Sherri Ewing Rahmanop had achieved fame, success, and was living her dream life.
Until it happened.
a life similar to yours
Girlfriends, I know you want to scroll to the end and order Sherri’s stunning memoir, but please don’t skip the next few paragraphs. I’ll give you a chance at the end of this post to order her book, but first, Sherri and I want to give you some important information.
Until the tragedy of Walt’s suicide, Sherri’s life looked a lot like yours and mine. Here’s some background to set the scene.
first marriage = high school sweethearts
When Sherri was four her parents moved the family to Alaska in order to help her maternal grandparents build and manage a hunting lodge and restaurant. Then at seventeen, Sherri married her childhood sweetheart – returned to Wisconsin, and raised their four children.
After 25 years of attempting to make the marriage last, they decided to an amicable divorce. Those next years found her adult children moving on to global adventures while Sherri felt Alaska calling her home. A culinary job offer in Kodiak, Alaska paved the way to healing allowing her to digest her divorce.
a new dance with strange moves
Several years after her arrival in Kodiak Sherri met and married Walt. The first four years of the marriage oozed with love like a passionate tango, but shortly after Walt’s retirement, the dance moves changed. Over the next nine years, Sherri helplessly watched Walt’s mental illness emerge as he spiraled through depression, alcoholism, and infidelity. His refusal to seek help or counseling fueled Sherri’s anger but also led her to support groups and education regarding mental illness.
While Walt’s mental health was nosediving, Sherri’s reputation for gourmet backwoods cooking was skyrocketing. Hollywood contracts became a reality and all four of her children helped catapult the successful TV series Alaska’s Wild Gourmet.
But that all ended when Sherri’s husband killed himself during the filming of the final episode of her Alaskan Wild Gourmet Cooking TV series.
Suicide is such a taboo subject in society. No one wants to talk about it. When someone dies by suicide we want to support the grieving family but find ourselves enmeshed in avoidance. We’re strangled with fear of saying the wrong thing and then riddled with guilt for not knowing how to respond.
Gretty: I know you as a strong woman, but how did you get through those first days and months after Walt’s death?
Sherri: Trauma does something to your brain. I have always been tenacious and don’t hesitate to go after something I need, but grief is different. I had to surrender to it. I dug down – like into a foxhole to gain strength in order to step out for just a moment, but then I’d step right back into the darkness and process. I realized I had to take care of myself. I concentrated on feeding myself but had lost all passion for cooking. It was simply gone. It’s weird, but my tears did not come until four years after Walt’s death. I traveled all over the world and my tears finally arrived in Bali of all places.
Gretty: Can you share how your ideas about suicide have pivoted since Walt’s death?
Sherri: My first response when I found my husband dead in the kitchen was textbook normal. My gut reaction was to try and cover up the fact that he had killed himself. There are so many levels of fallout after a death by suicide. At first, I thought I was protecting Walt by not acknowledging his suicide, but really I was protecting myself. There was so much guilt involved and Walt wasn’t there to defend himself. I knew his background. I knew that he lived with the lifelong guilt of finding his mom dead from suicide at the young age of nine. Since Walt’s death, my message to the world is to be open and talk about it with people, to take it out from under wraps shed light on the truth of suicide pain and strip away the stigma.
Gretty: What has been the deepest pothole to get past since Walt’s suicide?
Sherri: What else happens in life where you do not get an answer? After Walt died, I just wanted to understand, to know the “why”. It was a lonely place. At first, I needed to wrap myself in my special blanket on the couch near the space he died in an attempt to make sense of the suicide. I was stuck on the “timeline” of the events around his death. Stuck on the dates and struggling to move past the timeline.
Gretty: Can you share with my reader’s helpful ways to respond to someone surviving a suicide?
Sherri: When Walt died I understood that it was natural for most of the people around me to move away from the pain. They didn’t know what to do. I heard all the usual “platitudes” and canned responses which screamed insincerity to me. I even lost a very special friend as I processed the grief.
But there was one gal who showed up right from the beginning. She simply sat with me, then we cooked some food together, and she ate with me. There was no pressure to talk about suicide all the time. I recall talking about everyday things with her and feeling almost “normal” during those moments. It helped me rejoin the human race for a short time and I really appreciated that. Her presence provided a respite for my soul.
I’ll also share that it is important to use the person’s name in conversation with the survivor. I loved hearing Walt’s name and talking about normal things he and I had just done or enjoyed.
When referring to a person who died from suicide:
Do say: “He died by suicide” or “He killed himself”
Do NOT say: “He committed suicide”
It’s important to choose language around suicide that does not stigmatize the death or condemn the person who died.
Be honest. Let your friend know you don’t know what to say. You don’t have to have answers or advice for them.
Invite your surviving friend over to your house as a change of scenery, or simply take them to the grocery so they aren’t alone when doing mundane chores.
Gretty: It’s been several years since Walt’s death. How are you doing now?
Sherri: The end is really the beginning. I’ve taken my talents on the road in my RV named Mercy. Yes, I lost Alaska, I lost Walt, I lost the TV series, but I’ve gained so much more. I’ve always been a nomad and this new chapter feels so right. My passion is to continue to travel in my Mercedes Class C RV with my dog Hodji and teach cooking for people who come across my path. I’ve got several offers from swanky RV resorts to provide gourmet cooking from an RV. Stay tuned!
Gretty: Walt was a Veteran and developed PTSD while serving. Where can my readers go to learn more about suicide or gain support from a personal loss?
Sherri: Here is a website for your readers. Veterans die by suicide at the rate of seventeen per day. My book Alaska’s Wild Gourmet is currently available as a resource to families in all four of the military branches. Here is another resource with suicide statistics.
get it here
Ok, Girlfriends. Click on this link to purchase your own a copy of Sherri’s book Alaska’s Wild Gourmet. You will not be disappointed. While you’re at it check out my five-star review I wrote on Amazon.
If you would like to contact Sherri you can find her on Facebook.
Happy Trails and Happy Reading!