There are stages of grief. They happen in no particular order. They come back again, sometimes. The person who works hard at grief recovery, does all the homework, may at some point find peace. The loved one is never forgotten, but the pain minimizes to a bearable level. Life is not the same, but a new, tolerable form of it is fashioned.
Some people never get there. They get stuck. They suffer. It would take a professional to bring them around, but the weight of the grief keeps them from seeking help.
Ragnhild Munck’s book is titled DAYS OF GOODBYES. A MOTHER’S TRIBUTE TO A DAUGHTER TORTURED TO DEATH BY BREAST CANCER.
The story is a textbook case study of unresolved grief, but not just around her daughter’s death. There are four paragraphs, one third of the way into the text, that lightly touch on her childhood in Nazi occupied Denmark. One need not be a historian to imagine the effects of that. Neighbors disappeared in the middle of the night. Some found dead along the road the next day. There is no national recovery program for people who grow up in the many, many places that are similar. Those living in a war zone know they have to just bear it and move on. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very treatable. Few who have it get help for it, thus never recover. They just find a way to carry on with life.
While the reader gets to know several characters in Munck’s life, several others are blatantly missing. The issues and grief surrounding the relationships with her first husband and her mother are left to the imagination. What is not said speaks volumes.
Munck’s daughter, Maria, died of cancer at 41. A recurring theme in the book is the great love of Maria’s life, Sam. The relationship was one sided and unsuccessful. Maria never recovered from it. The harsh reality is that not recovering from it was Maria’s choice. No other man was given a chance.
It is well documented that a symptom of PTSD is psychosomatic illness. The author refers to her own health issues, including a lump in her own breast, which proved to be stress related. It is no coincidence that Maria’s cancer started right above her broken heart.
This is the power of unresolved grief.
Munck states in her preface that the book is written “to help raise awareness of the horrors young women go through” with breast cancer. It is written honestly, in factual, unemotional language. Yet the strong emotions, and the grief stages, are obvious to this reader’s trained “ears”.
We learn what cancer does to a whole family, not just the victim. We come to understand what drives the turn to alternative medicine. It is thought that Maria’s exposure to lake water parasites were partially responsible for weakening her immune system. For this reason all proceeds from the book go to Silent Spring Institute, which is researching environmental causes for the disease.
In the pages about the author, we learn that in her professional life, Munck worked in public health. She counseled families through their medical ordeals. Moving to the United States, she spent years as a social worker. She volunteered at hospice, helping people find peace in their last days. But in DAYS OF GOODBYES, we know only a mother facing the loss of a child. Her professional training goes out the window. There is only fear, sadness, and the voraciousness of a mama lion toward what threatens her cub.
Eventually, Maria is tired of the pain, tired of the fight, and just plain tired. Yet Mama Lion keeps fighting. It is only five days before Maria’s death that Munck realizes the end is near, and calls hospice. And still she remarks “I wished I could have died to save her”. The book is a tribute to a mother’s love.
Munck realizes that Maria is dying, but doesn’t accept it. She still hasn’t accepted it in recovery terms. Yes, she knows her daughter is gone, but acceptance means it’s okay. And Maria’s death is definitely not okay. Six years after she is buried at the US National Cemetery – Maria served in the USAF – Munck writes that her daughter was tortured to death. Munck knows something about this, and we believe her.
DAYS OF GOODBYES is also a tribute to the love and support of family and friends. Any grief counselor will tell you that a support group – no matter how small – is vital for all concerned. Those without one don’t do well.
Poignantly, Munck writes of Maria that “Recovery is easier when you’re happy”. After reading of this family’s ordeal, one can only pray that the Author may one day find enough happiness for her own healing.
DAYS OF GOODBYES is available through Amazon.com. On April 3, from midnight until 11:59 pm, there are gifts for anyone ordering a copy. All proceeds go to cancer research.
Thank you, Ragnhild Munck, for so openly sharing your pain, strength, weakness, and learning. We all wish you Shalom.