Friends bond over grief

May 23, 2014

Julie Knausenberger was ten when her dad died as a by-stander in a drive-by shooting. Years later, her sister died of a heroin overdose.

Karen Williams’ dad died of a heart attack just before she turned ten. And her sister died in a car accident.

The two friends recently interviewed each other at the Chicago StoryCorps Booth and talked about how those deaths allowed them to forge a lasting friendship.

The first time they met was at a gathering for students of their graduate school in Washington, DC. The night they met, Karen told Julie she was going to meet her deceased sister’s best friend. Karen said, “Usually when someone’s genuinely being friendly and asking questions to get to know your family, I tend to do this apologetic thing where I’m like: You’re going to ask me these really kind questions and I’m going to have to say yep, my father also died…”

StoryCorps’ mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. This excerpt was edited by WBEZ.

And instead, Julie said, “Oh my God! Your sister died too!? Your dad died too?!”

Her sister had recently died and she wanted to know the details of what had happened to Karen’s sister and dad. Was it sudden? Were they sick? Was it traumatic?

Karen was taken aback by the conversation. It was the first time that she could talk to someone openly about their deaths without feeling guilty about bringing the other person down.

And with that, the two began a friendship that has stood the test of time. They have helped each other along the way with a healthy doses of humor and honesty.
“You were the first friend I made that really took me as I was and reminded me that I have a lot of cool things to offer to other people,” Julie said. “I’m really glad that we found each other.”

“Yeah, I feel really glad that we ended up in the same place at the same time.”