My father was a Vietnam veteran who suffered from PTSD. A part of me always
grieves for him, for how he suffered and how his illness affected our family.
And a part of me will always grieve for the little girl whose father came back
from war a stranger, and for the relationship we never got to have.
His illness took him away from me, from his family, from the man he was before.
When I was nineteen, I went camping with him and my brother in the Ozark
mountains in Arkansas. I'd only seen him a few times since I was a young girl.
We went rafting in rapids filled with snakes, brown water moccasins slithering
around the sides of the river, me so scared my hands hurt from gripping tightly
to the sides of the raft so I wouldn't fall in.
We went horseback riding. And again, I was afraid, but determined. I climbed up
on a beautiful brown mare, massive and strong. My father said, "Don't let her
know you're afraid. She'll feel it."
So high, so far from the ground. She felt my fear.
"Debbie, what are you waiting for? Give her a little kick to get started."
I wanted a connection with my dad I had never had. I wanted to please him. So I
gave her a kick, despite my fear. Despite not knowing how to control a creature
so much bigger than I.
She took off running, wildly, veering off the path, and into the forest. I could
distantly hear my father shouting out how to pull in the reins to control this
force of energy that only wanted freedom – and for a moment that hung in the air
I felt like the horse. Flying through the forest, sweet taste of freedom.
It was exhilarating – until it was not.
Here's what stays forever in my memory, that wild ride on the horse: frantically
trying to hold onto the reins, useless in my hands, soon just clinging to her
mane. Crouched and pressed against her, crying while my heart pounded in tandem
with hers. Was I crying from fear? From wanting something from my dad I couldn't
have? From wanting the freedom I'd never had to just be me? Missing the trees
and branches by inches, the wind whipping wildly through my hair.
My father and brother finally managing to gallop up next to me, securing the
reins and bringing the mare under control.
My father was gentle that day, and he was nervous, like me, both of us not
knowing how to connect. I always thought one day we'd learn how. But one day
never came. He died of a heart attack a few years later when I was in my early
twenties. He was only forty-four. I was devastated; all the un-saids I'd hoped
to resolve died with him.
I've grown through grief. It's taught me many things, given me gifts I never
would have imagined. Compassion, understanding, and forgiveness helping me to
see how it was his illness, not him, that ruptured our relationship, resolving
the un-saids for me. I still feel sorrow because it is sad – what happened to
his life and the pain his illness caused. But bottom line – I've learned I will
always have a connection with my dad that is deep and loving.
Many of us have un-saids with loved ones who have died. I hope, as you heal and
grow through your own grief, you too will grow in compassion, understanding, and
forgiveness. Not just for them, but for yourself too.
I never went horseback riding again. But if my dad were here, I'd do it again.
Because he still has my back, like he did that day. I like to think he was proud
of me for facing my fears. I like to think he's proud of me now, for finding the
freedom to just be me.
I feel his love for me all the time. And he knows I love him too. Happy Father's
Day, Dad. I love you.
© Debbie Augenthaler, author of YOU ARE NOT ALONE
About Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC
Debbie is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she has
specialized in trauma, grief, and loss. Her husband, Jim, died suddenly in her
arms when she was only 36 years old. He had been healthy and vibrant – the
doctors compared the probability of his death by heart attack to being struck by
lightning. That lightning strike ended her life as she knew it and thus began
the "baptism by fire" that brought her to her new future.
Debbie's book, YOU ARE
NOT ALONE: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope (May 2018),
is the book she wishes she'd had when she was grieving, and wishes she had now
to offer clients experiencing life-altering losses. With the connection of a
shared experience, Debbie guides the reader through grief to transformation and
a new beginning.
Debbie has as Master's Degree in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness from
New York University. She has completed a two year post graduate Advanced Trauma
Studies program from the Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy and is trained
in various modalities that inform a holistically based practice including EMDR,
Internal Family Systems, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Energy Psychology, and
Hypnosis. In 2012 she received the NYU Steinhardt Award for Outstanding Clinical
For more information, please visit debbieaugenthaler.com/ and follow Debbie on Facebook
A Heartfelt Guide to Grief, Healing, and Hope
Are you grieving? Do you know someone who is grieving and you don't know how
to help them?
You Are Not Alone takes readers into Debbie's personal
journey of grief, from the first gripping chapter, when her husband dies
unexpectedly in her arms. Throughout the book, Debbie takes readers by the hand
and offers them gentle insights and suggestions for healing and hope, while
sharing her powerful story of loss and the spiritual journey that led her to
know love never dies.
This book is a life raft in a grief storm.
as she has helped many as a psychotherapist specializing in trauma and grief,
Debbie and her wisdom can help you too.
She wants you to know:
It's okay to be a griever. Don't feel like you have to hold it together for
- Grief is not linear. There is no timetable. Your experience of
grief is as unique as you are.
- Beginning to heal and adjust to your new
life doesn't mean having to let go of the person you love.
You Are Not
Alone will gently guide you from grief, to healing, to hope and transformation.
Self-Help | Non-Fiction
Inspirational [Everystep Publishing, On Sale:
March 10, 2018, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781732023307 / ]
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