The Stroke Network, Inc. )
 Sherry Russel Grief Interview

by Kathy Bosworth


Going through the stages of grief can be a debilitating process. People not only find themselves in a pit of grief due to the death of a loved one. You can find yourself dealing with grief from a divorce, loss of a dream, loss of a limb, or loss of a lifestyle; just to name a few. As a stroke survivor, you may be experiencing many emotions due to your change in lifestyle. As a caregiver, you can also suffer the same emotional highs and lows because your life has changed so drastically, now that you are a caregiver for a loved one.

After reading "Conquering the Mysteries and Lies of Grief" by author and Grief Counselor Sherry Russell, I asked her for an interview to pick her brain about ways that can be helpful through this process. She graciously accepted. I hope that it can help some of you that are floundering around, wondering if you are insane. (You are not!)

Kathy: Could you share some of your insight about what stages a person goes through when grieving?

Sherry: The main issue I can put "out there" is this: you hear a lot about stages but only expect the unexpected. Meaning you may go through all of the proposed stages, or only a few. You may get stuck in a stage for years and/or you may experience total confusion by experiencing several stages at once. The stages are:

Shock: hard to except the death or loss

Numbness: our perception narrows to what is right in front of us

Denial: refusal to understand how this happened

Anger: a response to pain and hurt

Panic: fear of the unknown - what will happen next

Physical illness: under stress, the body changes

Guilt: I could have - I should have - I wish I had

Depression: can last for days, weeks, or even months - it is always a good idea to visit your doctor

Coping: weaving in the pain of the loss with everyday living

Recovery: View of life opens up - experience new energy for living

Kathy: Can people speed up the process of grieving? Are there any shortcuts?

Sherry: No shortcuts. It's like labor. You can't decide you no longer want to have the baby. You must experience it. If you don't, it will sit on you like a huge miserable bolder blocking your path for good relationships and happiness in the future.

Kathy: What are the three common responses to stress?

Sherry: Negative behavior, depression and isolation. Negative behavior includes eating or drinking too much, self-criticism, driving too fast etc. Depression may include extreme irritation and panic. A person may isolate themselves from social situations as well as family and friends.

Kathy: What can happen to a person's physical wellness if stress is untreated for long periods of time?

Sherry: The fact of the matter is, people can die from stress. Stress changes the chemical make up in the body. Even tears of stress have been shown to have a different chemical make up than tears of happiness. Stress can cause serious depression, panic and anxiety attacks. Research also links cancer to stress.

Kathy: Is it a common response for people to want the world to "just stop" while going through periods of stress or grief?

Sherry: Absolutely. We all have wished the world to slow or stop at some time. It is normal and OK to experience difficulty in keeping up with your usual routine when you are under a crisis.

Kathy: What advice would you give to someone who is overwhelmed by a life altering change?

Sherry: The best piece of advice I can offer is this: stay in the moment. When you are overwhelmed confusion sets in and things continue to become more stressed. If you focus on one thing at a time you can make some progress inch by inch. Confused states of mind equate to no progress. Many times simply to think about the next hour is difficult, much less focusing on tomorrow's details and goals.

Kathy: Is it normal to become angry when life spirals out of your control? What can one do to counteract, or redirect that anger?

Sherry: Think about what happens when you stub your toe. You get angry. Not at a level you would if under trauma but still it is a natural response. What you must do is try to find the source of the anger each time it wells up in your throat and then address the anger and then let it go. Very hard to do and it takes a lot of practice but living life perpetually angry dominoes into all features of your life. Anger and fear go hand in hand.

Kathy: As a person tries to muddle through the grief process, what are some of the false, bizarre statements that well-meaning friends and family members say to them that cause them to question if they are behaving normally?

Sherry: The worst one is: I know how you feel. No one knows how you feel. No one has the same life, the same personality, the same factors that made you who you are therefore no one can know how you feel. They may understand pain and relate to your pain but they don't "know" your pain. The second is: It was God's wish. To most people who are experiencing devastating situation thinking it was God's wish for you to be in this pain isn't very comforting. I have so many; I could go on forever.

Kathy: How does one accept their "new normal"?

Sherry: They must create a new normal therefore it becomes their accepted reality. From the moment a crisis happens life is forever altered because you are altered. The whole grief process is getting yourself from how it was before the crisis to a positive life after the crisis.

Kathy: One statement you made in your book comes to my mind many times. You said that after you lost your Dad, it "plunged me into a deep state of confusion. I kept searching for someone to tell me how I was supposed to act." It was a profound statement that I think we can all relate to. What do you tell people that are searching for that same thing?

Sherry: There is no guide. I try to get people to allow themselves to recognize and feel the pain. That may sound terrible but it works. I explain to them that this is their journey and they don't have to apologize or lie to make others feel comfortable. One item that helps many people is learning the art of communicating their emotional truth in a logical fashion.

Kathy: Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers that might help them cope with an unplanned life-altering situation?

Sherry: I would ask for people to take time to appreciate themselves. I think we expect mountains of strength and courage from ourselves under the worst conditions. We fight to control what isn't controllable creating a deep sea of agony. When we feel like we can't take it one more day or that secretly we wish our loved one would pass on or to be mad at a loved one for not getting better is all normal. Your emotions under grief should not be interpreted as bizarre or as a betrayal. Find a person who doesn't have an emotional investment in your situation to help you gauge your mental reasoning. I wish everyone would take 20 minutes a day to enjoy the small miracles in their day. It will help them get to the next day.

Thank you Sherry!



Sherry Russell is the author of a book, "Conquering the Mysteries and Lies of Grief." She is a Grief Management Specialist, listed in the Academy of Experts for Traumatic Stress, a member of a research team for suicide prevention and also on the Board of Advisors for three mental health and wellness organizations. She has worked with families, individual survivors, as well as with the dying, for 24 years.


Sherry's book at Amazon.




Kathy Bosworth is the author of " Your Mother has Suffered a Slight Stroke"


Copyright March 2005

The Stroke Network, Inc.

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