Published February 04. 2013 4:00AM Updated February 05. 2013 9:07PM
When entering a new phase of our lives, we typically seek inspiration from someone or something. For Debbie Pausig, her inspiration is her late husband, Perry.
In recent years, Debbie began a transition into a new career and she credits Perry with helping guide the way to her new life as a psychotherapist specializing in grief counseling.
"I have dedicated this whole practice to him," says Debbie, whose office is based in her North Haven home. "This new beginning is inspired by him, by his death."
Debbie and Perry were together for 31 years before he died from Huntington's Disease in February 2008. Perry had the disease for 17 years, but he needed more care during the last four years of his life.
"I took care of his mind, body, and soul," says Debbie. "All I had to do was look at him?and he trusted I would do the right thing for him."
Doing that for him led her to doing what is most definitely the right thing for her.
Before entering the therapy field, Debbie had a successful career in law enforcement. She was the first female police officer in the North Haven Police Department when she joined in 1980.
She spent 25 on the force. Debbie, a native of East Haven, first decided she wanted to be a police officer when she was 15 years old. At the time, East Haven High School hosted a career day event and she met law enforcement officials there.
After learning about the field, Debbie says she knew that was what she wanted to do. And she enjoyed the experience.
"The career itself was magnificent," she says. "Breaking in as the first female officer was difficult, but it was a wonderful career."
Debbie, who moved from East Haven to North Haven in 1981, spent 19 years on patrol and was also a member of the SWAT team, serving as a hostage negotiator. Debbie was also a part-time instructor at the police academy.
Later in her career, she began teaching DARE classes and she and Perry adopted two children, Katherine, now 21, and Daniel, now 19. Debbie's law enforcement career ended in 2005. She had seven shoulder surgeries and had to retire.
"Losing my career, I look back and feel it was a blessing," says Debbie. "It gave me 2½ years before my husband died to spend time with him. To be able to sit next to him was a blessing."
Debbie says by the time her husband died, he needed full-service care.
Just months after Perry's death, a nun at St. Francis Cabrini suggested Debbie get training to run bereavement groups at St. Francis Cabrini. Debbie trained at the Family Life Office in Hamden and began running bereavement groups in September 2008.
At the one-year anniversary of Perry's death, in February 2009, Debbi says she was in a bereavement group "and I felt a calling to do grief counseling. I decided it was time to go back to school."
Debbie, who already had a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in public administration, enrolled at Southern Connecticut State University. She earned her master's degree in marriage and family therapy in December 2011. She also has certification in Gestalt training and she is certified as a clinical trauma professional.
Being a therapist "brought everything from my past to my present," says Debbie.
She is trained as a systems therapist. Debbie tries to be multi-sensory and uses visual cues to connect with patients.
Feb. 1 marked one year since she opened her private practice. She and a friend remodeled a portion of her home into an office that provides a comfortable and comforting environment for patients.
"In rebuilding this room, I was able to rebuild my life," says Debbie.
Debbie also runs a caregiver support group in Norwich and she also runs support groups statewide for the Connecticut Affiliate of the Huntington's Disease Society of America.
"As a police officer, we're on the front line for so much. Now I can be on the healing side," Debbie says. "I've done a lot of studying to specialize in grief therapy. I treat what I've lived. In grief work, there are not many who can sit in the heaviness of grief. I'm truly okay with it."
Debbie says she feels her purpose in life is to help the living. She says she did that as a police officer, as an adoptive parent, and now with her grief work.
"That is what my meaning is," says Debbie.
Debbie says it is fulfilling to be able to help her patients. She is always reminded of the inspiration her husband provided in her getting to this point in her life.
"He chose to live and I'm glad I was part of that," says Debbie. "I wouldn't be who I am if it wasn't for the people in my life. We don't do this alone. I am truly blessed."