Guest Post with Debbie Augenthaler

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Hi Everyone!

I am excited to be here today to bring you a guest post from Debbie Augenthaler. Please help me give her a warm welcome to the blog.

Grief Stories Matter
by Debbie Augenthaler,
Author of You Are Not Alone
“If I dont learn to face my grief, it would be like taking a deep breath and holding that breath for the rest of my life.” --Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz), the daughter in This is Us

I’ve been riveted to the NBC show This is Us, and I’m almost relieved season two is over so I can finally put my tissues away and exhale. For anyone who has ever been grieving - which is all of us, this show is not only cathartic, but takes courage to watch, explore, and acknowledge the impact of loss. What I’m so aware of is how unspoken this is in our grief-phobic society.

As a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, grief and loss, it’s exciting to witness the first television series to accurately depict the intricate web of grief and the transformations that follows, both positive and negative. And because the writers of This is Us arent afraid to show us the many facets of grief, we arent afraid to look.

The show is bookended by two deaths in the close-knit and loving Pearson family, one occurring in the delivery room and the other following a tragic fire in the Pearsons home seventeen years later, though there are other meaningful losses in the series.

In the first episode of Season One, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) are expecting triplets. After the delivery, Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) informs a shocked Jack that one of the babies died. A grief-stricken Jack listens as Dr. K shares his personal story of losing his wife recently to cancer, and of the death of their first baby in the delivery room more than fifty years earlier. The loss of his first child inspired him to become a doctor. He tells Jack one day you will look back and see that you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. Moments later, Jack makes a decision to adopt an abandoned black baby a fireman brought to the hospital, and this decision changes the Pearson family forever.

This beautiful, tender, and sometimes tragic family story is mostly told in flashbacks, and we get to witness the three siblingslives twenty years after their father dies, to see how his absence in their lives and memory of his death still haunts them. Through their own personal struggles, they show us how grief has shaped and informed who they’ve become as adults. The experiences of each sibling, Kevin (Justin Hartley), Chrissy (Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) reminds us we all have different ways of coping with loss. It also shows how grief is not linear and has no timetable.

In the infamous Season Two Super Bowl episode Jack is finally safe in the hospital after going back into his familys burning home to save the family dog. Rebecca goes to the vending machine to get a candy bar.  In slow motion, as shes choosing from a mostly empty vending machine, you see the chaos of the hospital staff behind her, rushing into her husbands room.  When she finally turns around, the doctor is there to inform her Jack has died from a heart attack. Unable to take in the news, she crunches into her candy bar with denial.

Instantly, I am brought back to my own husbands shocking death when I was just thirty-six-years old, when his doctors came down the hospital corridor with the same look on their faces, to tell me my husband Jim was dead, also from a heart attack. Like Rebecca, I didn’t want to believe it. When Rebecca goes into Jacks hospital room and sees him laying motionless on the bed, when she is handed the plastic bag with Jacks wallet and other belongings, my body weakens and my legs tremble again like they did when I was handed a similar plastic bag—and I weep for her and also for myself so many years ago.

Thats the thing about grief and sharing our grief stories. We remember that grief is so personal, but its also universal.

The show exposes the darker side of how the characters manage their grief—through addictions, guilt, and anger, and in doing this, we are able to admit to our own struggles and see our own selves in these complex characters.

It also show the other side of grief, the gifts that can come from loss, when Dr. K., with great compassion, shares his story to give Jack hope. He does the same with Rebecca after Jack dies - giving her a glimmer of hope in the darkness. I love how strongly the themes of the continuing bonds of love and how our loved ones live on in us thread throughout the series. Love doesn’t die.

A good story reaches out and reminds us of our own experiences and our own struggles and triumphs, and This is Us delivers that in spades.  By witnessing the lives of another family in grief, we are given permission to look at our own struggles, to forgive ourselves our transgressions and also forgive those we love.

I’m grateful to NBC and all the writers for bringing grief out of the shadows and into the light with This is Usfor reminding us that grief is about all of us. These beautiful episodes will help us start so many conversations about grief, and by watching this show, whatever breath we are holding onto in our lungs, we can finally begin to exhale.

Because This is Us is who we are and this is the way we feel. Grief stories matter, and sharing them helps all of us heal.

Thanks Debbie for the insightful post!


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 Service.

For more information, please visit and follow Debbie on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy Reading!

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