Mansfield and her husband

Burdett, N.Y. — A local author and Cornell graduate has published a book about coping with her husband’s death that has helped both herself and others through the grieving process.

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Elaine Mansfield’s first book, Leaning Into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief, follows her journey after her husband’s diagnosis with terminal cancer and 2008 death.

The book came out in October 2014 after years of journaling during and after her husband’s diagnosis. Since then, Mansfield has held discussions and workshops for those struggling with grief in the Ithaca area, including giving a local TEDx talk.

“Going through this was a kind of spiritual initiation into watching what you’ve counted on and what you want in life dissolve … It’s sort of like a hero’s journey, going through a period where you don’t know where you are and you don’t know where to turn or how you’re ever going to survive it,” she says in an interview in her Burdett home. “And then a new life starts to come.”

Mansfield, 63, continues to do bereavement work in Ithaca and the surrounding area in various retirement communities as well as local libraries. She has created a partnership with a local dancer for upcoming workshops to include movement as well as discussion.

Watch a video interview with Mansfield:

Mansfield and her husband Vic met at Cornell University in the early 1960s — he was a graduate student and she was a senior. The romance began when she first spotted him in an Ithaca motorcycle shop (since closed).

“I saw him. He had this motorcycle upside down and he’s tearing into it,” says Mansfield. “It was immediate for me. That’s it. That’s the guy.”

After raising two children and creating a home in Ithaca, Vic Mansfield was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2008. During this time, Elaine Mansfield kept a careful journal. With the journal, she created both a medical and emotional record of what was happening to her husband and her own thoughts and feelings.

“As soon as I heard that word cancer, which is such a difficult, scary word, I got a new journal and said: ‘I have to write everything that’s going on.’”

To cope with her husband’s death, Mansfield continued writing. She took a class and continues to take the class offered in Ithaca entitled Writing Through the Rough Spots, taught by Ellen Schmidt.

Mansfield and her husband

Mansfield discussed the lessons she learned throughout the process of writing her book. “In the end my experience would be what would help other people understand how they would get through loss,” she said.

Mansfield also spoke of the necessity to confront grief head-on, to accept it as a real force even when it is painful.

“Grief and love are very intertwined. And if you love someone you will grieve for them. And if you’re grieving for someone, it’s because you love them,” Mansfield says.

“That mix of ‘Oh we don’t want to grieve’ … we’re also saying, in a way, ‘I don’t want to love. I don’t want to take the risk to love.’”

The book gained its title as Mansfield reflected on the most important thing in this journey – love. The love of her two sons and her husband helped Mansfield in her bereavement process, she says.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.