I hear you, sister. My heart aches for you and your family. I have lots of mental illness in my family that has ended lives in many tragedies. As you said, I can’t know exactly what you are feeling, but I know enough to know I don’t know, and cannot tell you I fully understand. But, as you said, it’s about support, and showing up. One of my besties lost her 4 year old to a freak illness suddenly and even years later, it not only makes me appreciate my own little angel every day, but I continue to be there for her and cut her way more slack than I would other friends because I know she grieves all the time and she will never be the same carefree spirit she was before. I try to let her know I still want to hear about her little girl and that she will be in my heart daily. So heartwrenching. Much love and peace to you and your family. xo

  • Loraine

    My heart aches for you and yours.

  • Meredith

    Thank you for this. I am 3 months out from my mom dying suddenly. There are no words. I needed this post. Thank you for being real.

  • Rose

    Of all your writing that I have read this is in my opinion your best. I cried my way through each word, sentence. Raw feelings spilled into this piece and remind us so poignantly of our united experience in the face of grief, huge and unimaginable. Some of us attain a state of grace in our grief that leaves us softer and well able to accept the clumsy efforts of those who struggle to offer words of comfort. Your heart is bigger even while it is crumbling. Sending love to you. Rose

  • Norita

    Janelle and family,

    Sending you all love and warm healing energy. I am so deeply sorry for your & your extended family’s heartaches and loss. Keep breathing.

    Even though we haven’t met, I have gut-wrenching compassion & empathy for the roller coaster of emotions you are surely riding since last fall. Having to navigate the surrealness of life “before” vs. “after”, and how in blazes can ANYONE even come close to understanding any of this? How can anyone get to a “new normal” after all this trauma? Not. Fucking. Possible.
    And where the hell did I leave my dang keys?

    You are a WARRIOR, Janelle – to be so courageously adapting & sharing exactly what you experience openly and honestly with your readers. Your truthful words are healing to others and am guessing cathartic for yourself.

    Hang in there dear one. I wish I was in your local posse, bringing hugs & playdates & pastas whenever you need them. Even 10yrs from now, on a shitty day, when it all still seems like yesterday. I would be there too.

    • Norita

      And I will be holding space for you through the next couple days for your anniversary of getting back to Life & sobriety. Jeebus lady, you are a FUCKING WARRIOR! Keep writing.
      So looking forward to learning more from you in April. Thank you for being so open, raw & real. Truly grateful.

  • Rima

    Hello Janelle, When you first shared your grandmas news I was shocked and affected at that moment but your follow up posts and words after that didnt hit close to home up until a life altering incident hit me personally. My mother who was barely 55 yrs old took her own life in January. I had seen her just 12 days ago and spoken to her couple days ago. She was not a depressed person or fit any other tokens associated with suicidal persons. Ever since then I am scared of unexpected phone calls, about losing my kids! I like to be in control of things and day to day stuff and I have lost control over most things. Pushing things to the back of my mind is how I can carry on. Thank you as always for sharing your emotions and thoughts.

    • renegademama

      Oh, Rima. I am so utterly sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine this pain. I don’t know you, but I am thinking of you and yours. Thank you for writing this comment, and I understand that loss of control. It’s excruciating. I have to say, therapy has helped me a lot. Just going there every week and talking and being reminded that I’m normal and safe has been extremely helpful.

      All my love,


      • Rima

        Thank you for your suggestion, Janelle. I did start therapy and it helps quite a bit but there are always that alone moments – which am sure you are aware of – those moments are haunting. Hugs and love to you too!

        • renegademama

          Yes, it’s always when the whole house is asleep, and it’s just me and my thoughts. Excruciating. Damn near impossible to withstand.

  • Isabel

    I am so incredibly sorry for the loss that your family has experienced. When my little sister died of an overdose at 26 I could not understand how the world didn’t stop just for a minute. I couldn’t register how people kept working and life moved on. How did someone not experience a swift intake of breath and feel that a light went out somewhere in the world. There are times things are better and then I remember that she is gone and I get pissed and sad all at once and start to cry. I call my mother and remind her that she can talk to me about my sister whenever she wants and I will not turn the conversation to something else. I’ll sit in that pain and hurt for as long as she wants because we need it. We need to have a release for that sometimes. Thank you for writing about what happened to you and how you are dealing with it. I hope it helps you as much as it helps me when I read it.

  • Tracey Larson

    Hi. My 58 yo sister died of a massive heart attack almost 2weeks ago. I got the call to come to the hospital at 2:40 am. I haven’t had time to grieve yet. I am trying to help her 28yo son who is her only child maneuver all of this. She was divorced. She lived we her boyfriend for 2years and we hardly knew him. So there is stuff going on with that. I called and told a good friend what had happened. 10 days later she sends an impersonal sympathy card with no note. But then there are my other beautiful friends who came to the funeral and stayed to help after. There are the friends who have texted and called. I always say; go to the funeral, call, text and visit. Ask them how are they and just be there. The kindness and caring lessens the sadness for others. I don’t want to have all this negativity I just want to think about her. I know people don’t know what to say or do but I love the ones who try.
    Janelle, I am sad for you and yours. Peace and healing to you and your family.

  • Lisa D'Alessio

    Janelle, anytime you need, we’re here. Grief is not boring, there is no “get over it.” Shitty things happen and some days, all we can do is balance precariously on the tip, clinging in desperation so as to not get swept away to the land of powerlessness, of immobility. We’ve got you, hands wrapped in velvet gloves, ready to catch you, to anchor you. Even when the words don’t say it, you are held in so much love.

  • Saundra

    Almost a year ago my dad was murdered by my sister’s boyfriend (who is the father of my three nephews, the third one in-utero when it happened). It was unfathomable and horrifying and shook the fabric of what I am. Nothing uproots your sense of security or peace like this. I have never know grief so deep. It has, at the very least, moved from the foreground of my attention, so I hope that it does that for you too. It still lingers; it creeps around and shows up opportunistically and reminds you that none of this is lasting and that fucking sucks. I am so fortunate to have incredible friends that let me talk because I don’t know how I would have survived otherwise. I hope you have people like that too. Wishing you and your family peace.

  • Emily

    Yep, it sucks here. I came here as a teenager and never figured out how to leave. I didn’t have any friends–not a single friend, adult, who-the-fuck-ever–who did for me what yours did for you. And now it’s been a long time, and I’m way too old to feel teenager-feelings about it, but I’m still here, and I long passed any reasonable expectation of sympathy. So now I’m a mediocre version of myself, and people would care now even less than they did then except that’s not possible, so now I’m beyond understanding for any of it. Nobody cared, and I disappeared, and nobody cared that nobody cared, and I disappeared, until I was just “nobody cared” all the way down and wasn’t worth anybody else’s time.

    20 years later, I’ve got the family I made–the one I was born into is reduced; the people left are polite–and a job where avoiding looking into a sea of uncaring, disapproving faces is just good enough not to get fired.

  • Beck

    I’m so sorry about your Grandmother and your dog. I know how hard it is to be able to process a pet’s death when you have grief about a human family member at the same time. Even more traumatic with the scary and unexpected. Sending love and hugs. Maybe the green dino jimmies could be made into a memory bear (a teddy bear made from special clothing.) Love, a random person from the internet.

  • Terra Heck

    I just stumbled across your blog today and have spent several hours reading it already! This post speaks volumes.
    I’m no stranger to death. Several family members and friends have passed away including my father, two step-fathers, grandparents, and step-mother. All of them caused me grief but none like my mother’s passing in April 2016. It’s been almost two years and I am still a wreck at times. If it wouldn’t have been for God and for my friends in Small Group, I’m no so sure I’d be even halfway okay. I feel like a part of me died when she did.
    There’s almost nothing more I hate than the words …if there’s anything I can do… That’s because I know most people don’t reach out and say “yeah, please do this for me”. I learned that if I told people what I needed, they were more than willing to help.
    I’m so, so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine how I’d handle the passing of a loved one in that way.