Rebecca Whitehead Munn is an award-winning author and speaker. Rebecca has shared her stories of loss, grief, and coping to help others facing these challenges. In her first book, she shared the story of losing her mother and coping with the immense grief that follows such a loss. Her latest book provides resources and inspiration to people living with a cancer diagnosis and their loved ones. OncoLink sat down with Rebecca to talk about grief, her experience, and lessons learned.
We all experience grief in our own ways, but do you see similarities across individual experiences?
Each of us has a grief story; an experience with loss. Some of us have more stories than others. Each story is unique in some ways, and yet similar in others. Our grief stories accumulate through our lifetimes, becoming our novel of how we have integrated losses into our lives.
Grief anniversaries can magnify our feelings-as can our first holidays, birthdays or anniversaries without a loved one. It is unpredictable, and at times unwelcome. It shows up in different ways, places and spaces. Surviving it is similar to riding ocean waves, unpredictable yet a reality. Some days when we think we are not able to handle one more change, another one starts to take shape. Whether it is learning to cope and live without your mother, packing up an office after losing a job, or struggling to find new holiday traditions in the wake of a divorce, life and loss come at us in waves. Our resilience helps us to adapt to the ebb and flow of the tides. And learning about grief and loss is a lifetime process—as we will experience losses throughout the life span.
What did you do to cope with your grief?
Grief is something we all face in life; it is a natural part of ebbing and flowing through the change that is inherent in life. I have found that when the waves of change disrupted all that I used to know, sitting still in the uncomfortable silence really helped me process what I was mourning. Being outdoors and breathing in clean air was an added bonus when it was possible. It helped me connect with the source inside of me, the foundation that I had control over. And as I brought my focus inside, I realized all that was not changing, that I had not lost, and how much I had to be grateful for. Another coping mechanism I used was something my therapist taught me, using the saying of “right now I am putting one foot in front of the other” whenever I found myself paralyzed and seemingly unable to move. I would repeat the saying as much as I needed to in order to shift. Grief has its own timeline and is not something one “gets over”, as it presents itself in the most inopportune times and when you least expect it. Grief doesn’t care what your age is or who you are, and if it can blindside me, it can blindside you.
The reality we all have in the human experience is to experience loss. I have learned that I am a planner and being able to give voice to my grief, name it, and put it into perspective in the rest of my life has brought me much calm amidst the chaos in this thing called life.
Is there anything you did that you wish you hadn’t – any lessons learned?
Let the grief own me and steal my focus, rob me of living. Life is so very precious and the events of 2020 have reminded us all how life can change quickly, without notice. In the beginning, I allowed the grief to take control as I wandered aimlessly, feeling out of control. My biggest lesson learned is to retreat inward when I feel grief, versus allowing the outside world to define me.
Who was important in your coping process?
My faith, relationship with Jesus, and my close friends and family were very important.
Who surprised you–stepped up in a way you didn’t expect–during your grieving process?
I was surprised by the people I work with, who stepped in and covered for me in meetings, took on responsibilities so I had space to heal, without demands or a timeline.
Were spiritual communities and support groups important to you?
My faith is very personal to me and at the core is my relationship with Jesus. That is what buoyed me the most. I did try a cancer support group, but I discovered that after sharing everything as the youngest of 5 girls growing up, what I needed most was to get 1-1 support through therapy and healing touch.
If you could tell someone coping with a loss one thing to know about grief, what would it be?
Grief is not a season or something that will pass. The loss of a loved one leaves a deep hole in the person’s life. And it is not a hole that can be patched or fixed; only time will provide the grace to ease the burden. Your friend will have to learn a new way of living without their love one.
Rebecca’s latest book, All Of Us Warriors: Cancer Stories of Survival and Loss, shares the cancer stories of 20 people, men and women, facing seven different types of cancer and all stages of the disease. It is a resource guide for those facing a cancer diagnosis, and a helpful guide for friends and family who want to support their loved one. Each story includes advice regarding how to approach someone you love living with cancer and tips and tricks for helping others feel joy in the midst of pain. This inspirational book provides a positive outlook of strength and perseverance through belief in a higher power, reinforcing the idea that the reader is stronger than cancer and not alone, and offering real strategies that cannot be found in online medical sites.
Rebecca Whitehead Munn is an award-winning author and speaker, healthcare change catalyst, and value creator. All of Us Warriors is her second title, following her award-winning, debut memoir, The Gift of Goodbye: A Story of Agape Love released in 2017. She has been a featured Maria Shriver Architect of Change on surviving grief and shared her healing through yoga story at www.mindbodygreen.com. She is a certified End of Life Doula, certified in Positive Psychology, and a Nashville Healthcare Council Fellow. She is happiest spending time outdoors, spending time with her two children, eating Mexican food, practicing yoga, listening to live music, and using her chaotic Aries energy for good. She was born in Bloomington, IN, grew up in Houston, TX, and has lived in Nashville, TN, since 2005. To learn more, visit her at https://rebeccawmunnauthor.com/.