Acquainted with Grief: Author Elaine Mansfield Speaks

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)

LeaningIntoLove cover hi res

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.

Iva_Elaine 2004

 

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.

 

Vic & Elaine 1968

 

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 with her sons David and Anthony
Elaine with her sons David and Anthony

 

Her biography

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

Buy the book

See her website

Hear her TEDx talk

 

They say that “Time assuages” –
Time never did assuage –
An actual suffering strengthens
As Sinews do, with Age –

 Emily Dickinson

Mother Ruth Metzler Longenecker    1918 - 2014
Mother Ruth Metzler Longenecker  1918 – 2014

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?

Purple Passages with a Fish & a Kiss

Purple Passages with a Fish & a Kiss, March 2014 Edition

Winter

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.     Willa Cather, My Antonia

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?     Percy Bysshe Shelley “Ode to the West Wind”

Gardens

Bougainvillea in my Garden
Bougainvillea in my Garden

The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity. The other, of course, is the river.      Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Grief

In God’s garden of grace, even a broken tree can bring forth fruit . . . . The greater the grief the fewer the words.         Pastor Rick Warren on The View: Friday, Dec. 7, 2013

The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.    G. K. Chesterton

When a loved one becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. Author Unknown   (viewed on Kathy Pooler’s website, January 27, 2014)

Einstein

bestEinsteinFishQuote

(Quote on education attributed to Einstein but disputed by some sources.)

KissingEinstein

 SUCCESS and HAPPINESS

Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing you will be successful.         Dr. Albert Schweitzer  (Quoted in Daily Devotional: The Word for You Today, Dec. 2013–Feb. 2014.)

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Dear Reader: You may have noticed I have included only one garden quote today.

Can you add a quote or a thought about gardening or beauty?

Can you add any other quote to the themes this month?

 

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Story of Hope: A Killer’s Wife Speaks

When I bring 5-pound bags of Wenger’s famous ham-loaf frozen from Pennsylvania to Florida, the plastic-coated tubs of meat are wrapped in newspaper and then shrink-wrapped in plastic. The wrapping on one of the packages (we need two to feed the clan now!) revealed the riveting story of Marie Monville, the widow of Amish school house shooter Charlie Roberts.

Shooters%20Wife_100113

What Happened

In a story that brought international attention to Lancaster County, Charles Roberts methodically shot ten Amish girls inside a one-room school-house, killing five, injuring five others, and then turning the gun on himself. Roberts’ wife Marie learned of the impending massacre through a letter Charles left for her directing her to his final phone call, which revealed the unresolved feelings he harbored after the deaths of two of his daughters, one a premature birth and the other an ectopic pregnancy. Though the couple went on to have three healthy children, the loss of Elise and Isabella, he says in the letter, “changed my life forever. I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself, hate toward God, and unimaginable emptiness.”

Immediately After

Because he hid his clinical depression so well, Marie had no signs her husband was so deeply disturbed and headed for a psychotic break-down. Even the police queried, “Were there any signs of violence before the shooting?”  She also feared what the public may be thinking: Are you a liar, covering up a failure to act? Are you an idiot, blind to the obvious? But Marie had been blind-sided.

Her own family and her husband’s family were “stalwart,” Marie writes. “A beloved aunt and uncle gave her family a place to hide out from the media in their own home in Lititz, Pennsylvania, comforting and feeding them in their darkest hours.

Forgiveness from the Amish Community

1. Just hours after the horrible shooting, Marie’s father greeted a group of Amish men who knocked on the door. She writes: 

An Amish man with a long gray beard stepped toward my father and opened his arms wide. My father fell into those arms, his shoulders heaving, held and comforted by a friend. Grief met grief.

2. Shielding the family from the media, “the families of the slain girls went to the cemetery for Roberts’ burial. They also went to a meeting at the Bart Fire Hall for families and first responders, sharing their feelings” and saying they were praying for Marie and her children.

Her Book

Marie Roberts Monville intersperses her account of the tragedy with the story of her own life in rural Lancaster County and tells as a teen-ager meeting Charlie Roberts, the grandson of a church friend, at a dinner one day. After marriage, they had three children, aged 7, 5, and 18 months old at the time of the tragedy which occurred over seven years ago at Nickel Mines.

OneLightStillShines

One Light,” written from a Christian perspective, shows how the author’s faith in God has sustained her through unimaginable grief and brought healing. Now re-married, she is a stay-at-home Mom and blogger on whisperandwonder with the subtitle “quiet musings from my heart.” Marie wrote the book to tell her true story of how horror and tragedy met love and forgiveness. She also seeks to connect with readers who are in the midst of suffering by posing the question:

What is your story? Mistreatment, injustice, torment, suffering, grief or even the worst that humanity can do to one another? Receive the gift of love. And when again the lights go out, you too will see that one light still shines.

Though her experience is similar in some ways to that of Marina Oswald, wife of President Kennedy’s assassin, Marie Roberts Monville has refused to become a pariah, but now lives life to the fullest, sharing light and hope.

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Do you know someone who has survive trauma and grief?

Do you have a story of survival of your own to tell?