Books

Book 563: You Are Not Alone – Debbie Augenthaler

When the publicist reached out to me about this book I said yes.* I didn’t know if I wanted to say yes, because my mother had passed only weeks before, but I knew at some point I would want/need to read this.

In many ways, I wish I would’ve read it sooner or at the very least before I read Grief Works. What I was looking for in Grief Works, an in-depth “this was my experience of grief” story and this is how I survived, struggled, thrived, etc.

I teared up a few times reading this one, not so much because of my experience (although that did happen at least once), but because of how heartfelt and how beautifully written Augenthaler’s work is. She goes in-depth into what feel like the four stages of grief and even talks about them at some point, but on the whole she stays pretty far away from psychotherapy babble and writes about her personal experience.

Augenthaler divides the book into four sections: Shattered, Grieving and Coping, Emerging and Transitions, and Expanding into the Mystery. At the end of the post are four quotes that I think best represent the sections, from the visceral emotions of the first section through to the on-the-edge of hippy-dippy pseudo-religiosity, you can get an idea of Augenthaler’s way with words. I’ve put their section title in so it’s easier to spot.

I mentioned this in my last response on a book about grieving, but it’s so hard to know what’s right and where I “should be” and really the answer is where I am. Both books I’ve read (and all the articles they gave us at the hospital and after) mention and reiterate that it happens on it’s own time and there’s no markers for you other than it happens when it happens.

This book also made me wonder if it would’ve helped my mom with her own grieving of my grandmother’s death almost twenty years ago now. She was never able to truly accept or cope with Gram’s death. Neither my sister nor I could understand this and hopefully it does not repeat with our own mother’s death. I think the fact that we are much more open and accepting about seeing a therapist, we’re able to work through things or at least get direction to work through them than our mom ever was.

This quote really struck a chord with me about how important it is to have someone to talk to, whether a therapist, a good friend, or an anonymous hotline.

“If you are in this dark place, I urge you with all my heart, to find someone who can help you. I wholeheartedly believe in therapy; it was crucial to my healing. I became a therapist because I wanted to help others like my therapist helped me. If therapy is not an option for you, I urge you to reach out to someone who will help you through this dark period. Find someone you can trust, who will hold you when you are in such pain. If you go to a place of worship, reach out to your pastor, your priest, your rabbi. Find a support group, call a hotline, your best friend, a family member—call someone you know can hold you through this time. I urge you, i you’re in this place, just hold on, breathe through it, cry through it, for these moments pass, and you WILL get through it.” (100)

This wasn’t something I was able to provide to/for my mom and no child should be forced into this burden. I don’t write this lightly and I don’t write it as an absolution. There are things you learn about your parents as you get older, as you become an “adult child” as they label you in these books. You learn your parents are fallible; they have lives outside of you and your siblings; they struggle with finances or substance abuse; or any number of things that you as an adult are just starting to understand and grasp.

I’m not saying children shouldn’t help with their parents finances and I’m definitely not saying that children shouldn’t ask about their parent’s hopes and dreams. I’m saying that many of us are struggling with all of these things ourselves and then having that burdened unwillingly thrust upon us is incredibly difficult and draining. At some point these types of discussions can and should happen when both parties are willing and able. You move from your relationships as parent and child to parent and adult child, peers almost and in the healthiest of relationships friends.

I wish my mom could’ve opened up to someone, like a therapist, because she carried a burden that my sister and I couldn’t comprehend and many times it felt like she was forcing it onto our shoulders. She carried a grief and a burning ire that isn’t (and wasn’t) ours to carry. When every conversation ultimately ended up revolving around one or both of these subjects it became impossible for our relationships to grow past parent and child to one of adult child and parent. We were stuck at a most basic level of parent and child and only briefly over the past decade had the opportunity to interact as adult child and parent, as mutually respecting adults and honestly, that sucks and will forever.

I know my mom visited a therapist, but rarely if ever for longer than three or four months. I will never know if she was afraid of opening up to a stranger, or if she didn’t understand the process, or whatever it was, but ultimately she couldn’t/wouldn’t do it. I know closer to her death she spoke with more religious people/missionaries and having someone like that to talk to was some sort of comfort to her, but we’ll never really know. How would our relationship have been different? This is one of those “if only” moments that comes up after a loved ones deaths and we never will know what could’ve been if only she did this or that.

I cannot advocate enough for seeing a therapist. It gives you someone to speak to that is not connected to anyone you know. They help you process things, they help you to communicate the things you can’t, and they help ease your burden, whatever that is at the time.

Recommendation: This is an incredible resource for anyone grieving. It may be too much if the grief is fresh because of Augenthaler’s incredibly vivid writing and experience. I found her advice to be useful and thought-provoking and I’m sure I’ll revisit this again at some point in the future.

* I received a copy of You Are Not Alone from the publicist in return for my honest opinion. No goods or money were exchanged.

Opening Line: “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.”

Closing Line: “My heart is still expanding, allowing me to leave pieces of him and our love in the hearts of others. Leading me to hold my head up, open my arms and my heart, embrace this life, this day, this hour, this moment, this.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction).

Additional Quotes from You Are Not Alone
“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.” (xvii)

Shattered: “My tears will not, cannot, stop. My body is in high survival mode, heart racing, terror tingling in every cell, the whole of me clenched tight an closed, not wanting to absorb the enormity of what has happened.” (23)

Grieving and Coping: “Each time I wake up, I have a second or two of relief before connecting with the slap of memory—he’s dead, I couldn’t save him. The memory reel plays over and over and over, and they listen as angels do, as if hearing it for the first time.” (50)

Emerging and Transitions: “All the ‘firsts’ are difficult. Sometimes the anticipation of the holidays or special days like birthdays and anniversaries are more upsetting than the actual event itself. They are a marker, a reminder, a way of reinforcing the reality that the person you love is really not coming back. As time goes on, acceptance comes in, but it doesn’t take away the wish that it wasn’t true.” (131)

Expanding into the Mystery: “Does the moon know where she is going? Do I know where I am going? I am beginning to learn that the destination is not as important as the cycle of life, and while beginnings always have an end, the very nature of endings are new beginnings. I often start with the lunar cycle all over again, through all the phases—including the next new beginning. The awareness of the cycle, the tides that go in and out and the slow rotation of the earth, is like a perfect cosmic dance.” (217)

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7 thoughts on “Book 563: You Are Not Alone – Debbie Augenthaler”

  1. Thanks for sharing your reactions to the book and your own reflections on grief Geoff. It doesn’t matter how old or frail our parents become I don’t think anything can really prepare us for the moment when they are no longer with us. There will always be the feeling that you didn’t spend enough time with them or really listen. I’m trying to work out how to have a conversation with my two parents (both well into their eightees) about looking to move to somewhere that doesn’t require as much maintenance. It’s an emotional decision that I know they will find hard but every day I am afraid to get a phone call to say they have fallen etc

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely not easy and I know having those conversations is definitely not easy if impossible. If anything good came from all of this, aside from my mom no longer suffering, the rest of her siblings and my dad and stepmom are starting to be a lot more aware and cognizant of these things in the future and how they’ll affect my sister and I.

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