“Dear Daniel,”

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Dear Daniel,

I told myself I would stop crying after I got the call. I told myself I would stop crying as the words crashed like waves into my ears over the line. I told myself I would stop crying when I heard my dad’s voice crack as he told me you were gone.

I told myself I would stop crying as my feet stumbled across the weathered bricks and the rain sizzled as it kissed the hot tears that rolled down my face. I told myself I would stop crying while my fingers shook as they hovered over each number to call anyone to get me out of there. I told myself I would stop crying as I sat on the bone-cold bench waiting for a bus that felt like it was never coming. I told myself I would stop crying as I sat on the bus not giving a single care about the stares that danced on and off of my red and puffy face.

I told myself I would stop crying as my feet drug me home through the puddles and I fell into the arms of a friend. I told myself I would stop crying as I stood in the center of my room bargaining with God to bring you back. I told myself I would stop crying when my sister’s voice came across the line asking if I was okay. I told myself I would stop crying when my answer was “no”. I told myself I would stop crying when the thought that you wanted this kept screaming from the peaks of the mountains in my head.

I told myself I would stop crying as I dressed myself to sing the National Anthem at the basketball game with the choir, because that is what you would’ve wanted. I told myself I would stop crying as I held myself together, feeling completely alone in the middle of a stadium filled with 5,000 people. I told myself I would stop crying when I thought about how I will never be able to sit at the piano and beg you to play every song that came to my mind. I told myself I would stop crying when I thought about all the music we didn’t get to share and the songs that we will never sing together.

I told myself I would stop crying when the shower became my sanctuary because the hot water and the tears looked the same. I told myself I would stop crying when I found myself on the bathroom floor crippled with realization and grief. I told myself I would stop crying as I opened the door only to fall into my roommate’s arms. I told myself I would stop crying as the nights became suffocating and, just like you, sleep said goodbye.

I told myself I would stop crying as my parents frantically made plans to get my sister and I home. I told myself I would stop crying at 40,000 feet as I imagined reaching into the frozen clouds for you. I told myself I would stop crying as my lungs inhaled the wet pacific air. I told myself I would stop crying when, for the first time, I wasn’t happy to be home. I told myself I would stop crying as the dark and surreal ride home drug on, as if to physically delay what was already the inevitable.

I told myself I would stop crying as I walked into the house you grew up in. I told myself I would stop crying as I walked past the couch, where so many times before, everyone gathered to catch a good laugh from your contagious humor. I told myself I would stop crying when it hit me that I only cried when I thought about you now. I told myself I would stop crying as your sister fell into my arms violently sobbing as I blurrily looked up to meet the heartbreak that filled your mother’s eyes.

I told myself I would stop crying when your three-year-old nephew went up to your sister to feel for her heartbeat just to make sure hers hadn’t stopped like yours did. I told myself I would stop crying when I cut the stems of the dozen yellow roses that would grace the top of your casket the very next day. I told myself I would stop crying when they asked me if I wanted to see you one last time. I told myself I would stop crying as kept telling myself that that’s not you lying there; that you’re in a better place; that you’re no longer suffering.

I told myself I would stop crying as I walked into the church and fought to hold in the sobs that struggled to escape my throat when I saw your picture sitting by itself on the stage. I told myself I would stop crying as I walked up to practice singing with your accompaniment for the first time, never thinking only one of us would be present for this moment. I told myself I would stop crying as I struggled to sing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ because, all the while, I was wondering how would my heart go on without you here.

I told myself I would stop crying just long enough to sing the song with you and for you, in front of the three-hundred plus people who showed up because they loved you. I told myself I would stop crying when I was wishing that you would’ve realized just how many people were in your corner, but now they all live with pain in their hearts from your absence. I told myself I would stop crying as your voice carried through the air in song and your whole life unfolded in videos and pictures before our eyes.

I told myself I would stop crying as we fought the crying sky to go and say our last goodbye. I told myself I would stop crying as I was handed one of the freshly-cut yellow roses. I told myself I would stop crying as I my hair stuck to my face with rain and tears; when there weren’t enough tissues and my feet were paralyzed, unable to move forward. I told myself I would stop crying as I walked unsteadily up to your casket so my yellow rose could join the others. I told myself I would stop crying as my fingertips grazed the blue paint that had an unsettling shine.

I told myself I would stop crying when little reminders of you popped up in everyday life, and when I would hurry myself to sleep so that you might visit me in my dreams. I told myself I would stop crying on what would have been your 31st birthday.

Then one day I couldn’t hold back any longer. I told myself to cry. I told myself to cry for your pain. I told myself to cry because I am in pain. I told myself to cry because “some things in life cannot be fixed, they can only be carried”, and that’s okay. I told myself to cry because I loved you. I told myself to cry because every tear is a testament to that love. I told myself to cry because I will feel better.

I told myself to cry when I went back to where you lay and laid down beside you as I watched the sky turn shades of pink and orange through blurry lenses. I told myself to cry as I dusted the fallen flower petals off of the granite where your name is neatly carved. I told myself to cry because I was angry. I told myself to cry because I was sad; because I am sad.

Dear Daniel, these tears are for you; every single one. Not a day, not a minute, not a second goes by that I don’t think of you, that I don’t wish this was all just a bad dream and it will be all over when I wake up.

Dear Daniel, I know that I have to love you enough to let you go, but the years God granted us with you will never be forgotten or taken for granted. I’m happy that you are no longer suffering and that pain doesn’t exist where you are now, but down here the deepest pain is felt.

I tell myself to cry because I miss you.

Daniel Heath Kennell was born on February 3rd, 1985. He was a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, an uncle, a cousin, and a friend. He was the star of his high school basketball team, an entrepreneur, a musician, a jokester, and a DJ. He was a smile on the face for anyone that knew him.

Losing Daniel is a wound that will never truly heal. This letter outlines every moment of grief from my first-hand account in the tragic loss of my beloved cousin. There are good days and bad days. These words have taken ten months to get out, but they are written in hopes to continue healing and in the hopes that they might help others to not feel so alone in the absence of a loved one. Through my grief, I found it so hard to let down my guard and fully feel-out my pain because I was afraid to cry. Through it, I had to learn that it’s okay to be vulnerable; that it’s okay to cry.

If you or someone you know is battling with depression or suicidal thoughts and you need help, in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Know that you are not alone.

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3 Replies to ““Dear Daniel,””

  1. Dear Meg, you’re sharing the same grief. We all loved Daniel so very much. The debt of your grief is the price of love. You loved him so deeply so the grief is an unbearable pain. We have had our hearts broken. A part of my heart left me & went with him. He truly believed his unbearable pain in his illness was causing us pain & that we’d all be better off without him. We will always be grateful for the time we had with him. That wonderful gift of humor, music, kindness & love he gave to us so unconditionally. He was such a bright star in our lives That will never go out. He’s in God’s hands & paradise now. He’s finally free of pain & would want us to try to move forward. So this healing will continue the rest of our lives. We will be together with Daniel again & he will welcome us to Heaven with a song & a dance to celebrate. Love you lots! Aunt Nancy

    1. I think of Dan everyday….it is hard to think he is gone…his laugh was as remarkable as his smile…I miss you dan now and forever
      Your former coworker and friend..Kacey

  2. Such beautiful and heart-rending words. This week I pulled out my outrageous request letters to show my students. Within the pile was a letter from Dan to a student. He gave the student and MP3 player and a letter that encouraged the student to continue on with their education. Daniel touch that child’s life in a way that they won’t forget and neither will I.

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