On Saturday night, I learned that someone very important to me died last week. Deb Powell Simons was my therapist throughout my teen years and early 20s. I had known she had been sick many years ago; learning of her death came as a complete shock. She leaves behind a husband and four young children. She was only 44.
Deb was, simply put, an incredible human being. She had the biggest heart, the kind of heart made for nurturing troubled teenagers. When I first met her, I was 14 and right at the beginning of the shittiest years of my life. My brother was a drug addict. One of my parents was sick. Home life was chaotic and terrible and I cried all of the time. I started seeing a therapist after I locked myself in my bedroom and refused to go to school. A guidance counselor put me in touch with Deb.
Lots of angry teenagers don’t want to talk to a therapist. But I looked forward to seeing Deb every week. I trusted her implicitly. She used to take me out of her office and sit in her car and play music that she thought I would connect with. Once she played the Tori Amos song, “Winter,” from Little Earthquakes. Another time she played the Alanis Morrisette song “Thank U.” I remember her commenting on the lyric “how ’bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out,” saying to me, “Think about how rare it is that you actually get to do that.”
Deb encouraged me to write. No, she championed my writing. I brought my poems to sessions and read them to her. One day when I was 14, after I wrote a memoir about the previous crazy year in the life of my family, Deb drove me to Barnes & Noble and purchased me a book with her own money on how to get a book published. I actually sent letters out to book publishers; all of them declined. But it was an early and great lesson in self-promotion, in believing that I had a voice that should be heard.
One of the things that I remember most about Deb was her compassion. I struggled, and still struggle, to accept people who do bad things. But Deb was able to really see the humanity in everyone. When I was in high school, one of my brother’s friends killed someone. The friend was also Deb’s client. For the next several years, Deb would occasionally mention she had visited him in prison. Looking back now with an adult perspective on the situation, I see and appreciate how Deb didn’t desert this kid. She was his therapist; she wasn’t going to abandon him just because he had done a horrible thing.
I had sessions with Deb once a week throughout high school. I saw her a bunch of times during summer breaks between college and when I moved back home after college, I started seeing her again. By that point, I was paying my own therapy bills. Or trying to, anyway. Deb let me pay whenever I could. I realized this weekend when I learned of the death that I still owe her hundreds of dollars. She never asked me for it, not even once.
As I sit here writing this, tears pricking my eyes, I’m listening to songs by Alanis, Ani and Tori that I used to listen to with Deb. For the first time now, I’m wondering if there was a message in these lyrics to “Winter” — lyrics that now make me think of her:
Sleeping Beauty trips me with a frown
I hear a voice
you must learn to stand up
for yourself ’cause I can’t always be around
In a way, you could say Deb helped raise me. I am not being hyperbolic when I say the woman I am today and the confidence I have in myself and in my writing can be traced back to her. I stand up for myself, I fight for myself, and I love myself in part because in our little world of two, Deb created a space where I could learn how. She believed that I was someone valuable and I had something valuable to say. These past few days, I have been feeling enormously sad that I hadn’t seen her in years. I didn’t get to show her how I turned out: I’m a writer now professionally. I wish I could thank her for the years she helped hold me upright.
My thoughts are with her children, and her husband, of course, but also for every kid who had Deb as a counselor or therapist. She was special. There is no sense in death, but this one feels particularly cruel and senseless. Not just our own little corner of Connecticut, but the world, is truly at a loss without her.
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.
[Image of a calla lily via Shutterstock]