Don André especially loved working with couples, yes.

But also relished working with half a demolished couple, apparently. Loved working with couples and the individuals liberated thereof?

You could tell he loved his work, when you sat in the big blue EZ-boy recliner across from him. It’s easy to see couples counseling as a worthy, important profession, when you only picture couples entering therapy and then going on to become happier, stronger couples. But it is equally noble to efficiently perceive when an individual in a couple is having a hard time knowing her own worth because of long-term emotional abuse endured in a couple context (made difficult to perceive by the way people behave differently in a professional setting). It is noble to stand by her while she learns to perceive her worth, long enough for her to make the painful steps involved in extricating herself from a severe entanglement.

Don died on July 8th.

I knew that Don was dying. I learned that Don had died on July 15th, one week after his death, while I was in Kodiak, but waited until this information was shared publicly by his family before saying my own words about this staggering loss. His obituary appeared in Friday’s News Times. Rich couldn’t keep the tears out of his voice when he broke the news to me over the phone, which he learned from a long-time mutual friend. He knew this was a biggie for me.

Don wasn’t the kind of therapist who sat and said nothing while you poured out your guts. He got you pouring out the guts, but he also shared some of his guts. I think some of us require that dialogue to learn the skills we need. To get how it was for someone else helps us see how it is for ourselves, when we are too stuck inside ourselves sometimes to see it at first. He said enough for me to be able to picture the possibility of being with someone with whom I could be myself, with whom I could feel relaxed and free… I needed to know couples like Don and Jeannie had that, could sustain that, in order to believe it could exist for me, maybe, someday. (Spoiler alert: it does exist, today.)

My heart goes out to Jeannie.

As for me, what claim do I have to grieve this person? Like so many people here, I met Don as one-half of a broken couple. “The Perfect Storm,” he affectionately called us for the way we brought out the absolute worst in each other. “What I hear you saying is that it didn’t go that well,” he’d gently summarize, after whatever latest debacle I dragged in each week and poured through ugly tears. This understatement always made me laugh through the snot-filled Kleenex I clutched. I kept seeing Don professionally long after my ex quit seeing Don, and then years later, enough time having elapsed since our professional work, I sat with Don while he worked on articulating what it is he has learned in these long years of his life’s work. He had writing goals, I knew. During our sessions when I was his client, to which I faithfully brought a notebook and took copious notes, he had always joked that I would need to help him write his book one day.

I did just graduate an MFA in which I learned to write books, and I keep those notes, and those audio recordings of our “Donifesto” chats, in a safe place. It is hard to imagine writing Don’s book now that Don is gone, but then, it’s hard to imagine not sharing Don’s work with the world, too. I feel like I am sitting on a gold mine, one intended for the world to benefit from, not just me. Don had a grasp on the human condition, though he would never claim to have it figured out. He’s like Brené Brown but snarkier, with more tree/mushroom/compost metaphors, and a dude.

I never figured out why he would give such a gift to me. He always believed in me more than I believed in myself, as a way of showing me how to do it.

I mean, I don’t know what the protocol is for mourning your former-therapist-turned-friend-and-intellectual-buddy? He would laugh at this overthinking. Which makes me smile, though I’m really sad. I know I am among friends who are probably feeling this one hard, too.

There are few people in my life who have been more pivotal to my well-being. I will miss you, Don.

1 comment to Don

  • Camp boss

    I saw his obit yesterday…. I am sad i never met him but i feel like i kind of know a little of him from all our talks. Our community lost a great person and resource, but we can be grateful for all the good he did and those he helped. ❤️❤️

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