Sherry Cormier, PhD is a psychologist, consultant and public speaker. Formerly on the faculty at the University of Tennessee and West Virginia University, she is the author of Counseling Strategies and Interventions for Professional Helpers and coauthor of Interviewing and Change Strategies for Helpers. She has co-written and co-produced more than 50 training videos for Cengage Learning. Her new book is Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness After Loss and Grief.
Frank Samson: Welcome to Boomers Today. I’m Frank Samson, and of course, each week we bring you important, useful information on issues facing Baby Boomers, their parents, and of course, other loved ones, as well. We always have a great show, but we’ve got a wonderful guest today, also.
We have with us Sherry Cormier. She has a PhD, she’s also a psychologist, consultant, and public speaker. Formerly on the faculty at the University of Tennessee and West Virginia University, she is the author of Counseling Strategies and Interventions for Professional Helpers, and co-author of Interviewing and Change Strategies for Helpers.
She has co-written and co-produced more than 50 training videos for Cengage Learning. Her new book is Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness After Loss and Grief. Sherry, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today.
Sherry Cormier: I’m so delighted to be here, and I thank you for extending this invitation. I’m really pleased to be talking with you, and with all of the listeners, and thank you so, so much.
Frank: Oh, we’re glad to have you on. I know this is kind of a tough subject we’re going to be talking about today, but maybe we could start out by talking about the book you wrote, Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness After Loss and Grief, what was the catalyst in writing that book? Something personal? Your studies? Tell us a little bit.
Sherry: Definitely personal. I’m a licensed psychologist, and I’m also a certified bereavement trauma specialist. Over the years, I’ve always worked with people with loss, and loss is so universal. We all have some kind of loss. We may lose a person, we may lose a job, we may lose a relationship, we may lose a house to foreclosure, or a wildfire.
Loss is perennial, and it’s pervasive, so I had certainly done a lot of professional work, but really, the catalyst for Sweet Sorrow, Frank, was my personal journey. About a decade ago, I lost both my father and my beloved husband within three months of one another.
My father died basically because he was older, but my husband, very suddenly, who’d always been just as healthy as a horse, as the expression goes, was suddenly was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer, and he was gone in six months. And then, several years after they died, my mother died. Then a couple years after that, my dog, which has been a rescue dog, she died.
And then, most recently, about two years ago, my only sibling died. So, I’ve really had a decade in which, personally, I’ve sort of got hit with a lot of losses at once, and I wanted to write a book that was really like a Sherpa guide, I think, for people going through loss, that would really not only just share my own personal story, but take my background as a psychologist, and as a bereavement trauma specialist, and say, “Okay, these are some of the likely things that you may experience on your loss journey.” Although of course we know that no one has the same loss journey as someone else. Grief is certainly something that even though we all process it differently, and grief and bereavement are challenging emotions, and challenging experiences.
I really wanted to blend my personal journey with a lot of the tips, and resources from people, and the literature, and from other grief survivors I’ve worked with, on how do we really move through and heal from loss and grief.
And I really want to stress, Frank, moving through and healing, because I get a little nervous when people say, “Oh, you want to teach us how to move on from grief.” We really don’t ever move on from grief. Once we’ve experienced a significant loss of some kind, the remnants of that loss are always a part of us.
Yet, what we do, is we learn how to create meaning from the loss, how to find meaning from it, how to be able to incorporate and integrate the loss into our lives, so that it is not incapacitating, and that we can continue to grow and enrich our lives, and really live a life fully.
Frank: It resonates. Absolutely resonates with me, as well. I found the spiritual dimension of your book very interesting. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sherry: There are actually a lot of books out there on grief and loss, and it might be one of the more unique facets of Sweet Sorrow. When you lose someone significant, about 50% of us who lose someone very significant, we get messages from that person after they’ve passed. This happens all over the world, Frank, we get visitation dreams, or visitation messages. I was in that 50%. I’ve always gotten visitation dreams, and messages from my late husband, whose name is Jay.
They’ve been very instructive, and I have an entire chapter in Sweet Sorrow about all of these visitation dreams, at least up to the point at which I wrote the book, and really how they helped me heal, and also what they were telling me about him.
What I have come to realize, not just from my own visitation messages and dreams, and other people that I’ve worked with, but even in other things that I’ve been reading. There’s a pretty new book out by a scientist named Mark Gober called An End to Upside Down Thinking. So, I’ve studied a lot of these other pieces of literature and books where people who have had near-death experiences come back to life, and they all report sort of a similar phenomenon.
When they were clinically dead, when their body was clinically dead, I should say, they report going to this light-filled space, where they experience this pervasiveness of love and compassion, and peace, and this place, wherever it is, they describe it as home. They said it feels like home.
Frank: There’s a lot of consistency there in those stories.
Sherry: A lot of consistency, and that’s what I kept getting in these dreams from Jay, that the only part of him that had died was the physical part, the physical body, and so I guess this spiritual piece that I have come to believe, not just from my own personal journey, but from working with other grief survivors who’ve lost people, and reading other literature, and accounts of these near-death experiences.
Is when somebody “dies,” it’s a transition, in the same way that being born is. We don’t know exactly what goes on before we’re born. Right? We know that biological process, there’s an embryo, and it’s fertilized by some sperm, and all of that.
But there’s sort of some mystery to birth, and there’s certainly some mystery to death. For me, what I feel like I’ve really learned in the last decade is that the physical body dies, yet there’s a consciousness that remains, and that consciousness is energetically present, and really surrounds the people that are loved, that are left behind.
People say to me, “Well, I want a visitation dream,” and I’ll say, “Well, I think I can’t tell you for sure that you could have one, but I think you can enhance the possibility of having a visitation dream from someone significant who’s transitioned.”
I recommend keeping a little notepad with a pen or pencil right by your bed, and then, when you go to sleep, imagine the person that you want to message with in your mind. If you have a picture, then you might look at the picture, and then actually make a request. You might say, “Oh, I’d love to get a message from you. I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to have you check in,” and if, in fact you do either that night or on a successive night, you get awakened with a dream, be sure to get up and write it down, because …
For many of us, myself included, by the next morning, we’ve lost so much memory of what happened in that dream, that it’s almost like not having it.
Frank: Yeah, I know what you’re saying. I have heard that same thing from others who have experienced it, so there’s got to be something to it. There has to be, whether you believe it or not.
Sherry: Yeah, I think something metaphysically goes on after death. I will tell you one little dream, Frank, that really meant the world to me. Not too long after Jay transitioned, he came to me, and woke me up, and said, “Hello,” and I looked at him, and I said, “What’s it like to die?”
Because, I was afraid. And he came back, and he said, very simply, “Just wait. It’s genius.”
Frank: Wow. That’s amazing.
Sherry: I found that so comforting, and that tells me that although we fear death, or the transition of death because it is a mystery to us, I don’t fear it anymore because I think of it as another transition to a different state of consciousness, just like birth is another transition. When we’re born, we emerge in a body, and we have a state of consciousness, and who knows what goes on before we’re actually born.
Frank: Right, right. Sherry, a question I have is, were you specializing in bereavement counseling before you experienced all this with your family, or was it after?
Sherry: No. Actually, I had a general psychology practice. Most of my practice was with adult women and couples. But, again, when you have a practice like that, there is some facet, almost, of everyone’s issue, that centers around a piece of it that’s loss.
It’s amazing to me when I think back about all of the people that I’ve seen. I did see, of course, some people that came in because their child had died, or their sibling had died, but people would come in for many other reasons. They would come in and say, “I feel like I’m having a midlife crisis,” or “I feel like my relationship isn’t what it used to be, and we’re struggling now, and we need some help,” or, “I don’t know, I’ve been doing this job, and it sort of feels like a dead-end job now, and we have a new boss, and a lot of my coworkers have left, and I don’t know if I want to stay or not.”
If you think just about even those kinds of general statements, there’s always, I think, almost in anything that a client presents, there seems to be some element of loss because loss implies impermanence, lack of permanence. And when I think about everyone I’ve ever worked with in my life, one of the things that really jolts people into seeking help is that something in their life changes. Our job status changes, our relationship status changes, our friendship status changes, and there’s something that changes or shifts in our lives. We don’t really like that. We like predictability, and we like familiarity, for the most part.
And so impermanence always implies something has been lost, and yet I always say, the other side of that coin is there is something that can be gained, so loss is not a one-sided coin, if you think about like a penny. Loss is only one face of the penny, and if you turn the penny over, the other side of that penny is growth, and transformation.
Frank: Right. I’m curious, is the advice that you would give to people a little different as far as trying to best handle a loss, or you called “transition” of a loved one, versus something that happened pretty quick?
Sherry: That’s such a great question, Frank, and it’s a hard one to answer. Regardless of how someone transitions, or dies, it’s still devastating. My husband wasn’t ill a long time, but I had six months in which I was told he had six to 12 months, so I knew from the get-go that there was very, very little chance he could recover.
I didn’t really want to buy into that, because I didn’t want to be pessimistic, but I think with a long illness you do have some chance to prepare for the fact, as opposed to having someone who is driving along, and then pulls over and has a massive heart attack.
I don’t know if it leaves the survivor in a really different state. There’s still the shock, there’s still the numbness. Now, sometimes, if someone dies, for example, after they’ve endured years of dementia, there can be some relief. But I think the shock may be greater when someone dies very unexpectedly.
Frank: Yeah, of course. Right, right. Sherry, for our listeners, what are some of the important steps or maybe effective healing tools that you could recommend to people who’ve recently had a loss? What are some of the things that they could do to help them through that process?
Sherry: You are asking just all the most wonderful, pertinent questions, and I’m so appreciative to you for this. The first thing that comes to my mind, Frank, is the word “balance,” and “self-care,” because when you lose someone, again, whether it’s been you’ve cared for someone for 15 years, or the person dies suddenly without warning, as the survivor, we are thrown off balance.
Doesn’t matter if it was acute, or chronic, or whatever, we’re off balance. One of the really important things to do, initially, is to do whatever we need to do to stay in balance, and usually we do that by what we call “good self-care,” meaning we get enough sleep, we avoid misusing substances which make our sadness worse, we make sure we get out and move our bodies, and get some kind of walking or exercise in, we eat nourishing foods.
I can’t let this broadcast go by without mentioning how important I think it is to have some sort of spiritual, meditative practice because we know from neuroscience that really calms the brain, and really changes the brain in a really important way.
The other thing I would say is connection. Grief is very self-absorbing, and Frank, it’s so isolating. Maybe we’ve lost the person we live with, or we’ve lost family members, or we’ve lost our very best friend in life, and that can be just as heartbreaking as losing your partner.
And, it leaves you feeling very alone. We do not heal from grief in isolation, we heal by reaching out and having several close companions that we can share our grief journey with, and that might mean joining a support group, it might mean reaching out to your friends, it might mean reaching out to existing family members, finding a therapist.
But developing trustworthy connections is so important in healing from grief and loss.
Frank: Yeah, it makes it tough. I want to make sure, usually I ask this near the end, but I want to make sure we leave enough time, because this is all important information. I got more questions for you, but if somebody wanted to learn more about getting your book, or books, or wanted to even reach out to you, I don’t know if you have a website that our listeners can go to for more information.
Okay, super. I do have a website. It’s www.sherry, S-H-E-R-R-Y, Cormier, C-O-R-M-I-E-R, author, A-U-T-H-O-R.com. I also have a Facebook page, [email protected] I’m on Twitter @SweetSorrow. I’m on LinkedIn. There are many, many ways that listeners can connected with me, and the book you can order with a click from any online book seller, like Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Borders. The name of the book Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness After Loss and Grief.
Frank: Okay great, great. I know that you discuss cancer if your book, which is such a harrowing and difficult disease for caregivers to witness. I think it’s obvious, but I know you discussed that in your book, so talk to us a little bit about that.
Sherry: Well, I’m not sure cancer is the only one, but I think there’s certain illnesses, or disease processes, like cancer, certainly forms of dementia, any neurodegenerative illness like Parkinson’s, for example, that are very hard to bear witness to because they have such pervasive effects on the bodies, and the treatments are often so hard to watch, the side effects from the treatment.
I think one of the most difficult things about cancer is watching what happens to the person when they’re going through chemotherapy and radiation, because those are very potent, powerful treatments, and while it kills cancer cells, it also kills healthy cells too.
I think when you care for someone and you’re watching them suffer, whether it’s from losing their memory, or losing their mobility in Parkinson’s, or losing healthy body functioning in cancer, I think seeing a loved one suffer, and decline, continue to decline, is one of the most heartbreaking things that can happen to us.
Frank: This is important subject matter. Maybe in just a sentence or two here, you could sum up your approach on what advice would you give to those who are going through this process, or your recommendation for those who are suffering.
Sherry: Yeah, I would just say, “Stay with the process, remember that you may be feeling like you’re having a dark time of it right now, and it is important to work through that, and remember though, that the other side of darkness is light, and eventually that you will experience more and more light coming back into your life, as you move through and heal from grief.”
Frank: Sherry Cormier, thank you so much for joining us in Boomers, I really appreciate it. Thank you all for tuning in, just be safe out there, and I’ll talk to you all soon.