On a beautiful spring day a few weeks ago, I went to the nearby Glasgow Arboretum. I sat on a bench, started reading Leaning Into Love, and promptly started bawling my eyes out. The story is just that beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful, and the tears are for all those emotions. (You might want to read it someplace that’s a bit more private though.)
Blurb“I’ll find a way to be all right,” she promised Vic, her dying husband and best friend of 42 years. Leaving the hospital after he passed, she had no idea how. In the months and years that follow, she learns to lean into her on-going love. Grief takes her through emotional and spiritual depths on a journey that builds on their time together and leads into her new life. Elaine Mansfield’s uplifting story of love, hope, determination, and triumph is a gift to the half million women who lose spouses each year..
- Title: Leaning Into Love: a Spiritual Journey Through Grief
- Author: Elaine Mansfield
- Genre: Memoir
- Publisher: Larson Publications
- Date of Publication: October 3, 2014
- Number of pages: appr. 176
“Did you ever think about getting married again?” I asked my friend, a widow in her eighties who had lost her husband thirty years earlier.
“We were so young when we got married,” she told me. “We grew up together, raised our children, worked together, and learned from each other.” Then she said something I’ve never forgotten. “When my cat dies, I might want to replace him. But when my mother died, I didn’t look for a new mother. And when my husband died, I didn’t need a new one of those either.”
I thought about her words when I lost both parents two years ago. And I remembered them again as I read Leaning Into Love, Elaine Mansfield’s luminous memoir about her husband’s final illness and her own journey through grief. Through her, we meet the indomitable Vic—“lover, husband, spiritual partner, and best friend”. Their life together was one of both spiritual discovery and day-to-day companionship. Elaine is like the best friend who invites you to be part of her special circle of strength and support as she tells us about Vic’s diagnosis and describes the warrior battling his rare form of cancer.
Whether or not you accept the five stage model of grief described by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—it’s clear that each of these states played a part in Elaine and Vic’s journey. But what makes this more than just another case study are the personal details of their lives together. Despite the decades of shared experiences, they remain distinct personalities who complement as well as reflect each other. Elaine is the nurturer, both by nature and profession (nutritionist). She willingly gave up graduate school and an academic career to support Vic and raise their family. It’s Vic who secretly loves being the center of attention, in personal and public life. Ironically, those inclinations become reality as Elaine cares for Vic, while his illness becomes the focus of all attention.
What did I love about this book? I love that we get to know both Elaine and Vic as three-dimensional people with an incredible capacity for love and sacrifice, but with all-too-humanly endearing flaws and idiosyncrasies. They get tired, frustrated, depressed, discouraged. They are forced to rely on each other and on family and friends. Despite the fact that they’re told from the beginning that Vic’s disease is terminal, they pin hopes on each treatment. Vic is the warrior who doesn’t want to give up the fight, but it is Elaine who must step forward and do battle with the medical establishment on his behalf.
I loved the symbolism of Vic’s tractor, so necessary to keep their woods and paths accessible, but a terrifying monster Elaine has never mastered. Her equal parts determination and despair as she realizes the magnitude of the task that now falls to her are funny and human and inspiring.
I loved the spiritual side of their life together, the importance they assign to ritual, the way their personal beliefs carry through to everything they do. But I also loved the physical side, the need to touch and make love and connect even through the devastation of Vic’s illness. And I love that when they fail—when things don’t work, or when their world comes crashing down—not only do they not punish themselves for falling too, but they add a measure of self-deprecation to their despair. “Stuck in grief and martyrdom, I am a devotee of Our Lady of Perpetual Dissatisfaction.”
I love the way Elaine gives herself permission to “live” in the Green Man’s house for a year, nurturing her grief and slowly, carefully internalizing the spirit of Vic and of their love. And most of all, I love that Elaine emerges from her grief and sorrow not by “getting over” the loss of Vic, but by internalizing his spirit and their love as a source of strength and support.
Vic’s death taught me that only kindness and love matter in the end. When we fall, and we will all fall, we can rise up if we lean into each other and the sacred gift of life.
Not only would I give this book five stars out of five, but I would also give it to anyone who is facing a loss. Elaine gives herself—and her readers—permission to embrace grief, to see it as another facet of love, and to turn that love into a support so strong, you can lean into it. You may not need this book right now, but I urge you to buy it anyway. Have it. Know you can reach for it when that inevitable need arises. You’ll be grateful to Elaine and Vic for what they have to teach about leaning into love.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
CONTACT AND BUY LINKS:
Excerpt: see Pg 69 Challenge excerpt from Leaning Into Love here
Elaine’s TEDx talk, “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss”