Remembering Sherri Little
December 5, 1961—July 7, 2015
I met Sherri Little at the 2014 Leaders Against Pain Scholarship Training Program.
My first real memory of Sherri was during the second night of the conference. On Friday morning, we received the news that one of our members needed to leave early due to an unexpected death in the family. All day Friday, the mood was heavy. That evening, we planned a spontaneous support group meeting, the highlight of which was Sherri leading us in laughter yoga. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard in my life! Sherri had us pretending to be animals, made us laugh hysterically, and changed the mood of the entire conference from one of despair to one of hope.
Rachel Perrin, who attended the 2014 training with me, has this memory of Sherri:
“[I remember Sherri] dancing down the hill at the conference center, when no one was watching, to her knowledge. She communed with nature and wished for deeper connection with others. As a pain patient, it was difficult… Her memory will stay with me as I dance and struggle through my own life!”
Kathy Ott, another 2014 attendee, shared this:
“I found Sherri so kind spirited and willing to reach out. I remember talking with her and she seemed able to tune right into what I was trying to express. And so there was such a feeling of a kindred spirit within that short time.”
I had the privilege of working with Sherri as her coach for the two months prior to her passing. We talked often of her desire to change the way pain patients are treated through telling her story. She made it clear to me that she wanted her story told, even if she wasn’t here to tell it herself, and gave me permission to share this with you. Sherri also traveled to Toronto, Canada, to be interviewed by Tina Petrova with Give Pain a Voice, who is now making a film about Sherri’s life and death.
During the two months we worked together, we tried to find Sherri medical treatment for her Clostridium difficile infection. This proved to be an essentially impossible task. Sherri called numerous doctors all over the country. Even though she offered to pay cash, no doctor would accept her as a patient because she didn’t have the right insurance. Eventually, we were able to get her insurance changed on July 1, 2015, but it was too late to be truly helpful. (C. diff is a bacteria that can cause life-threatening inflammation of the colon, fever, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. You can read more about C. diff here.)
While I was working with her, Sherri was unable to eat solid food, and survived on juice delivered to her home. Even the juice was hard to keep down, with all of the nausea and chronic diarrhea, which lead to Sherri becoming severely dehydrated. Sherri likely lost 20-30 pounds over the last year of her life due to being unable to eat and absorb nutrition.
On Friday afternoon, July 3, I received a voice mail message from Sherri saying that she was going to the ER at Cedar Sinai Hospital due to her dehydration. That was the last time I would ever hear from her. She passed away just a few days later. Lynda Mannion, Sherri’s mother, struggled for months to obtain copies of the coroner’s report to find out exactly what happened. Although Sherri died in July 2015, Lynda did not receive the report on Sherri’s death until early 2016.
The coroner states that Sherri’s death was a suicide due to “combined effects of medications.” However, I can say with 100% confidence that we cannot blame Sherri’s death on medications. We talked many times about her pain, life, and death. It makes me angry to think that Sherri’s death might become a statistic used to deny chronic pain patients medication that could make their lives bearable. There are a lot of questions surrounding Sherri’s death, but for me there is no question about why she died. Sherri died because her pain wasn’t controlled or illnesses treated properly. If Sherri’s death teaches us anything, it is that untreated pain kills. You can read more about all of the unanswered questions we have about the last four days of Sherri’s life in the excellent article “Sherri’s Story: A Final Plea for Help,” by Pat Anson, Editor for the Pain News Network.
I feel fortunate that I came to know the vibrant, passionate, and deeply caring woman behind the face of Sherri’s pain. Most people didn’t get to meet that Sherri. We often talked about how hard it was for her to make friends as a chronic pain patient. She struggled to get the support she needed for even the simplest things, like getting groceries or going to a doctor appointment. It was her dream to set up a foundation which could provide this kind of support to other pain patients.
“Sherri sparkled in certain situations, when she was understood and validated as a human.” says Rachael Perrin. “She and I spoke for many hours. She so wanted to create a refuge for others who hurt.”
In the days before she died, I received an email from Sherri asking if I would be willing to administer a nonprofit in the event of her death. In that email she said, “I am frantically trying to save my life while also making plans for my possible death.” She went on to say that this nonprofit would provide “those who suffer horrible pain—without family or other loved one(s) support—with small grants to see them through hard times.” Sherri’s estate is still in probate, so it will be some time before her wishes can be honored.
As a way of continuing the work that Sherri started, The Sherri L. Little Organization (www.SherriLittle.org) was formed in August 2015 by Tina Petrova. I have also created two scholarship programs in Sherri’s honor.
- The Sherri Little Fibromyalgia Coaching Scholarship provides coaching sessions to qualified fibromyalgia patients, giving them the support that Sherri wanted for all pain patients.
- For those interested in providing support by becoming a Fibromyalgia Coach or Advisor, I have also created a scholarship in Sherri’s honor for the Fibromyalgia Coach Training and Certification Program.
People like Sherri are the reason that I do what I do, and I invite you to join me. We must be advocates for those who don’t have the strength, support, or resources to speak for themselves. We can honor Sherri and her struggle by telling her story. Through her, we can put an actual face and name to the struggle to find life in the midst of chronic pain.
My prayer is that Sherri will see the good that comes from her death and, just like she taught us in that laughter yoga session, clap her hands and say, “Very good! Very good! Yay!”