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.