My Savvy Sisters had the opportunity to interview Sherry Russell, the author of Conquering The Mysteries and Lies of Grief. Sherry is a member of the National Crisis Management Premier Speakers Bureau and has dedicated her life’s work to helping people make a smooth transition through life’s challenges. She is also the force behind CatchAFallingLife.Com which empowers people through holistic healing after a loss.
We spoke with Sherry regarding the different ways men and women handle loss and grief. In this interview she shares her most valuable wisdom with us.
MSS: Why do you believe so many women are devastated when they experience a loss in life or love? Do women feel more emotional pain than men?
Sherry: First, men as well as women may be devastated when they experience any type of loss, especially if it migrates to traumatic stress and crisis. Women and men have different expectations and reactions to loss. I think we have to look at how women and men are different to realize the full aspect of why and how women experience their emotions.
More recent research shows that strong emotion – particularly for men – can be physically dangerous. Women used to be dismissively known as the ‘weaker sex’ – but not true, men are more vulnerable to emotions.
Men’s brains are wired for action during high emotion, whereas women’s brains are wired for talking things over. From anevolutionary perspective men would have had to shut off their emotions while out hunting, so over time it has become natural for them to do so. Women experience the gamut of their emotions.
MSS: Which is the weaker sex when it comes to enduring painful situations?
Sherry: It may be hard to say since women and men have different experiences with pain. New research has found that women report more pain throughout their lifetime. Compared to men, women feel pain in more areas of their body and for longer durations.
Ed Keogh, a psychologist from the Pain Management Unit at the University of Bath said “The bottom line seems to be that women are suffering more than men”.
With the notion of gender distinctions in pain perception becoming more widely accepted, scientists are now asking why men and women suffer differently, and whether treatments need to be made sex-specific.
“Women who concentrate on the emotional aspects of their pain may actually experience more pain as a result, possibly because the emotions associated with pain are negative,” Keogh said.
With all that said: To live a radiant life, we as women must feel our depth of emotion even though it may be foreign and scary to us but we come out with a profound and sounder understanding for our own life and all those we touch.
MSS: What separates the women who deal with these transitions gracefully from those who experience depression and angst?
Sherry: Reacting to grief’s experience is an individual personal reaction. Reason being, everyone is distinctive. I liken our distinctiveness to a bejeweled kaleidoscope. We are all our own amazing work of art with distinguishing features. A kaleidoscope has a finite number of pieces yet you can create an infinite number of combinations by simply rearranging them. And so it is with us. We have a finite physical life yet we have infinite ability to change our perceptions on how we see life.
Each stone in the Kaleidoscope is totally unique in its composition, place of origin, and the forces it is subjected to which influence the nature of the crystal and how it will behave. And so again, it is with us. Each of us has a unique origin. Each carries a unique genetic heritage and each of us is shaped by a distinctive combination of forces. Each one of us is a matchless pattern and therefore, sees our world in an exclusive way through our perceptions based on our understanding and our past experiences.
This being the case explains why some people seem to move forward steadfastly through trauma situations and some end up dancing a mean tango with traumatic stress.
MSS: Are there any situations where depression is a healing experience?
Sherry: Absolutely. Grief brings with it a gift – if we take an active role in our grief. To understand grief is to break apart the word, and it’s associated cause and effect as applied by the experiencer.Right or wrong the degree and style of grief is simply a tool to express the self based upon one’s need or desire. Grief like many emotional expressions can be very healthy or very bad for one’s well being.
What do you do with it? On one hand grief is an application of expressing sadness to certain degrees. Grief affects our spiritual, emotional, and physical foundations.Actions such as tears to wracking sobs are natural, wholesome and cleansing and should not be feared. For within such basic reactions is the healing of the soul. This outpouring can be an expression of love.
MSS: What specific methods/words of wisdom do you teach women that have made a significant impact on their ability to cope?
Sherry: Narrow your field of vision to what you can control.I know this seems so odd because the whole idea of treating grief is to open up the field of vision but when the ugliness of life wakes you in the middle of the night, I say narrow the vision to what you can control.Get balanced.If you were having a panic attack you would narrow your field of vision to concentrating on your breathing and on something concrete like a chair.If your mind is filled with pain for yourself or others, by narrowing your vision, you focus your mind.Have you ever gone to sleep and had a bad dream so you turn over as if turning a TV channel?Well, that is how this works.
Get a worry stone.That will help you about as much as worrying all the time about things you cannot control.Use the stone to remind you of how worry robs you of your energy. Worry allows those things to control you.Does worry do us any good at all? Ask yourself what is in it for you to worry so much?Does your worry change things?Does it make you feel like a better person because you worry?Find an activity to transfer your worry into something positive to help the situation.For me, it is tennis or a pottery wheel for others it is grooming their dog or spending time in prayer. Do not keep putting energy into worry.All it does is deplete you.You become a robber of your own soul with worry.No one wants that especially when you can control your how you choose to perceive things.
Volunteer your expertise or your time to help someone worse off than you.I couldn’t go to help the Tsunami victims but I could reach out in my own hurricane devastated area to help those that no longer had homes and were losing their health due to stress.As a lady who is 83 said to me, this was not the way she had intended on living the last years of her life. That is where I could step in and help with small things.Some people feel like the small stuff doesn’t really count but think for a moment about a very welcome smile at a time of utter misery.A smile or someone holding a door open all are small things that can make big changes in perspective.
Trust yourself.When you are tired – sit down.When you are extra irritable – regroup.We all have a little voice in our head that says “don’t do that” or “get out of bed and face the day”.Listen to that voice.If you are feeling overloaded with anxiety look for a corner to go into for a while.So many times, I have actually longed for that corner I was stuck into in elementary school so many times.Go back to that.What did you do when you were in the corner and not allowed to turn around and not allowed to play games?You thought.Now you may have been thinking revenge but most likely you were just letting your thoughts roam and maybe planning what you would do at recess.Sometimes our teachers were right and we needed “time out”.I have a time out for my dogs.When I see one is getting overly agitated and aggressive, they go into the time out area to regroup their dog thoughts.Sure enough, when they come out they are relaxed and ready to play nice.
Accept without guilt.Second guessing doesn’t help.Carrying an extra load of guilt bricks only weighs you down and emotionally destroys. The problem with guilt is it is a manipulator.Guilt is a control mechanism.We can’t move forward very easily if we have a ball and chain as heavy as guilt tugging us back.In order to move forward you have to find a way to accept what happened and release the guilt.Sometimes there is survivor guilt.You see this especially in accidents where one or two people live and the rest die.If you were in a plane crash and the only survivor you would be asking why.Your loved ones would be so grateful and hopefully so would you but you would also feel guilt in trying to accept the fact you were left alive.Guilt must be dealt with.When you feel it, write down the best you can what you feel and why you think you feel that way.Go back and look at your notes from time to time and talk with a professional on how best to deal with the guilt.
Take time to de-stress.Relax.Did you know if you don’t take proper oxygen into your body you are putting yourself at risk?Did you know stress is an oxygen thief?Help yourself to reduce stress by avoiding unnecessary details.Follow routines because it will add structure to a stressed life.Make rest periods a high priority, diligently scheduling them before and after any activity on your calendar. If there is a period of the day when you are likely to be at your best, set aside that time for your most demanding activities. Consolidate and simplify tasks. Don’t feel guilty for not getting as much done as you think you should. By overhauling certain aspects of your life, you can help yourself make it through the storms. Look for ways to make life easier for example, if you are handicap, apply for a handicapped parking permit.Contact local agencies and churches about volunteer programs they offer to help those in need. Nowadays, you can choose to have your groceries delivered to your home as well as your prescriptions.Do something new and have some fun. Life isn’t meant to be miserable.A little planning can keep you effective and happy.Focus on the miracles of the day whether it be a new blossom or a baby’s cry or a puppy finally understanding what “outside” means. Find what gives you pleasure and hone in on it, love it and harvest it.
All of this is futile if you aren’t first honest with yourself with what you need. People are able to accept you and what you offer if you are open and honest with them. Simplify your life as much as possible and learn to say “no” when you need to do so and don’t feel guilty.Everyone has to set boundaries and boundaries are only respected if you stick to them.
MSS: What are 3 things a woman can do to help her deal with her grief over a loss?
By taking medications on time and eating right. Allow and accept that each person will process the trauma at his or her own pace. Non judgement is a key element to employ for yourself and others.
Stay connected by communicating supportively with others and support each other’s concerns, coping skills, hopes and goals for the future.
Above all, take time to rest and to regroup and be kind to yourself. Grief is an exhausting journey but you will work your way through it.
Visit Sherry’s blog at CatchAFallingLife.Com