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Rickey Smiley Talks 'Triggering' Year of Grief After Son’s Overdose: 'The Pain Is Unbearable' (Exclusive)

Rickey Smiley grieves the death of his son Brandon in his upcoming book 'Sideshow: Living with Loss and Moving Forward with Faith'

<p>Rickey Smiley</p> Rickey Smiley and his late son Brandon

Rickey Smiley

Rickey Smiley and his late son Brandon

For comedian and radio personality Rickey Smiley, the past year has been very “triggering” as he continues to come to terms with losing his 32-year-old son Brandon to an accidental overdose.

Brandon, an aspiring stand-up comic, died of fentanyl and ethanol toxicity in January 2023 following a years-long battle with addiction to painkillers.

Smiley, 55, is now opening up to PEOPLE exclusively about his difficult year of grief and why he’s sharing his healing journey in his upcoming book, Sideshow.

“When you come up on the one year, it is almost like it's happening all over again because you're triggered,” he tells PEOPLE. “I was walking through my home like something was going to happen to my son all over again. It was just horrible. My anxiety was completely through the roof.”

“It was almost like a countdown to the 29th, the day he died,” the Dish Nation star adds.

<p>Rickey Smiley</p> Rickey Smiley and his son Brandon

Rickey Smiley

Rickey Smiley and his son Brandon

Related: Comedian Rickey Smiley on 'Responsibility' to Share His Grief Over Son's Accidental Opioid Overdose (Exclusive)

Smiley, who also lost his father to a drug overdose when he was young, says grappling with death when it’s your own child is unlike anything else he’s experienced.

“It’s your 32-year-old son that died, but man, you start thinking about your 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old son. You're thinking about the birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, you're thinking about the kid that slept in the bed with you, that you helped get dressed and brush his teeth,” he explains. “That’s your child. I felt it from top to bottom, inside to outside.”

“I feel like I had died. It literally felt like a part of me died,” he continues. “It was depressing, anxiety, sadness. Nothing I ever felt before, and sometimes it makes you feel like you wished you were dead also because the pain is unbearable.”

In order to cope with his grief, Smiley says he started seeing a therapist twice a week, which has been helpful. He’s also understood how his journey has simply gotten easier with time.

“My therapist told me that everything that I'm dealing with is starting to settle. The depth is still there. What happened still happened, but it gets to a point where it starts to subside and you're getting used to this new normal,” he explains.

Lynsey Weatherspoon Rickey Smiley and his late son Brandon
Lynsey Weatherspoon Rickey Smiley and his late son Brandon

In addition to therapy, Smiley says he’s also grateful to have a couple high school friends and three close relatives who have really stepped in to be his core support system over the past year.

“Even when the calls stopped coming in, when the flowers have withered, when everything is over and people are going on with their life, it's certain people that will still connect with you and just always have you in mind,” he says.

“People hear you on the radio and they see you performing and they think that you’re okay, but they never see you crying to the side of the stage. To tell jokes, the total opposite of what you're feeling inside, that’s hard,” he continues. “They were there for me in my roughest time. It has been so important.”

Although there are certain “triggering” moments when a song or place reminds him of Brandon, Smiley says nowadays he’s remembering his son by watching old funny videos of him that keep his spirits up.

“I just look at it and laugh and it sort of keeps him alive, but it doesn't send me to a dark place. I just kind of smile and laugh as if he's still living,” the comedian adds.

<p>THOMAS NELSON</p> Sideshow Cover Art

THOMAS NELSON

Sideshow Cover Art

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Smiley says writing his upcoming book, Sideshow, has also been one of his ways of coping.

“I just remember days that I would write and the next day, I would just release and cry. I've learned through therapy to sit in my feelings and not try to say, ‘Okay, I'm going to go to work.’ Because one thing I know about grief… grief is like, ‘I'm going to wait for you until you get back. When you get done working, I'm going to be right here waiting on you.’ You can't control it. When it comes, it comes.”

Although he admits he’s far from healed, Smiley says this book is about navigating his loss. As a devout Christian, the actor is also sharing scriptures that can help those on similar journeys find peace.

“It'll be a great inspiration piece for those that have also suffered a loss.” he tells PEOPLE. “So I just hope that the book gives somebody some comfort and some encouraging words.”

Rickey Smiley’s new book, Sideshow: Living with Loss and Moving Forward with Faith, is set to release September 17, 2024.

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