January 28, 2014 – It is six months to the day since Mother passed away. I feel melancholy now. Maybe the cold weather has something to do with it, but more and more I miss the warmth of our Saturday morning long-distance phone calls and sitting around her dining room table, the tingly warmth of homemade vegetable soup in my belly.
Elaine Mansfield too has experienced loss – of her mother and of her husband both in a 13-month time span. She eloquently records the loss of her husband in a memoir entitled Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (October 2014)
Elaine and I definitely differ in our world view and philosophy of life, hers based on Jungian psychology and meditation, and mine with a distinctively Christian perspective. Yet pain is pain, and we share the intimate, human experience of grief.
Here is our conversation about Elaine’s unique journey:
MB: How did your mother’s passing in 2007 affect you and Vic?
EM: My mom had Alzheimer’s Disease for twelve years. Her body was curled in a fetal position and her eyes were closed. She had been unresponsive for years. She died quietly during a lull in Vic’s cancer treatment, so grieving for my mother merged with anticipatory grief for Vic.
MB: Why did you write Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey Through Grief?
EM: At first, I wrote to digest and understand what had happened. When times are rough, I pay attention to life’s lessons. Writing was my way of doing that. During Vic’s illness, I kept journals so I could remember every detail during an emotional time. Five years after his death, my experiences became a book to help others deal with love and loss. I also hoped to create an engaging memoir that would interest any reader.
MB: What is the main theme of your book?
EM: The book is about a strong marriage and the initiation of losing a trusted partner: dissolution of the old order, then a period of confusion and despair, then a slow return to new life and possibility.
MB: In the book you promise your dying husband of 42 years, “I’ll find a way to be all right.” What lies behind this statement?
EM: Vic and I shared every joy, sorrow, and dream. We’d had an intimate relationship since I met him when I was 21. He was concerned about leaving me and concerned about my grief. Even while I did all I could to help him live, I felt determined to find a way to make life work after his death. He was relieved when I said so. Of course, I had no idea how challenging that would be.
MB: Just like in your blog posts, you use poetic language in your book to describe bereavement and your slow recovery. For example, you describe a group of dolphins as “luminous revelations leaping from the great unconscious sea.” What other descriptive lines from the book are you especially proud of?
EM: “Our first kisses taste of tears and the knowledge that our time together is finite.”
“Mostly he sleeps, but when he’s awake, he whispers words of sweet gratitude.”
“Despite my better judgment, hope floats in, ethereal and transient as a feather.”
MB: What will readers learn from the book? What is the take-away?
EM: Everyone loses things they love—people, jobs, homes, health, dreams. It’s natural to grieve and long for what we cherish. I’ve learned that facing our losses and sorrows makes us more realistic and open-hearted human beings. We understand what matters in life and see that everyone suffers. In this way, sorrow leads us to kindness.
MB: Your book attracts readers who have dealt with or are now dealing with loss. What is your best advice to them?
EM: Experiment and find what comforts you: solitude, friends, nature, music, therapy. The smallest rituals helped me. I left flowers at the gravesite and said prayers there. Writing brought me daily comfort.
Watch for small signs of joy and hope. A bird chirping. The first spring flower. A child’s laughter. Grief is part of life. Give yourself time to feel what you feel. Open to grief and let it open your heart to love.
Elaine Mansfield’s book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief was published by Larson Publications (October 2014). Elaine writes from a spiritual perspective that reflects over forty years as a student of philosophy, Buddhism, Jungian psychology, mythology, and meditation. Elaine gave a TEDx talk called “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss” on November 8, 2014 with TEDx ChemungRiver at Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY.
After a career as a health counselor and writer, Elaine’s work has focused on bereavement and loss since her husband’s death in 2008. Elaine facilitates bereavement support groups at Hospicare and Palliative Care Services in Ithaca, NY and writes for the Hospicare newsletter and website. She also writes a weekly blog about the adventures and lessons of life and loss, leads workshops, and lectures on bereavement topics. Her articles have been published in The Healing Muse, Open to Hope, Shambhala Sunspace, KirstyTV, Caring.com, Alzheimers.net, GriefHealing, and elephantjournal.
About Leaning into Love:
“Reading this beautiful memoir of love and loss and triumph felt to me like a sacred journey into the very heart and soul of the courageous woman who writes it.” Marty Tousley of Grief Healing.
“Not only a touching and courageous memoir about love, illness, death and grief, Elaine Mansfield’s Leaning into Love is a manual for healing that offers us the emotional and spiritual tools needed to grow and even flourish through Life’s deepest crises.” Dale Borglum, Living/Dying Project
They say that “Time assuages” –Time never did assuage –An actual suffering strengthensAs Sinews do, with Age –
How about you? How have you dealt with grief over the loss of a loved one, mother, father, life partner, close relative — a pet, even?