Good Grief

June 6, 2022

Trigger Warnings: grief and suicide

Grief is stubborn. It demands to be felt. I suppose the extent to which I can feel grief signals how deeply I can love as well. And that’s all well and fine, but it doesn’t overshadow the pain that, as I said, demands to be felt. I listened to ‘Waving Through a Window’ from Dear Evan Hansen in the car and just about broke down crying thinking about him.

I’ve felt this nagging sense of guilt around how much I mourn his loss of life to suicide. But we had gone back so far. We grew up together. Parallel lives that came close to passing until we veered into our respective social circles. It was very Romeo and Juliet of us–or, alternatively, and most likely, romanticizing our relationship helps me cope with the profoundly penetrating ache from knowing no new memories with him will be made in this life.

Having a friend who chooses to end their life by suicide changes a person. It can go several ways: none of them subtle. A loss of that caliber can drive Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in one instant. A text containing three words without a hint of irony. Desperation fueled an immediate escape into survival mode. Do or die. At this point, the only option was “do.”

Without a second thought, my phone was dialing his number as I stand frozen in my shared bedroom–disregarding the audience growing more concerned by the moment. The line trills for too long before a silent answer. “What are you talking about?” I ask frantically seeking confirmation of some twisted joke your group of blood brothers finds funny. Anything but the truth.

“He is dead.”

The sentence as clear and unedited as the text message. Suddenly the air was thin. I was sucker-punched. I was suddenly that 4-year-old girl lying on the curb after falling off a hammock and hitting my sternum on a concrete ledge. The wind got knocked out of me. I was screaming, but nothing came out. I stormed out of the room aware of the present company and collapsed in the industrial back stairwell for house employees. Less foot traffic. Fewer witnesses to my complete unraveling. Back and forth for detail still seeking some holes in the story that can account for the horrific mistake.

It must be a mistake. It just can’t be. Mentally preparing a to-do list of notifications, absences, packing, driving, calls, and texts–responsibilities all for the consideration of others. Reflecting on a lifetime of self-neglect while foreshadowing the proceeding services.

Tunnel-visioned, teary-eyed, in search of a safe space. Up the stairs just to enter the room and collapse yet again. Friends and family rarely receive an invitation to see the vulnerability that lies beneath composure and self-sufficiency. In this instant, all walls dissipated. Reduced to an infant ripped away from security. The mind replays fleeting moments like a cinema reel. Sisterhood is holding space for sisters’ big emotions without hesitation or explanation.

The days home were a blur. A woman on a mission and cause for concern for the close enough to see through the veil. I was in a sunken place. There but not really. Doing the most, yet nothing. There for everyone else at the expense of abandoning myself. Losing myself in other people’s grief. I saw the shells of the people I called my best friends. Eyes swollen barely open, pink noses rubbed raw by tissues to wipe away the heartbreaking reality that lay before us all.

Some turned to drink. Some turned to adrenaline. Some turned inward. Most resumed life as if nothing happened. I saw my future in the casket. I sobbed woefully despite wishing for the same sweet relief. I lacked the courage–or so I thought.

Months passed. Life carried on. But I was trapped in that day. Brought to my knees by the earth-shattering realization that nothing in life is permanent. Life isn’t permanent. Loved ones die, move, and fall out of touch. And there’s nothing to be done to alter it. No social perceptions, substances, or self-pity change that universal fact. What do I do now? Where do I go? Who can I turn to? How do I relate to people? Where do I fit in? Who am I? How do I want to spend this limited existence? Under the thumb of others’ needs, wants, beliefs, and opinions? Or those of my own?

Motivated, angry, and resentful, I passed the time alone. Exploring the depths of myself. Going through my life with a fine-toothed comb. Attachment, security, compassion: all amiss amidst guilt, shame, and illness. What is the point at which the mirror reflects only me? In an ironic twist, when I spend time with others. My reactivity, my self-righteousness, my manipulation, my fear of loss. Finding control in the chaos. Unsatisfaction carried on, but actions aligned with an unforeseen faith in something greater.

“I’ll never make you do something that I know you cannot do.”

– Origins unknown, but the message holds true.
Although comfort is pushed and contorted,
there’s yet to be a discovery of
what I cannot do.


Kailani NorwellKailani Norwell has a big mouth, a big heart, a big brain (metaphorically speaking), a big fucking ego, and an even bigger take on everything and anything. She has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge–to learn all that she can–and for personal development. While she dreams larger than life and encourages others to follow what puts sparks in their eyes, she typically plays incredibly small. She has indebted herself for America’s most expensive therapist–a bachelor’s and master’s degree in clinical psychology. Writing is her passion. It’s what ignites her soul. It is her most sincere form of expression. She doesn’t think she’s to write the next great American novel, but she’s to write something.

Featured Image by Luis Galvez on Unsplash