Elaine Mansfield: Rituals after a Spouse-Loss

Drs. Gloria and Heidi Horsley interview Elaine Mansfield during this episode of the Open to Hope Foundation show. Mansfield is an Open to Hope author and Jungian student of over 40 years. After losing her husband, she embarked on a personal journey for hope, healing and recovery. She met her husband when she was 21 and he was 25. Both were students. “We sort of grew up together,” she said, recalling their Vietnam rallying during their years at Cornell. Avid yogis, meditators and psychology students, “we kind of grew together and created ourselves as adults together,” she says.

Mansfield lost her father at a young age, and she says she saw how she related to her husband’s death as similar to how her mother reacted. “My mom wanted to keep it secret…to protect the kids. But of course we weren’t protected, we were just frightened,” she says. Mansfield delves deeper into this subject in her TED talk and numerous publications. When her husband was diagnosed, they were sitting in a parking lot. At that moment, she knew she didn’t want to repeat history and made a conscious effort to get support during his illness—and after he passed.

Fighting the Reaction to Retreat

“We stayed open with each other, our family and community throughout his illness,” she says. There were times she was tempted to hide her sorrow, but Mansfield knew that wasn’t the answer. In Mansfield’s TED talk, she showed her husband’s body at the funeral. Dr. Gloria says it was a positive move, and an homage to how funerals and memorials were held in the past for hundreds of years. Her husband was ultimately cremated, and his cremation box was filled with mementos as an innovative ritual.

“It was all symbolic,” says Mansfield, and notes that the ritual was “very healing for my sons and me.” Find out more about Mansfield’s thoughts on ritual and healing in her publications or in her TED talk.


Elaine Mansfield

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Elaine Mansfield’s memoir ‘Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief’ (2014) won the 2015 Gold Medal IPPY Award (Independent Publisher’s Book Awards) in the category Aging, Death, and Dying. Elaine gave a well-received TEDx talk called “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss.” The talk is available under her name at Youtube.com. She has also read excerpts from her book on NPR’s Author’s Corner. Elaine writes for hospice, facilitates bereavement support groups, and gives workshops and presentations in many locations. She writes with a perspective that reflects her hospice training as well as 40 years as a student of philosophy, psychology, mythology, and meditation. She also writes a weekly blog (http://elainemansfield.com/blog/) about the adventures and lessons of life and loss. To learn more about Elaine’s work, please visit her website at http://elainemansfield.com.


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  • Lori Woods says:

    After 12 years of treatment for prostate cancer, my husband died on December 16, 2018. My heart is broken and I feel so lost without him. We were private people and there was never one without the other when we were out and about. We were married for 53 years and have lived in our little home for most of those years. As we aged and grew closer in our marriage all we needed or wanted was one another and we found joy in every minute we spent together…even when we were doing “nothing”…but just being there with each other. Our life was very simply lived. It’s very difficult without family close by to help me do the things that one must do after a spouse is gone and we never had children. But, at this time, I really just want to be alone with my thoughts and grief and love because that’s the way we lived our lives so happily…”just us”. My honey spent over 6 months in hospice care here at home and I was by his side every minute of it. However, it was difficult since caregivers were also needed 24/7 and it was a very intrusive time for us and did not give us the privacy we always enjoyed. Because of my own health problems, I was unable to take care of all his needs after he became bed-bound so there was no other choice but to have someone with us at all times. It was torture for both of us. The last hours of his life I was by his side saying all I could to remind him how very much I love him and tell him how very much he means to me. Yet I still find myself feeling that I didn’t do enough for him, didn’t give him enough love in our married life. Why am I feeling this way? I feel like my own life is over without him and I so want to be with him.

  • I’m so sorry, Lori. You are so new to grief and the helplessness of not being able to reverse time and change what life is. An incredible loving marriage is such a gift–and the loss is excruciating. I also understand about hospice and how help was needed but your life is not your own with others coming in and out–even though we need them.

    I can only speak for myself when you ask why you feel you didn’t do enough when it sounds like you did anything a human possibly could do. Your husband died surrounded by love. What a gift you gave! But you couldn’t save his life. It isn’t in our power to do so. This helplessness is hard to bear. And yet we are still here. For me, that meant I still had something to live for on this planet even if I didn’t know what it was. My old life was over, but there I was waking up each day to the world. I was still here and needed to face that. I allowed myself lots of space to grieve. Later you might be able to comfort another person, but I hope you reach out for comfort for yourself now. Maybe a bereavement group? I found it helpful to be with other women whose spouses had died in a confidential and safe setting. We understood each other. It also helped to create personal rituals in my home where I could feel the grief and love and also learn to accept our inevitable parting and drop blame. In some ways I felt our love was as strong as it ever had been, but within my heart now, not in a person out there. I still feel my husband’s presence everywhere–not in body, but in soul.

    I wish you well in every way. I hope you’ll reach outside your enclosed world for support. Hospice bereavement counselors are a good place to start. There are also groups on line if that appeals to you. (Grief Healing Discussion Groups)