A Story of Living and Dying


51pPyvcRbyL._AA160_As you read this, I’m enjoying the company of my friend Elaine Mansfield. Many of you will recognize her name from comments she frequently makes here, or from my Facebook page.  She flew down from New York to spend a few days with me before she goes on to Tampa where she’ll be presenting a workshop for a small fraction of the half million women who lose spouses each year.  While she’s here, we’re planning a new workshop on grief.

We met about 16 years ago.  She was with her husband, Vic, a physics professor who had written a new book on synchronicity, when he came to speak at the Winter Park Jung Center where I was teaching.  Fred and I took them out to dinner afterwards and enjoyed them so much that Elaine and I began an email correspondence.  Nine years later Vic died of cancer.

Some of you have lost a spouse; some, even two.  Others have spouses with terminal illnesses that could take them within the next few years.  So I want you to know about Elaine’s new book called Leaning into Love:  A Spiritual Journey through Grief. 

One reviewer describes it as a “touching and courageous memoir about love, illness, death, and grief.” Another says, “This magnificent, profoundly moving book gives encouragement and solace to all.”  Alison Lurie, Pulitzer prize-winning novelist writes, “Elaine Mansfield knows far more than most people about love and loss, and she tells it with admirable honesty and clarity.”

A mutual friend of ours and sister lover of Jungian psychology, Candace Boyd, wrote to Elaine some weeks ago and copied me. Candace wrote,  “I read your book in two days. Your writing is so powerful, and so beautiful. I wish that I had had this book to refer to a year and one half ago.” That was when her husband was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Synchronistically, as I was writing the beginning of this very paragraph I received another e-mail from Candace saying, “Cancer seems to be endemic to our lives now.”  I think I’m supposed to be writing this post today!

One of the more remarkable aspects of Leaning into Love is how honest and personal it is. Elaine doesn’t shy away from sharing occasions when she and Vic were irritable with each other. You don’t always see this kind of candor from loved ones who’ve been through the grueling day-to-day stress and strain of caregiving.  And when you do, it’s often accompanied by terrible guilt.

What’s so beautiful about this is that Elaine seems to have found a way to forgive herself for being human.  Maybe that’s because of the remarkable tenderness, understanding and love that infused their relationship.  Maybe she could forgive herself because she knew Vic forgave her for her flaws, just as she forgave him for his.  And for dying and leaving her all alone.

A big factor that undoubtedly influenced the patience and kindness these two consistently showed each other through their ordeal was their mutual desire for psychological and spiritual growth.   In the early years of their marriage they studied together with Anthony Damiani, a brilliant teacher who introduced them to Jungian psychology, meditation, and the philosopher Paul Brunton.  Later he guided them through Greek philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, and many Western philosophers. What they learned from him influenced them and their marriage in the best possible way.

Nobody is free from suffering, not even Anthony, who died of cancer at an early age.  And we don’t usually get to choose what causes our suffering.  But we can, like Vic and Elaine, choose to respond to it with courage, mindfulness, and kindness.  Of all the beautiful messages I received from this book, this is the one that made the deepest impression on me.  They practiced kindness.  What a beautiful thing to share in this dangerous, chaotic world.

Kindness. That’s what Elaine shares in her book. And, knowing her, I think it’s also one of the reasons she wrote it.

You can check out Elaine’s author page on Facebook here and buy her book here. 

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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0 Responses

  1. Lovely, Jean. I’ve shared it with Debbi, who is embarked on a care of the dying program, and volunteers regularly @ Hospice of the Chesapeake as a companion. This is over & above her day job at the same organization–she’s the only employee who does it.

  2. Thanks, Skip. Debbi would love Elaine, and vice versa. They’re both kind people who care, and they show it with their words and actions. This mindful way of being, when combined with honest reflection on one’s inner life, is a spiritual practice. In fact, I would say it’s THE spiritual practice.

  3. Thank you for mentioning Elaine’s book; I added it to my wish list when you referenced it a while back, and I’ve moved it to the top of my list. While my husband and I are currently well, I still read books on losing a spouse; one is because I find them helpful when a friend or family member is in this terrible situation (as with many situations, reading a memoir of someone’s experience can create greater empathy towards others in a similar one), and, two, because when my dad died in 2008, my mom formed a support group for widows (called Sisters in Support) at her church, so I keep them in mind if I read a book they might find helpful. I can imagine that you are correct when you said: “A big factor that undoubtedly influenced the patience and kindness these two consistently showed each other through their ordeal was their mutual desire for psychological and spiritual growth.” Deep thanks to Elaine for writing the book. Blessings!

    1. Thank you, Darla. I agree about the value of reading an excellent book about losing a spouse whether or not you have had this experience. How wise was your mother to have formed a support group for widows! I think they are greatly needed. Elaine and I hope to be able to plant the seeds for such groups when we do our workshops on grief. I’ll pass on your blessings to Elaine! Jeanie

  4. Thank you so much for this, Jeanie. You gave me a beautiful unexpected gift. Thanks also to Skip and Darla for your comments.
    Skip, Debbie is doing something wonderful for the world. Dealing with loss in an honest and conscious way was a spiritual and depth psychological process for me. Vic and I were supported by Jungian and mythological work during his illness and that’s continued after his death.
    Darla, what a great thing for your mom to do. The book is appropriate for people of any tradition. I’m doing something new this month and giving the “sermon” at a Unitarian Church in February. Another church is arranging a date. These talks will be based on my TEDx talk, “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss.” The 17-minute video of the talk is another resource for dealing with loss of any kind. You can find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBzEwf1k59Y I hope you enjoy it.
    I feel that ‘Leaning into Love’ is at core a love story of two people who tried to make a conscious relationship with life, each other, and death. It’s about death, but even more about life and love and finding a way to grow during the hardest of times.
    I’m supposed to be with Jean in FL tonight, but my plane was canceled. I’ll be there on Tuesday morning, dancing in the sunshine. It’s been a wicked month in upstate New York. Off I go to finish packing.

  5. Thank you Jean for highlighting this. It sounds a wonderful book. Interestingly it was highlighted on another post in a different way. Kindness, honesty, courage and more … so many qualities that CAN be learned by reading such a book and being aware of all our frailties in this troubled world.

    1. Susan, Vic loved synchronicity and had frequent experiences. I’ve enjoyed how my new book has stimulated interest in his books. We always supported each other’s work and it continues on. Thanks for visiting my blog, too, in our small on-line world.

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