We’re Still Standing, So We May As Well Dance

In my red dancing shoes

In my red dancing shoes: 2011

Last week, my community turned out for Martha’s memorial service. It was a celebration, what I imagine a New Orleans’ funeral might be.

Martha was one of seven kids and many of her siblings, nieces, and nephews are musicians. They told funny, touching stories and sang spirituals and favorite family songs accompanied by guitar, folk rock style. It was an antidote to the suffering of Martha’s last years and her husband Sam’s grief.

No one said Martha was too young at 62 or life was too cruel. Instead, we gave thanks. After the main service, chairs and rugs disappeared, and a dance floor appeared along with drums and more musicians. As always, I was one of the first on the dance floor.

Dancing with my brother: 2013

Dancing with my brother: 2013

My first dance partner was my brother Jim. When I was twelve and he was 16, he needed a partner to learn the best moves for American Bandstand swing, the stroll, and the twist. When Jim went to college, I danced with my girlfriends after school or we went to live Motown shows in Detroit and danced to the Supremes or Little Stevie Wonder.

My husband Vic loved to dance. I would never fall for a man without rhythm and good moves. In 1966, we danced to the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Beatles, The Band, and Bob Dylan, alone, at parties, and with friends.

When I was seven months pregnant with our first baby, we returned to Ithaca after a year in California. We had no place to live until our rental house was available. Our closest friends, Richard and Evelyn, who loved to dance as much as we did, let us move into their tool shed for a month. No plumbing, no electric, but a roof. It was large enough to throw a mattress on the floor and pile a few suitcases and boxes in one corner.

Vic craved electricity, not for lights or a hot plate, but for a sound system. In two days, he pick-axed an underground trench from the house to the tool shed—a few hundred feet of hard rocky soil. He laid an electric cord in that trench and wired the cabin for sound. From Evelyn’s kitchen, I heard The Band blaring. I ran outside and there he was, snapping and tapping in the doorway, proud and happy. Vic took me in his arms, and we danced.

Vic 1970

Vic 1970

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me

At Martha’s memorial, they played that same old song. I shouted the words with everyone else. Sam danced his grief and love, alone and with rotating partners. Then, unplanned, a circle of four held hands—three women whose husbands had died and Sam. Friends stepped back and gave us space. The widows and the widower swayed and stepped, wounded but still grateful, laughing and longing, tears held back or rolling down our cheeks.

“We’re still standing, so we may as well dance,” I yelled at Sam. He grinned, tossed his head back to shake off the tears, and kept right on dancing.


This is dedicated to Martha, Sam, Amber, and Josephine. Does music or dancing help you deal with grief? If you like stories about my early life with Vic, you’ll enjoy California Hippie Capers or A Call in the Redwoods: My Hippie Intuition.

  1. Loved reading this, Elaine. The balance between life and death, light and dark, happy and sad, sweet and sorrowful are expressed so elegantly here.

    • Thank you, Jill. Wonderful thing is that Sam called last night to check in and he told me that dance was the highpoint of the memorial service for him. I told him I’d written a blog about it, a little nervous that he would feel exposed. He said, “I’m so glad you could write about that. It’s wonderful.” So there you go. I had a great time writing it.

  2. such a joy to read this. almost as good as being there! muchas gracias amiga. xoo

    • Thank you, Laurie. I had a great time writing it and Sam told me he was glad I write about it. Win-win-win. Gratitude and grief all around–and lots of love.

  3. Your exuberance dances right of the page! I feel the unfettered pleasure in the celebration of life at an otherwise sad time of mourning — Beautifully juxtaposed! Thank You!!

    • Holding both together, Ellen. Tap those toes even when you’re sitting down. Drum the table. Send your friend a song. Oh, you already did that. Thanks. Love you and holding you in my heart.

  4. Oh, Elaine…I could feel the beat. I could see Vic’s joy in having his music in the shed. Thank you for this glorious piece…and yes….we ARE still standing so we may as well dance…and you did and you are…tears rolling or not…and what a gift to Sam.

    • As I said to a previous comment, Sam happened to call last night. He’s a neighbor and we’ve been friends since early 1970s, so we walked after Vic died and discussed taking a walk when the weather warms a little. I told him I’d written this blog, a little afraid he would feel exposed, but he was so happy about it–and he was dancing. He dances every day. Just puts on some music and goes for the joy in the hardest times. Wise man. Wise us. Keep dancing, swaying, and tapping.

  5. Elaine,
    Love the photos and words here. Like laughing, dancing is catharsis and can express all kinds of emotion, and sometimes we don’t even know which ones! It’s usually social, but lately I’ve found myself dancing alone as a reminder that bad back and two artificial hips aside, I’ve still got a few moves that amuse me, if no one else!
    Thank you for a lovely piece about body and soul!

    • I know you’ve got some moves, Kirsten, and I hope to see them sometime. Working on book deadlines fairly steadily for a few months, but then maybe a trip to CA. One of my best friends is in Santa Monica and she loves to dance. Want to go dancing? Glad you liked the piece. I had a wonderful time writing it and finding the right photos. Best to you in all ways and keep those hips swaying.

  6. Love the stance . . . and your dance, Elaine!

    • Yup, red shoes, Marian. I loved wearing them, but unfortunately my usual attire is hiking boots in this wild weather. The shoes await me in my upstairs closet, and I’ll take them dancing. Thanks for writing.

  7. immeasurable thanks….

    • Best thing, Jayne, is that Sam was so glad I wrote it. He hasn’t seen it yet because he’s avoided computers for a while now, but I’ll print it and mail it to him.

  8. This was so beautiful Elaine. I look so forward to your colourful stories. It’s funny how when we look back on life we can find such joy and memories which may have felt so different at the time we were actually living them. We tend to forget the moments we may have struggled or starved, yet we can see the beauty in it. That was a great era!


    • Debby, I love looking back through the old photo albums. In this case, the story came from an experience, but I wanted to include my brother, my first partner, and my love Vic. I went looking for the photos, but as I look, I find photos that remind me of other stories. I have years of Vic’s slides that need to be digitalized. So many stories in there. Looking forward to your book, as I said. All I’ve done so far is admire the nice quality and the beautiful cover. It will be a treat and reward after a few more deadlines.

      • Aw thanks Elaine, I’m really touched that you got my book and will make the time to read when you can. I look forward to your comments. Keep digging out those pictures because they have wonderful nostalgic stories for you to share and take readers right into your heart 🙂

  9. Elaine,

    Once again, you have me smiling ear to ear and crying within the space of a few hundred words.

    What an awesome story about the toolshed sound system and what a lovely way to celebrate Martha’s life – good friends, great music, and lots of love.

    One of the things I’m most proud of is the Celebration of Life we had for my mom. Not the least bit traditional, but *exactly* what she would have wanted. I remember leaving that gathering feeling so uplifted and just in awe of the impact my mom had made on so many people.

    Lots of love,

    • When I think of your mom’s memorial, Ann, I see balloons. I’m sure you did it up right. This was a celebration and Sam is an incredible guy to make these requests for his wife’s memorial service–lots of songs, lots of music. He stepped back and let her siblings take over from there. Great, great job.

  10. Both Bill and I loved being and dancing at Martha’s memorial, too. I love dancing with Bill, any placeo — any time and anywhere. Some of the best dances happen when we are washing dishes, turn up a favorite song and take off !

    • Lisa, a couple that dances together stays together–at least that’s my opinion. Makes me happy to think of you and Bill taking a few turns around the kitchen. Thanks for your sweet reflection. Sending love.

  11. It’s so moving!
    Thank you so much Elaine.
    Much love

    • Thanks, Helena. Love dancing and I asked my son Anthony to play music at my memorial service (thinking ahead). I told him, because of the techno music he plays, that I want to go out raving. Appreciate your support.

  12. Thank you, Elaine, for reminding me how much music and dancing help with grief–and just with life in general! You brought tears to my eyes.


    • I need both tears and dancing. I was my amazed that my friend Sam knew what he needed immediately, but unfortunately this is his second time losing a partner so he knows what he needs. Thanks for commenting. I need to get to your blog. My to-do list grows as book deadlines close in. I asked for it, so I am not complaining. Just a bit too busy. Stay warm on another cold night and I hope we see the aurora borealis.

  13. I just love you, Elaine Mansfield. ♥

  14. Thank you for the story, very nice, Vic was something else!
    Went to you tube to listen to Take the load off Fanny, then found the lyrics, then went to wikipedia for the the song’s meaning . The song is a happy-sad song too. Internet is great.

    Tomorrow is the first anniversary of my dear mother’s parting. Not in a celebrative mood yet, maybe later. …….Hi to Sam.

    • Dear Nati,
      I wasn’t in a celebratory mood either a year after Vic died–or a year after that–but I still searched for beauty in my woods and at Seneca Lake, shared love with family and friends, and felt much gratitude for having had such a loving person in my life. And I wept every day. It took a while to start dancing again, but it happened in time. This is the second time Sam has lost a wife to cancer. His first wife died in 1996, and she was a very close friend of mine. She was so young. It was so hard for Sam. It’s hard this time, too, but he’s learned the skill of laughing and crying, dancing and grieving, holding gratitude along with the devastation of loss. I think this is all any of us can aspire to, since life is a series of new beginnings and losses and we have to learn to roll with the cycles.
      I’m sure it’s been a tough year for you without your mom and maybe you saw her suffer, too, and must heal from that. I hope you have plenty of support and understanding people in your life. It helped me to realize that my grief was just another form of love. If I didn’t love the person who was gone, I wouldn’t grieve so hard.
      Sending you wishes for heart healing and small moments of joy and gratitude,

      • Thank you Elaine. I woke up this morning thinking that my mother’s good death and life, was a precious gift from God to her and us. I kept thinking that in Mass this morning and it helped. Last night was our Condo’s Christmas party and i too danced a little. I thought that probably behind everybody’s happy face maybe there were sad feelings also. I’m feeling better. Hugs!

        • Wonderful. From my perspective it’s fine to be sad for a long time and also let happiness sit right beside the grief. Not grieving in this world is like being blind–we aren’t seeing what’s there. When my husband was dying, I thought to myself in the grocery store: most of these people have something tragic going on in their life, or they did last year or will next year. This is just being human. Your mom would want you to dance and laugh, and cry when you need to do that. My husband wanted those things for me. Hugs back your way, Elaine

  15. A beautiful recollection and inspiration, Elaine. I love the picture of Vic in the door of the shed. And your portrayal of that memorial to Martha is a vivid reminder that when a life ends, we have two paths we can follow — grieving over the death and celebrating the life. I apologize for the inept metaphor: we don’t have to choose between the two paths, because each is available to us at any time, and both are expressions of our love.

    • Thanks, Paul. Yes, although I wept almost constantly for two years after Vic’s death and still do sometimes, I always felt the gifts of love and beauty and so much gratitude for 42 years of spiritual and physical partnership. Sam’s first wife died of cancer in 1996, so he’s an unusual man who’s been a widower twice and had two great marriages. He danced throughout Martha’s illness with his I-Pod providing music, while she was dying at Hospicare (swaying to classical music played by a friend on the piano there), and he’s dancing still. He celebrates and weeps openly. He and Martha were with us at Vic’s death. With our hearts wide open, Elaine

  16. Hi Elaine, wonderful blog. I have shared it on my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/lifeafterlosshs

    Cynthia Gossman
    JOY Restoration Coach

  17. Absolutely Beautiful, Elaine! A poignant tribute with a zest for life and love. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Kimberly. I had a great time writing this piece, so I’m glad you felt the zest. Appreciate that you took time to read and make a comment.

  18. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing again, Elaine. I had to take dance classes in my 60s, trying to make up for the sobriety of my youth. But you have a muscle memory from youth that can’t be taught. I love how dancing unites you and Vic and your friends who are grieving into a place that celebrates the mysterious life force that transcends death. May you keep dancing a long, long time.

    • I loved dancing with my brother and girlfriends in high school. I lived in a suburb of Detroit, so we went to Motown concerts and danced like crazy as well as American Bandstand after school. It was a touch of joy after my dad died in 9th grade and my mother withdrew emotionally. I also love the thread of dancing in my life, but it was frayed by 5 years with Meniere’s Disease which was just beginning when my friend Martha died and I wrote this piece. Maybe I’m trying to reconnect the thread by sharing this again. Hearing grew worse and made it impossible to listen to music, but I still had those Motown and Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell songs in my head. Now with the cochlear implant, as I learn to hear again, one goal is to dance to music again. I’m hoping for classical music, too, beginning with piano. Meanwhile, despite near deafness, I kept dancing in the kitchen to songs in my head.

  19. What a wonderful story all around, but particularly of your husband’s ingenuity for dance music. I’ll be thinking of all this represents about living and loving all day.

    • We loved dancing, Angela. When we first met, we could dance for hours to records with no one but the two of us. Our mating rituals and also good training for partnering and following each other. Thanks for taking time to comment in this busy world.

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