Atlanta Teen Voices / all

The hardest grief,” says VOX ATL contributor Kelsey Henderson, “is when someone you never questioned being absent in your life fails to make an appearance.”

Photos of Stephen Walker provided by the author.

Pause: Coping With Grief

by share

By Kelsey Henderson

The sun is shining through the windows as birds chirp and sing to wake up the world. Today is June 27, 2016, a hot summer’s day filled with new possibilities and fun in my 14th year of life. I wake up in an unfamiliar yet comfortable bed, with the blinds open wide enough to see houses nearby. As I roll over, I bump into my friends and they moan from my movements, waking them up. In the hallways, the smell of mouthwash and shower gel arises like grease from a hot skillet. The clock on my cell phone strikes 10:00, and with one motion, my friends and I head downstairs for breakfast. My friend begins to cook, cracking eggs and flipping pancakes, filling the house with smells one could only dream of.

My mouth waters with anticipation and excitement as I await the sustenance to fill my body. At this moment, I am content and happy with my life. If I had a remote that could pause time without a second to spare, this would be a perfect instance. 

I notice how peaceful my life is. I smile at the future that awaits me, as I am soon to embark on a new journey, high school. An experience a child dreams about, years of fantasies of my adolescence. My expectations have been heightened with images from movies and books of this place of magic, excitement, and becoming an adult. I couldn’t wait to go on road trips with my friends, windows rolled down, blasting music till we go deaf in one ear or dancing the night away at prom my senior year. 

It was a beautiful morning, filled with laughter. This day, unlike any other day, was like the tranquility before the disturbance.

In the next instant, my phone rings, buzzing on the kitchen counter. I answer, realizing the contact name, with joy in my voice. Yet, I receive solemn back.


 The subtle cracks in her voice, the feelings of regret in her tone, I know something isn’t right. The person that is my voice of reason and partner in crime against my parents sounds sad, and I don’t understand why. 

At this moment, I wish I could pause the world, and fight any instance in finding out what brings such sorrow to my loved one. I grip the phone, still making light of the conversation. As I begin talking about my morning so far, she stops me. 

“I have something to tell you,” says the person I have trusted since the day I was born,  a leader who guides me from her 12 years ahead of me on this journey called life. 

“Stephen is dead. He shot himself around 4 o’clock this morning.” 

The once-bright morning turns dark and terrifying. I run to the bathroom, leaving the phone on the counter, grabbing tissues before any tears fall. I grab the phone again and begin to laugh.

“Stop playing, it’s too early,” I say. “Tell Stephen that his jokes suck.” 

Memories rush through my mind of the cousin I have envied my entire life, and they soon come to a pause when I hear, “I’m serious Kelsey. He died” …

The rest of the words my sister says fade to the back of my mind, coming through one ear and out the other. A sense of agony and grief fill the room, as I gasp for air. 

I wish I could pause right now and fast forward through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The air becomes thick as I continue to breathe, choking me like a noose of emotion. It is as if time stopped and I’m the only one talking, like a comedy show gone wrong. 

I begin to sob as my knees hit the ground. The idea of going home or seeing family is far from my mind. My friends surround me, confused and worried about my well-being. Once the tears stop, silence comes over me. The food I was once ecstatic for made me nauseous at the thought. My stomach has fallen to my feet, making it impossible to eat. I sit still waiting for the call announcing this turn of events as a sick joke. The call never comes. 

This is not what high school was supposed to be. All the fantasies and dreams began to blur with every text message asking if I was “ok.” The world became darker with every phone call I declined. I wish for the remote back except for this time I want a rewind button. At this moment, I would’ve given anything to say “I love you” one last time. How was I supposed to live this dream of four years of teenage illusion without him? He wasn’t included in the plans, but he wasn’t excluded either. The hardest grief is when someone you never questioned being absent in your life fails to make an appearance. 

This year, when I turn 18, I will officially be older than he was when he died. Every conversation, sleepover, Christmas party, or school function that we spent together are faded memories. I struggle every day to remember the harmony of his laugh, the melody of his voice, and the warmth of his smell. Every time I say his name, I smile in grief. 

Almost four years have passed, and I am not sad anymore. I am not mourning anymore. Stephen Emmanuel Walker was one of my favorite people on this earth. With every good day at school, award received, and dream accomplished I am celebrating who he was. When someone lights a match or a candle, I think of when we fell over laughing singing “Burn” by Ellie Golding. Every time I watch a movie or see a DVD, I think of all the films he used to have stacked up in his bedroom that he would never let me touch. With every inch of my being, I remember him, and I hope to one day, be as bright of a light as he once was.

You never think the last time you see someone is the last time you’ll see someone. This is why we pause: we stop time to relish at the moment and highlight every smell, sound, and person. Despite clocks, you feel like time warps and no matter what you do, this moment will not be ruined. The only thing that matters is how you feel at this moment. This is why we pause.

RESOURCES for help coping with a loved one’s death:

Tips I’ve learned through my experience for coping with the death of someone close to you:

  1. Speak positively of the one you lost: Remember all the good times because they usually over power the bad.
  2. Don’t be afraid to feel: Every emotion that you are feeling is normal and expected. Whether mad, sad, happy, or apathetic, feel how you want to feel
  3. Talk to Someone: The best way to heal is to communicate. Let out what you are thinking before your thoughts consume you.
  4. Move forward with purpose: Live for them, Work harder for them, Succeed for them.

Death by suicide is a tragedy and no situation is similar. Realize you are not alone and that with every door that closes, a window opens.

Kelsey is a 12th grader at Westlake High School. She is also a member of the Teen Advisory Council at Re:Imagine ATL, a local nonprofit organization for creatives.

If you need help: 

Georgia Crisis & Access Line (GCAL) – 1-800-715-4225, available 24/7 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) also offers 24/7 connection with a trained counselor at a local crisis center, or Text “START” to 741-741

The Trevor Project – (866) 488-7386 – 24/7 suicide prevention hotline for LGTBQ youth ages 13-24, or Text “Trevor” to 202-304-1200 Thurs.-Fri. (4-8 p.m.)

For more resources for yourself or a friend, visit



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