Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness After Loss and Grief (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018) by Sherry Cormier, PhD is two books in one. It’s both a heartwrenching personal memoir and a compassionate self-help book for caregivers, partners and spouses facing traumatic loss.
For anyone dealing with a loved one’s protracted illness, it provides wisdom and compassion — and a few welcome surprises. As well as offering a practical ladder to help us climb out of the abyss of grief, it also provides powerful evidence of love’s ability to transcend and endure — in spirit, in dreams, and in memories.
An Insider’s Guide to Grief
Cormier is a licensed psychologist, bereavement specialist and psychology professor — she knows plenty about counseling people through bereavement and loss. But then she endured a string of unimaginable losses in a short span: her husband, Jay — to a fast, harrowing bout with cancer, parents, her sole sibling, and even her beloved dog.
As she writes with moving candor, despite her training, expertise and experience helping others, she was wholly unprepared. At an age (her 60s) when she expected to be planning a sweet retirement with the love of her life, she found herself reeling, her dreams wrenched away by “traumatic, stressful losses.”
However, death and life exist side-by-side, and Cormier also had two daughters to take care of. She had to learn how to function again; how to live again — and she did.
She learned how to heal, moving forward without moving on; cherishing what she had and realizing her husband’s love and spirit were very much still with her. And in true therapist’s fashion, she realized these lessons could help countless others as well, and set out to craft it into a helpful, moving book.
Blending her own story with guidance and advice, Cormier combines savvy and empathy. It’s a sweet blend of acceptance, realism, will, and hope. She doesn’t just advise readers from a distance, she also reveals her own highs and lows, her failures, her darkest moments, her struggles, her weaknesses, her triumphs.
Ever With Us
The strategies Cormier outlines in Sweet Sorrow are time-tested, effective, and sensible. The author guides readers through the entire ordeal — the “grief journey,” as she aptly calls it.
She discusses that eerie sense that things are about to end before they do, an anxious awareness that can haunt and distract people during a loved one’s illness. Stay present, she counsels, and offers ways to instead stay grounded and in the moment, such as mindful meditation.
She focuses on the tremendous, staggering upheaval that often accompanies a loved one’s death, listing small ways to just begin to climb out of that black hole. Taking moments to make small gestures of self-care, and connecting with others, can work wonders when it comes to breaking through that veil of grief.
Having experienced firsthand the terror of being left behind, the shock of having life turned inside out, and then that aftermath when the future doesn’t just look dim, it looks impossible, she reminds the reader that life, for them, is going to go on. We can wallow, or we can choose to pick up our heads and look around us again. For those that feel rebuilding their life is a betrayal to their loved one, Cormier makes strong arguments to the contrary, including the fact that death isn’t a disappearance after all — and that our loved ones want us to thrive.
Lessons on Endurance, Recovery and Regrowth
The endurance of spirit is both a startling and reassuring aspect for many of us. Some of us just wonder, endlessly, if that dream of a lost loved one is real — were they there, or was I just dreaming it? According to Cormier, the answer is both.
Throughout her own journey she felt a building presence, a force of spirit and love that was hard to define but also hard to deny. As she writes of her own experience after the death of her husband, “Wondering whether the soul exists beyond the body was now an ever-present question, and I couldn’t have imagined how soon and unequivocally I’d get an answer.”
Sweet Sorrow will be a tremendous comfort to anyone dealing with grief. By being open to her own experience, but staying professionally founded in her own training and expertise, the author has created a guidebook that speaks from the heart.
Sweet Sorrow is like a quiet, on-paper mentor, helping us understand what to expect as we face loss and its aftermath, how to not fall into an endless abyss of grief and instead choose to become whole again. It’s an eloquent testimonial as well to Cormier’s own remarkable marriage, and the timeless, mysterious, enduring power of love. And that may be the most reassuring example of all.
For more about Sherry Cormier, visit her website.