Grief is a sacred journey

Waiting for Another Dance

My brother Jim and me

With my brother Jim, June 2008

My brother Jim was under anesthesia for the second time in five days. I worried and waited for news from his wife or my niece. He was weakened by chemo, radiation, and major surgery. This was an unexpected set-back.

“Hold on to the image of Jim dancing with you,” a friend suggested. I grabbed that image and held on.

Jim was my first dance partner when I was 12. He was lanky, blond, and 16. We lived in a suburb of Detroit, land of Motown, where a guy needed to learn how to dance. He practiced his steps with his little sister. He liked the heavy rhythms of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, so I did, too. When he came home during college breaks, he brought Bob Dylan records and Beatles. We kept on dancing.

At my son's wedding

At my son’s wedding

DSCN0503-001Jim and I hadn’t danced for decades, but a few years after my husband Vic’s death, Jim’s son was getting married. There would be a band. It would be a challenge to go to a family wedding without my forty-year dance partner Vic, but I bought red dancing shoes anyway. I stepped and twirled on the dance floor that night with friends and my niece. After finishing his social duties, Jim walked toward me on the dance floor. I held out my hand and we danced to rock music, rusty, but not hopeless. We just needed a little practice.

We danced together again at my son David and Liz’s wedding in 2013. That time we were more in sync. He danced with a look I remembered—slightly knit brow, pursed lips, straight back, shuffling feet. I followed him as he spun me under his arm, close and far. We grinned at each other and laughed.

IMG_5914Three months ago, Jim called with a raspy voice. “I have bad news,” he said. My heart paused. My throat tightened. “I have cancer.”

“I’ll come right away,” I said. It was an eight hour drive.

“No, wait until after surgery,” he said. “You can entertain me when I get out of the hospital. I’ll be OK. I have the best doctors in the world.”

So his doctors pummeled him with chemo and radiation. When we expected him to be bedridden, he played tennis. He stopped reading the studies and statistics about his illness and decided to live each day and love life.

Jim emerged from anesthesia with a successful repair. He called the next morning from the ICU. I felt his deep exhaustion and wanted to hold his hand.

Jim and Elaine 1948

Jim and Elaine 1948

“Come when I get out of the hospital,” he said in a tired raspy voice. “I’ll need you then.”

“I’ll come whenever you say, Jim. I’m ready.”

While I wait, I hold the image of dancing with my big brother, grinning as we try old tricks. He’s an achiever, that guy. We’ll dance again.

***

What brings you joy even when you’re grieving? You might enjoy a post about the healing power of dance: We’re Still Standing, So We May As Well Dance. I’ll present a workshop at Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation‘s Toronto Camp Widow in September 26-28. I plan to dance up a storm. I plan to soar. Want to meet me there? (Photos by Val Stone Photography.)

37 Comments
  1. I love this story – the progression of ideas, the photos, and most importantly, the hopeful ending. How fortunate you are to be surrounded by so many people who love you, Elaine!

    • I am indeed fortunate in love, Marian. There were years when I didn’t see my brother much at all, but hard experiences bring us closer.

  2. thank you, as always…..

  3. SO BEAUTIFUL ELAINE. I WILL KEEP YOU AND YOUR BROTHER IN MY THOUGHTS. SOMETIMES LIFE FEELS FULL OF SADNESS. I KNOW THERE IS JOY TOO……..! And I like the image you are holding in your mind…dancing with your brother. My brother who died this winter, also loved to dance. We did that together too!

    • I want to hear about that more sometime, Lori. My brother is out of the ICU and getting restless to leave the hospital. I hope to see him soon. He talks on the phone now.

  4. Wow. Can you write! I feel so sad now after reading about your brother, the cool, smooth dancer. I feel sad for you, for Jim, for Vic. Your writing has immense power. With so few words and no self-pity you touched my heart deeply. You inspire me with your extraordinary gift. Blessings, Jeanie

    • Wow, Jeanie. I’m honored. My brother would laugh to hear himself called a smooth dancer, but he’d love it, too. No self pity. As life pounds us a bit, we’ve drawn closer than we’d been for many years. That’s the silver lining of hard times. Blessings to you and yours, Elaine

  5. So sweet, Elaine. I always wanted a brother just like yours. I wish him well in his journey through cancer. And I wish you many more dances. Cheers!

  6. Very sweet Elaine. Your writing always brings me into your heart.

  7. A heart-tugger on so many levels. I hung on your every word. Just shared to my FB page. Keep us posted about Jim!

    • Thank you, Kathleen. Jim told me this morning he hopes to be out of the hospital tomorrow. Crises seem to have passed, but he needs lots of recovery time. Whew! It was a hard 10 days. Plan is for me to drive to visit him and his family next week. He asked me to bring Willow! Everyone knows she’s a healing force. Thanks for sharing this blog. So appreciated.

  8. Thinking of you and your brother. The photos are amazing. A blood connection, of course, but something else too.

    • Thanks, Kirsten. He seems to be on the mend after a harrowing experience. I hope to see him next week. There’s been a growing tenderness between us since Vic’s illness. My brother never cries (I was the designated family weeper), but he wept when he spoke at Vic’s memorial service. Once again, disaster makes us appreciate those we love.

  9. This is so beautifully written, Elaine, a powerful story that brought me to tears. Thank you, as always, for sharing your fabulous prose.

    • Thank you for encouraging words about my writing, Jane. Vic’s death and now Jim’s illness bring us closer together and make us appreciate each other. I plan to see him and his family next week for a quiet time together. He asked me to bring Willow. Pet therapy begins at home.

  10. I have not danced since my brother’s passing last March. If there is still a dance in me it is buried deep.

    • Ah, Diana, I’m sorry you lost your brother. It took a long time for me to dance after Vic’s death. I was determined at my nephew’s wedding and got over the hump. My body remembered how. Our friend Sam dances everyday, no matter what and he’s hard some hard times. He inspires me with his insistence on whatever joy he still has. That’s my mode. Find one thing that brings me joy and then find another. It doesn’t make the grief go away, but helps me remember the gifts of life. I hope you have plenty of support.

  11. Precious, dear Elaine. Just . . . precious. Your dear brother is in my prayers. ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. After a harrowing week, he’s out of ICU and may be home for recovery soon. I look forward to holding his hand.

  12. Your writing and photos come together so beautifully. I so admire your skill with posting these heartfelt journeys. I will share and look forward to hearing about you and Willow’s visit next week.
    xo
    P

    • Thanks so much, Patti. In this case, none of the photographs were taken by me–but I had permission to use all of them. I love weaving the stories with photographs and often begin with a photo. So many hurdles in cancer therapy, as you well know, but I hope he’ll have a rest now. I deeply appreciate your support and enthusiasm, Elaine

  13. I am sending you and your brother power prayers Elaine. You have so much love to extend to so many. Your brother is certainly blessed to have you. I’m glad he is out of ICU and hope that in a short time you two will dance again. xo

    Deb

  14. Elaine: your story reminded me of a time….. I had a brother-in-law who came into our “churchy” family from a far different background. We didn’t drink, smoke, dance nor did we date anyone who did. ha! We just simply didn’t dance! He was appalled at that and swore that one day he would get me on the dance floor. Of course he always tried and I demurred, claiming to not know one step of dance, but actually feeling that my mother’s disapproving face would always be looking on. None of that stopped him, and every get-together where there was dancing, he tried to get me to dance. I refrained, and refrained, and refrained. One day my beloved brother-in-law died of a heart attack. Oh, how I wish I had danced just one dance with him. He wanted to dance so badly!
    Then a few years ago, my husband and I were invited to a wedding reception for some Sikh clients of his. We went of course since many of his clients are Sikh and we did not wish to offend them. Much to my chagrin I discovered that in order to round out their night, they simply must get the wife of their favourite bookkeeper, tax accountant on the dance floor. I could plainly see that their dance, as was my brother-in-laws also, not a sexual thing, but a social thing. I tried to explain to them that I had been raised in a religious group that did not dance and I did not know how to dance. That made no difference to them since there was no actual dance steps nor touching of any kind involved in their shuffling about the floor. Still I declined numerous times. Another of Jim’s clients, one much more
    “Americanized” than the others, was present and explained to me that it would be insulting for me not to dance, that they were actually honouring me. And so, with my mother’s disapproving face before my eyes, and my feet made of lead, I allowed myself to be led to the dance floor where it was my “honour” (also explained to me by the client) to be danced around by many men. Soon there was a huge circle of men only…. down on knees and up again on feet, dancing about me – laughing and clapping and singing to me! The women in the room – wives, daughters, and mothers of the dancing men were laughing, clapping and cheering. I had truly been afraid that their men dancing with me in such a fashion would be offensive to them, but that just goes to show you how dance is looked upon in various ways by various people.
    I stayed on the dance floor a respectable amount of time and then bowed out of what was a very memorable moment. Because of my “no dancing” background, it certainly was a teaching moment for me. Even though I had been gone from under my mother’s rules and regulations for a long, long time, I still had never been on a dance floor nor learned to dance in any fashion.
    So often I have thought of my brother-in-law, who had wanted me to dance just once. I am so sorry I did not.

    • What a wonderful story, Flo. It’s not too late. Just put on some music and rock back and forth. Move your feet a little to the beat. Think of it as exercise. Think of it as an expression of joy and love for life. A little dancing around your kitchen will make you feel like a bad girl in the eyes of your mom and also make you laugh at yourself and life. Let me know if you experiment.
      I love thinking of you dancing at the Sikh wedding. That was your initiation. You’re on your way. I’m so glad my story brought your beautiful story. Thank you for taking the time to tell it. You give me a great start to this sunny day.
      Warmly,
      Elaine

  15. Dancing with you sweet friend on this Spiral Journey! Safe travels and great healing and with love from my heart to you and yours!

    • Thank you, Kay Marie. You know so well how one loss calls up another. I’m still waiting to hear when he’ll get out of the hospital. Hope it’s soon.

  16. Elaine, I had a brother Don six years older than me who used to practice his Arthur Murray dance steps with me as a partner. I never got as good at dancing as my brother did–but I love to do my own thing on the dance floor. Another older brother, Bob, does his own thing, too, and at weddings we sometimes meet up there together.
    One night several months after Adrian died, I was brave enough to go to a dance bar by myself and even got up and danced by myself. A couple of women joined me part of the time, and then I got brave enough to join a man who was dancing alone.
    Dancing in my kitchen to the Rolling Stones is much fun and good therapy, too.
    May you and your brother dance together for many years to come.

    • Great dance stories, Lynne. I know it was a daring act to go to that bar and dance. Glad you have dancing brothers. My brother has rarely danced in forty years, but if there’s an opportunity such as our kid’s weddings, he joins me. Not sure when the next opportunity will be, but I hold on to the dancing image of vitality and joy. Thanks for your good wishes and keep dancing.

  17. Elaine,The gift of your words makes this world a much better place. Or I should say your heart, because that is where your words words come from. I will join you in envisioning those future dances between your brother and you. Blessings, Jenna

  18. Dear Elaine, You always amaze me and touch my heart with your clarity and understanding and the ability to share these in word. As does this story also powerfully move me. My heart goes out to you in this scary time.Wishing you, a vibrant Brother/Friend to share many fun filled celebratory dances with you dear lady!! Warmly, Susie

    • Thank you for reading and responding, Susie. It seems my brother is on the mend right now. Life is full of rough spots and my practice is to let that in while remaining aware of the beautiful gifts. This holding the opposites has held me through major losses. Yes, more dances. I appreciate your encouraging words and return your warmth, Elaine

Leave a Reply