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BEACON Senior News

Crossing the deep waters of trauma, trial and loss

Whoever said “With age comes wisdom” implied that simply getting older or experiencing life makes us wise. 

Janet Perreault, 78, and Debi Grebenik, 66, believe it takes more than the celebration of birthdays if we are to truly understand how our past impacts our present and, subsequently, how we deal with life’s challenges. 

What started as two old friends reconnecting led to cowriting, “Crossing the Deep Waters of Trauma, Trials and Loss,” a guidebook where both authors freely share their life losses to encourage others that they, too, can emerge stronger through adversity.

Moving forward

The book warmly invites the reader into a conversation of love, understanding and compassion, regardless of one’s belief system. Though the book is structured as a Bible study (the authors believe that God is always a vital part of the process), the principles and workbook questions can benefit anyone searching for answers to their own unique challenges. Scripture, prayer and a leader’s guide assist with Bible study usage.

The book is purposely short for busy readers, but the six chapters are rich with information, offering questions for reflection and positive “steppingstones” (courage, hope, possibilities, trust, healing and forgiveness) to help the reader move forward. 

Though Grebenik and Perreault were thrilled to write a book in their senior years, their greater reward is people reading passages that resonate in their own lives. 

The authors’ empathetic reach extends beyond the book. Grebenik is a mental health professional and founder of the Trauma Training Institute, which provides training, consultation, therapy and coaching for clients with trauma histories.

Perreault has experienced some of life’s most difficult challenges, including domestic violence in an early marriage and the loss of her 14-year-old son to suicide, followed by the suicide of her ex-husband as well. 

What trauma means to seniors

Grebenik said the book timely topic of trauma is often misunderstood. 

“Developmental trauma occurs in the context of relationship and wreaks havoc in a child’s development with significant impact throughout the child’s life,” explained Grebenik. “This impact may still be evident in an adult’s life and relationships. Early neglect or abandonment creates challenges in building authentic and trusting relationships.” 

She sheds light on how our early years imprint the way we “do life” as we grow, build relationships and interact with the world, connecting the dots from our early childhood to our adult lives. For some, particularly seniors, this might be the first time in their life that they have had the time or curiosity to put the fascinating yet sometimes painful pieces of their life together. 

Even for seniors, understanding the past reaps great rewards. Perreault recalled a time when a dear friend told her that she didn’t even know who she was until her 70s. 

“I found that astounding—I was in my 40s at the time—but now I know what she meant,” said Perreault. “It takes time, something we don’t always have when we are working and raising our children.” 

When she retired over a decade ago, Perreault began to reflect on her life, looking for answers.

“I am glad to use my hard-won knowledge and genuine empathy with others experiencing difficulties,” Perreault said. “We are all susceptible to the human condition of suffering.” 

Grebenik brings her professional expertise to the book, offering practical advice to those in the midst of struggles. This includes the well-meaning person who desires to help others who are hurting. 

“Until we do the hard work of healing, we would be premature to attempt to help someone else,” Grebenik said. “But when we go through the deep, reflective work of looking at trauma’s impact on our lives, the role grief plays in our relationships and how forgiveness is required to move on, only then can we be there for others in meaningful ways.”

Perreault has spent hours with grieving individuals. She acknowledges that she doesn’t possess magic words to remove the pain. She gently offers the simple, honest question, “May I sit with you awhile?” Merely being present helps to share in another’s grief.

To order the book online, visit, or purchase it directly by contacting Perreault at [email protected] or 719-339-8991.