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Turning Over the Reins - Page 4

A few days later, Doug's body was found in the snow. I struggled to figure out how to tell Alex, but couldn't think of any good way. I finally just said, "They found Doug's body." She turned and ran into her room, slamming the door, and I stood in the living room listening to her cry. For a moment, I felt as angry and helpless as I had that afternoon when she'd first mounted Buddy. I'd always considered myself an excellent therapist and father, but now I feared I was just an impotent fraud, who'd clumsily blurted out to her that the second most important male in her life was dead.

Eventually, I remembered what Doug and Buddy had taught me: I needed to trust Alex and her capacities. I'd wanted to overprotect her; to break the news in a way that she wouldn't cry, wouldn't feel the loss too much. It was time to remember that Alex could take care of herself.

While she cried in her room, she sent Doug a long e-mail, telling him everything he'd meant to her. She called friends. During the next days and months, she digested the news in the way of most mourners since human time began: uneasily, unevenly, unsurely, sometimes reluctantly—and slowly.

We went to Colorado for the memorial service. Alex, now 18 years old, walked to the front of the hall and spoke in a trembling voice to a hundred people, most of them strangers. I'd prepared my own eulogy, but decided not to speak: this was Alex's day to mourn. If Doug could have seen her up there, and had known why I sat silent, I think he'd have leaned against the post of the horse corral and laughed out loud, with tears in his eyes.

Garry Cooper, L.C.S.W., a contributing editor of the ­­, is the author of the magazine's Clinician's Digest. He's a therapist in Oak Park, Illinois. Contact: Letters to the Editor about this department may be e-mailed to

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