Grief is a strange, strange force. Just ask anyone who has lost someone dear to them or traversed through unexpected tragedy. As writer Dean Koontz puts it, “Grief can destroy you — or focus you.” In the case of author and therapist Debbie Augenthaler, both proved to be true in the same moment, evidenced in her poignant, moving, relatable, and transparent work: You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope. Equal parts self-help, narrative, and memoir, You are Not Alone is a stunningly raw look at the journey of grief from the moment of injury through healing to hope.
As someone who has walked through tremendous tragedy and considerable grief myself, I was put off at first by the title. Another book on how to recover from the unrecoverable? I have read many, and have skimmed even more, stopped by the patronizing tones, the cold, clinical detachment, and often the over-emotional explosion that those books delivered. I tended to gain more from a walk in the woods than a read through these books.
This, however, is one of the few exceptions in this genre.
Augenthaler pulls from more than the sudden death of her beloved husband, Jim, to take readers on this journey. She is also a psychotherapist based in New York City, specializing in treating trauma, grief, and loss. It is from the dual platforms of both professional and personal experience that she shares her heart with maximum vulnerability, drawing the reader in as if she had opened her office door, offered a couch and a cup of coffee, and had sat down with a box of tissues alongside. Augenthaler states that she wrote the book she wished she had had when she was going through the process herself — unguarded, open, raw, and at times, almost painfully relatable.
This is the book I too wish I would have had, and one that I have already packaged to mail to a friend who just lost her father.
Augenthaler’s dissection of grief and its stages is less clinical and more narrative, beginning with the day her husband, Jim, died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm. Her progression from shock to denial, from near depression to courage, is a truly human experience, marked with high points and rock bottoms. Along the way, she notes those things which helped her the most and transforms them into heartfelt exhortations to the reader, a compassionate helping hand in a time of great need. She includes pages written so pointedly that I had to pause for a moment, drawn back to the moment I, too, first felt that same pain, that wave of grief.
From “Shattered” to “Grieving and Coping,” the author invites the reader into the grittiest, strangest season of grief when the pain is the most pronounced and life appears to have stopped. She follows with “Emerging and Transition,” describing the delicate tension between the old and new, the painful and healing, the stillness and forward motion.
Caught in this season is the guilt of moving forward, a topic that paralyzes so many in their journey to hope. Augenthaler’s narrative of her acceptance and tentative baby steps forward into her new life are honest and empowering. Finally, the author bares her soul in “Expanding into the Mystery,” where she finds herself healed in areas yet still tender, and suddenly called upon to be the “angel” to others in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers. Armed with empathy earned in the struggle, wisdom gained in the pain, and her tender soul still healing, Augenthaler is able to effectively communicate the challenges, rewards, highs, and lows of embracing the next stage of life in a very honest and accessible way.
Written in the delicate balance between emotional explosion and transparent confession, You are Not Alone weaves principles of psychotherapy into the narrative, intentionally arming the reader with the discoveries made along the journey as well as the discoveries made in hindsight. Augenthaler’s experience, coupled with her studies, make it equal parts guide and sit-down-talk-with-coffee, the perfect combination for the person facing grief and its uncertainty without a hand to hold. The book includes resources directly targeted to the person walking in the midst of crippling grief, as well as to those who are supporters of those people.
While I dearly hope and pray that I shall not be in the position to reread this book again in my life, it is a genuine comfort to know that such a book exists, and I will continue to recommend it to others. Grief is best healed when shared, and You are Not Alone shares in such a way that the reader is drawn into pain, but is also drawn through the journey to healing and then hope. Augenthaler has truly turned her greatest pain into a salve for so many others facing the same and similar pains. I commend her and give this work my highest recommendation.
You Are Not Alone – A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope
Everystep Publications, May 2018 (Self-published)
Paperback, 274 pages