It’s important to know there is no right way or wrong way; however you grieve is the right way for you.
“Grief is chaotic and messy and hard,” writes Debbie Augenthaler. And yet grief is also an invitation to see the world differently, aware of what we have lost and in appreciation of what remains.
In her new book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope, Augenthaler draws upon her own trauma, losing her husband suddenly and tragically to an aortic aneurysm at only 45 years old, and her clinical experience as a psychotherapist specializing in trauma and grief to offer hope, encouragement, and understanding for those struggling with loss.
You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope
This is the book I wish I’d had after my husband Jim died unexpectedly, in my arms, when I was thirty-six and he was only forty-five. He had been healthy and vibrant, the doctors compared the probability of his death from an aortic aneurysm to being struck by lightning. That lightning strike ended my life as I knew it and began the “baptism by fire” that brought me to my new future.
When Jim died, I was shattered. Yet I continued to work and carry on my professional and personal obligations. As a partner at a financial company and stepmother to Jim’s two small children, I felt as though I was going through the motions of a life that was now foreign to me without Jim by my side. With the constant love and support of family, friends, and my therapist, I survived this devastating loss, though in the beginning I felt like I would not.
Over time, other people who suffered the loss of loved ones turned to me, seeking solace and wanting to know how to survive the pain. My cousin lost her 14-year-old daughter to cancer. My best friend’s husband died of leukemia. And on September 11, 2001, I lost many friends and colleagues. For months following that terrible tragedy, I spent every weekend at funerals and memorial services. Many told me how much I helped them during this time by being present, holding their hands, and empathizing with the devastation they felt. I discovered I could offer comfort to those who are in the midst of pain and grief. All of this led me to change careers and become a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, grief, and loss.
My story of loss is different from your story, yet there are common threads of grief that connect us all. Grief is a natural response to the loss of something or someone. Many of the experiences and feelings from my personal story are similar to the ones I’ve heard repeatedly from my clients and many others who are grieving. I am sharing my story because I know it will help you to know: you are not alone. When you’re grieving, it helps to hear people’s stories and how they coped and survived.
Many of you have heard of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But grief is not a linear passage from stage to stage. While these stages are helpful terms to describe reactions we may experience, grief doesn’t follow a progression. Grief does not come with a timetable or a rulebook. Friends and family who are worried about you might think you‘re grieving too much, or too long, or not enough because they cannot see inside your pain or inner turmoil. It’s important to know there is no right way or wrong way; however you grieve is the right way for you.
Grief is chaotic and messy and hard. The phases of grief are common denominators in the shared experience of grief. At times you may feel like you‘re in all the phases at once, bouncing from one phase to another in a minute, an hour, or a day. You may feel like you’re progressing and feeling better, and then one small event or memory can tear the thin membrane growing over the wound in your heart and you feel like you’re back at the beginning.
And in the beginning many of us are inconsolable. We’re distraught and nothing can comfort us. When someone we love dies, it makes no sense, they were there and now they are not. We feel ovenrwhelmed, frightened, and unable to cope, much less be comforted.
Especially in the early phases of grief, we don’t believe we’ll ever feel better. We can become childlike in our grief, and it takes time to learn how to cope, to heal, and to hope again. Coping with grief is something that has to be learned and developed; if you’ve never experienced a shattering loss, you have no mental imprint for how to put the pieces back together.
This is a book that speaks to the feelings of grief and offers you tools to cope with inconsolable loss. I will take you into the deep waters of grief and then offer a lifeline to bring you back to shore, to pause and catch your breath. I share my story because when I was newly grieving and traumatized, I wanted to know someone could understand what I was feeling. I couldn’t find a book to speak to the part of me that needed to know someone else had felt this way and had survived. I didn’t want to read clinical books or books that told me how I should be feeling or what I should be doing. I wanted a book that could witness and validate my experience. Before Jim died, I experienced a lot of loss in my life, but nothing prepared me for losing him. The loss was immeasurable. I wanted someone who “got” what was happening to me. I want you to know: I get it.
It took me years to grow from my own losses, and now, coupled with my professional experience and training, I offer healing insights to help guide you through the labyrinth of loss and healing, along with simple suggestions of things to do that can be helpful along the way. I also show how spiritual and metaphysical connections can be forged by loss, revealing the reality that love and spirit never dies.
The distance I have from my grief now gives me a perspective I couldn’t have had when I was newly grieving. If you are feeling hopeless in your grief, I want you to pick up this book and know that I have been where you are; I got through it. I made it, and you will make it too.
There are many gifts that come with loss, including spiritual awakenings and discovering the connected bond of eternal love. We often develop a deeper compassion and an appreciation for the blessings that come from the challenging journey of grief, leading us to healing, transformation, and a new kind of joy.
I have walked this path throughout my life and want to walk with you on yours.
Grief is the price we pay for love. Queen Elizabeth II
The World of Before
Jim was part of my life for almost twelve years. I’ve never been closer to anyone than I was to Jim. We were great friends before we fell in love. He became my best friend, the person I could tell anything to without fear of judgment. He understood me in ways I almost didn’t understand myself. He saw something in me and helped me see it too. He taught me how to trust. To trust in him and to trust in myself. He would tease me, saying, “You’re my diamond in the rough.”
Jim was so funny, always able to make people laugh. I smile while writing this, thinking of all the laughter we shared and that he shared with others. I always knew when he was on the phone with one of his close friends because he would begin to laugh, and then, unable to stop, he’d lean back in the chair, hand over mouth, or lean over holding his stomach, his eyes wet with amused tears. He was kind, generous, and smart. A wonderful father, brother, son, friend, and husband.
We had loved one another for years but had only been married for two and half of them when he died. I insisted on waiting to marry until I received my undergraduate degree, which I finally did when I was thirty-three. I worked full time and carried a full credit load to finish something I didn’t have the opportunity to when I graduated from high school. Jim’s huge emotional support during those six years of school and work deepened our relationship. Our love bloomed.
The most exquisitely beautiful moment in my life was on a glorious late spring day in May of 1994. Standing in the vestibule of St. Mary’s Church, we could see a carefully chosen circle of close friends and family waiting expectantly. The cantor’s beautiful voice filled the church and, with joyful anticipation, I took Jim’s hand to begin to step forward. With a gentle tug, he held me back and turned me to face him. With love and tenderness, trembling with emotion, he said, “I want us to have this moment together. This moment just for us. You are making me the happiest man in the world today. I will always love you and cherish you. Thank you for being you and for becoming my wife.”
That’s the moment we married. The rest was just the icing.
It was very much a mutual relationship, evolving from friendship, to confidantes, to becoming lovers and partners. We each carried wounds from earlier times in our lives. We both needed to learn how to feel safe in love and trust our hearts with each other. I helped save him as he helped save me. When his confidence faltered, I never wavered in believing in him. We supported each other though life’s many trials and challenges. Together we knew how.
We knew our union was meant to be.
Whatever grief longing for him brings Whatever blood Love mixes in his wine Be grateful; there’s one worse fate Never seeing him once.
Rumi (translated by Andrew Harvey)
1. Those Three Words
“I know we’ll be laughing about this tonight,” Jim says, reassuring me. He kisses me, caresses my cheek with his hand and holds my gaze. Our eyes lock in silent communion as we hold each other close, in this moment, before the world changes.
Jim looks at me intently, as if he wants to tell me something but cannot find the words. I feel his breath on my cheek as he says, “You know how much I love you.”
My heart races up into my throat, pulsing rapidly and making it hard to breathe as a current of unfamiliar energy rushes into the room. “I love you too, so much,” I say. “Please let me call an ambulance,” I plead again. “Please, Jim.”
“No, Deb, I’m really okay,” he insists as we embrace and kiss again.
I didn’t know this would be our last embrace.
I turn toward the closet to get some clothes, my body attuned with his, when he says, “Debbie, I feel so dizzy.”
I spin around to watch him fall backwards onto our bed, right hand on his forehead.
“Stop it, this is not funny, Jim,“ I say as I jump beside him on the bed. I want to pull this moment into all the other moments Jim plays jokes on me. I want to lighten the dense air pressure that has descended upon our room because Jim is always funny and can make anything better. It would be just like him to try and make me laugh and worry less. He’s had a strange sensation in his chest off and on since we woke up. He’s not in any pain and thinks maybe it’s heartburn and feels foolish going to the hospital. We’re only going now because I keep insisting and he won’t let me call an ambulance. It’s why he thinks we’ll be laughing about this tonight. I want him to sit back up and start laughing. I want him to say, “Gotcha!” and then I can be mad at him for scaring me like this.
“Stop it!” I scream, as I straddle him because he hasn’t moved. I grab his head with my hands.
A terrible sound comes from his throat, a loud, garbled gargling, and his eyes have rolled back, and I yell, “Look at me, Jim, stop it!” This cannot be happening. I reach for the phone on the nightstand. Trembling, I dial 911 and feel the receiver shake against the curve of my ear, hear the fear in my high-pitched voice, and the woman on the other end begins telling me what to do.
“Is the front door open?” she asks.
“No, it’s two flights down and I’m not leaving him.”
“You must,” she insists, “The paramedics need to get in.”
“I don’t care!” I scream, “They can break the door down, I won’t leave him!“
You Are Not Alone. A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope
by Debbie Augenthaler
get it at Amazon.com