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Chelsea Handler is talking about the grief she battled following the unexpected death of her brother during her childhood.
The comedian appeared on The Big Bang Theory alum Mayim Bialik’s podcast Breakdown, where she opened up about how she navigated life after learning that her 22-year-old brother Chet died in a hiking accident. Handler, who was 9 at the time, said that “no one was trying to help” her in the wake of the death because her family — including her four remaining siblings — thought she was too young to comprehend it.
“I was just in denial,” Handler explained. “I went into cruise control. I was like, ‘I’m going to be happy, I’m going to be funny, I’m going to make this family laugh again. I’m going to be the reason we’re going to have joy again.’”
The Chelsea Lately host shared that she kept “moving in any direction” that would take her away from her grief, which she later unpacked in therapy.
“I didn’t even want to deal with the loss of my brother because, as was explained to me in adulthood, when I finally sat down and did the work that I should have done a long time ago about my delayed grief, it was a rejection,” she shared. “My brother sat with me on the night before he left for this trip, where he fell off a cliff in Jackson Hole, Wyoming… He was going on a graduation trip, and I didn’t know siblings left their families and went on trips of their own, at some point. I was pissed at him. I was like, ‘How can you not be coming to Martha’s Vineyard?’ We would drive up there every summer, just the two of us. And he said ‘I’ll be back in two weeks. I will never, ever, leave you with these people.’ Meaning my parents. When he died, he may as well have found a different family with a sister who was cuter, and funnier. It felt like a rejection, not like an accident.”
Handler, whose book Life Will Be the Death of Me recounts her childhood, previously spoke about her experience with grief in a 2019 interview with USA Today. She said that it was the 2016 election of Donald Trump that brought back up feelings associated with Chet’s passing.
"It turned out, the election represented to me the world being unhinged, which was exactly what happened to me when my brother died when I was 9 years old," she told the outlet. "He told me he’d come back, and he said he’d never leave me with these people, referring to my parents … and he was just going hiking and that I would always have him, and he never came back."
In order to cope, Handler began working with psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel, who she had on her 2016 Netflix talk show, Chelsea. She currently discusses mental health on her own podcast, Dear Chelsea, with guests that have included Lilly Singh, Mena Suvari and Gwyneth Paltrow.