Ask for what you need in support. I struggle with this one, as teachers often do, and I was afraid to ask for support at work and in my personal life. However whenever I did ask, people would show up to assist. I know now looking back that if I had been more willing to ask for what I needed I would have received more support.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Monfre.
Monica Monfre is a business coach and social media strategist who teaches female entrepreneurs how to launch their businesses while getting visible on social media. She’s helped hundreds of women, including teachers, business coaches, social media strategists, and mompreneurs launch their businesses and grow their followings on social media. A graduate of Teachers College Columbia University and The George Washington University, Monica holds two Master’s degrees in education and teaches high school in Brooklyn NY while running her 6 figure side hustle and advocating for breast health awareness.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Wisconsin and was an only child until I was 13. I was an accomplished competition dancer and dreamed of dancing on Broadway. In February 1991, my younger sister was born. Soon after, my dad lost his job and then my mom lost her job. I remember my working side by side with my dad at the local grocery store so that there was money coming in. Dance lessons stopped and I remember thinking life was so much better when I was an only child. Unfortunately, my sister and I were never close.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
After a break up with a boyfriend in college my mom said “It’s always darkest before it’s light.” This quote has helped me move past some of the darkest times. When my dad passed away. When I had a miscarriage. When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and died. And ultimately, when I received my BRCA1 diagnosis.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Scrappiness — I am quick to think of solutions to problems. I was set to have a preventative surgery for cancer in December. Instead, I was diagnosed with covid. I decided to offer a workshop about social media, sold it out in 3 days and made over 1000 dollars. I was frustrated by the surgery being postponed but quickly found a way to make something positive happen.
- Empathy — It’s not always been easy for me. I’ve grown up with something, then with nothing and now I have been blessed to have enough. That helps me connect to clients and to people in general. I understand what it is like to want more, to struggle with hope and to feel that it is all too much. This year so many people have said how do you do it all and still show up? My response…I’m alive and I get to show up. I lean into the pain, the sadness, the struggle. I honor that in others and know that on the other side is lightness and hope.
- Creativity — I grew up as a dancer. My mom used to say she paid for a different type of education. I always wanted to be like everyone else, to think like everyone else. Now I realize how much of a strength it is to think differently, to think outside the box. My clients comment that after our work together they have new ideas and feel motivated. I believe that we get to choose to fit in or to fit out. I’m 43; fitting out has always been easier and more fulfilling than fitting in.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
In 2018, my 27 year old sister and mother of 4 was diagnosed with Stage 4 triple negative metastatic breast cancer. Further testing showed that she was BRCA1. I followed her suit to be tested and also carried the genetic mutation BRCA1. This means that I am 87% more likely to develop breast cancer and 12% more like to develop ovarian cancer than the general population. My paternal grandmother, also Monica, died of breast and ovarian cancer so this news was shocking and serious.
As my sister fought her fight I began to research what I could do for my own health. I also realized that I only had one life and started to create a plan around starting a business. Then March 2020 came.
March 13th is the day we realized schools would close. That Saturday I called my cousin in Wisconsin. She told me my sister wasn’t doing well. In the middle of a global pandemic I flew from NYC (the epicenter at the time) to Wisconsin, not knowing what I would find when I returned home. My sister was nearing the end of her battle; she was only 29. My mom chose to bring her home from the hospital so that she could transition surrounded by love and her young boys who had birthdays.
As the news poured out of NYC I had to make a change. Did I stay until she transitioned, not sure of when I could go home or did I take a flight back to NYC? My mom and I discussed the uncertainty; a week from when I landed I said goodbye to my sister, to my mom, and to Wisconsin and boarded a plane with 7 others. My world would never be the same. Three days later my sister passed away as the pandemic ravaged NYC.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
Watching my sister fight for her breath was so difficult. But the scariest part of the event was not knowing if I had brought covid to my mom or others. As I landed in Wisconsin, news came to me that I had been exposed to 5 people who had been diagnosed. I was afraid to hug my mom or my nephews. In fact, I was not permitted to come to the hospital and woke up to hear my mom sobbing. The hospital was even contemplating not letting her come to see my sister. I almost wished I hadn’t come to say goodbye.
How did you react in the short term?
I leaned into what I could control and remembered that I wasn’t alone. My mom also reminded me that Covid was the least of her worries. In those moments I saw that difficult decisions happen because we hold space for possibility. As my mom cared for my sister, I did what I could do to collect monetary support. Looking back, I’m grateful for the time we all had together even though it was so difficult.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
The dust is still settling. The funeral for my sister is finally happening in May 2021. In the immediate time, I practiced yoga and meditation. I also realized that I was given a chance to try something new with all of the time I suddenly had. I doubled down on my business and leaned into communities like Luminary here in NYC.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
I don’t feel as if I have necessarily let go of them, but the fact that as a collective we were going through trauma and grief gave me an opportunity to lean into the grief, move through it, and helped me put it into perspective. In addition, I found myself diving deeper into my mission and my activism, and knowing that I can still make a difference and help to bring about change also helped me to heal.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
The loss of my sister brought me to finally face the reality of my own health. I used the time alone to focus on what I needed to do for myself in order to stay healthy for my family, and carry on her legacy.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
While there is no one particular person, my clients, coaches and community gave me grace and space without judgement to continue to work on my business even in that time of grief, and that gave me a real sense of purpose.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Through the loss of my sister and reckoning with my own health, I have been able to find my voice and the words to inspire others by sharing our journey with breast and ovarian cancer.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
The one thing I learned about myself is that I am more than just a high school teacher. Having been in education for 20 years, I found myself stuck in the same old patterns and dynamics where I was playing small. By creating my own pathway forward I have been able to show up authentically as myself, and by doing that, I have been able to find others in my community who resonate with me.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Hope. You have to allow yourself to be in the dark moment, knowing that there is light on the other side and that someday things will be better.
- Lean into movement. Even though we were in the middle of the pandemic, I went on walks daily with my fiancé, and did a lot of yoga. The movement helped me to shift the energy through my body. I also found that tears were hard for me after losing my sister. Prior to the pandemic, I avoided spinning and never loved the Peloton but something about getting onto it and starting to move, I found the tears would flow, and I was able to release. Now I’m an avid rider (#lovesquad).
- Show up and share without self-judgement. Instead of trying to filter out the sadness I was feeling, I showed up vulnerably on social media knowing that if I felt this way then others would have felt similarly. So many women reached out to me to thank me for telling my story which often was their story.
- Get super clear on what you want. I had dreamed of a rooftop apartment complete with a balcony, a garage and a gym. I didn’t think it was possible, especially during a pandemic and on a teacher’s salary. One day I ran my numbers. When you know what you want and take the steps to make it happens, the universe delivers. I manifested the exact apartment I desired with not one, but two Pelotons!
- Ask for what you need in support. I struggle with this one, as teachers often do, and I was afraid to ask for support at work and in my personal life. However whenever I did ask, people would show up to assist. I know now looking back that if I had been more willing to ask for what I needed I would have received more support.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would inspire a movement around access to healthcare and health education, particularly around breast and ovarian cancer. The breast cancer rates among young women and particularly women of color are skyrocketing, and is often not picked up until it is advanced. Metastatic breast cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, and it is without a cure. I would hope that increased health and education and healthcare can reduce these statistics and prevent more families from experiencing a loss of a young mother like my sister.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Michelle Obama because she is committed to health and wellness, as well as her focus on education, I feel like she has one of the voices of women that is respected and that also understands what educators go through. When she visited her high school’s dance class I cried. After my dad passed away I took two years to teach dance class. Seeing her visit the classroom made me smile. As a Literature teacher I am honored to teach her speeches each year. For my students, she is their role model, their always First Lady.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I love social media and can be found on sites at @monicamonfre (Instagram is my favorite). To find out more about my current offers, visit www.monicamonfre.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!