July 28, 2015

Disco Balls and Candles: Grief Ritual in Unusual Places

Anthony introducing me
Anthony introducing me

On Saturday, July 25, my son Anthony Mansfield hosted a Leaning into Love reading at Monarch, a dance club in San Francisco. The reading was set for early evening in a downstairs room under the main bar, a place of disco balls and wine cellars.

On the way into the city, my friend Pat and I had gathered supplies–one large candle and many votive candles, 3 x 5 cards, and pens. I’d selected passages to read the day before. During ten months of book readings, I’ve learned that if I show up with an open heart and a few selections or poems to read, it always works.

Manny Alferez who owns Monarch and Anthony arranged chairs, small tables, and a microphone. Manny found a marble table perfect for an altar.

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With Lenore and Cheryl
With Lenore Olmsted and Cheryl Jones








Like humans everywhere, the people who came had lost someone–a grandparent, parent, spouse, friend, or pet. The ritual was made more precious because these friends in their thirties and forties who usually socialize and celebrate together connected in soft vulnerable places.






My son’s friends were joined by a few of my friends, some I hadn’t seen for forty years and some I’d only met on Facebook. Vic and I were close to Rufus Diamant in 1968-69 when he lived in Ithaca, NY. I hadn’t seen him for over forty years, but there he was. Pat Rockwell and I met in a meditation and philosophy class in 1970 and we remain close friends even though she’s in California and I’m in New York. Lenore Olmstead from Oakland was my dear friend and part of my mythology class in Ithaca for twenty years, so we’re nourishing our connection. Cheryl Espinosa-Jones had interviewed me on her inspiring radio show, Good Grief Radio, but we’d never met in person.

On a 3 x 5 card, each person wrote the name of someone they love who had died. We shuffled the cards so everyone had one they didn’t write. One at a time we read our cards and the person who grieved for that person or pet lit a candle for them. As the table filled with light, the energy dropped into sacred reverence.

IMG_2112Honoring losses together strengthens the bonds of community. You can create simple ritual for yourself, for your family, and for friends. I hope you’ll give it a try.


What rituals bring a sense of community and support to your life? Have you tried creating simple rituals? You might also enjoy Creating a Grief Ritual. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, watch Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss My TEDx talk focuses on lessons learned from grief and the ways we can create ritual to soothe sorrow.

Thanks to Pat Rockwell for photographs.



  1. July 31, 2015 at 8:14 pm



    This brought tears to my eyes, Elaine. The altar looks beautiful, and I can only imagine what peaceful and loving energy must have filled that room. What an experience for everyone who participated. Lovely that your son set this up and a perfect bonus to get to see old friends and new. Thank you for sharing.

    1. August 1, 2015 at 9:11 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      The altar was beautiful because it was made of candles lit for people we loved. It’s so easy to do something like this and it’s moving to see all those candles and feel the sharing of love and loss. I’m home now and hope to keep a quiet life with lots of writing time in August. August? How did we get to August already?

  2. July 30, 2015 at 11:10 pm



    What a beautiful idea for this ritual. Thanks for sharing your blessed event. 🙂

    1. July 31, 2015 at 1:52 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Debby. I’ve been MIA for a few weeks and got home tonight. I look forward to catching up with what you’re doing.

  3. July 29, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Robin Botie


    This is so sweet, sharing a ritual together with your son, each one gathering and sharing his/her friends. I love that your son will do this with you. My own son might share a steak dinner with me. The amazing thing is the simplicity of the ritual. How something so simple can bring people together and warm their hearts. Cheers.

    1. July 30, 2015 at 12:51 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yes, it’s so simple and good for anyone of any tradition or lack of tradition. It was great that everyone participated–and a few lit extra candles and said extra names at the end. It’s possible to sneak ritual without naming it anything. For example, I might light a candle and say that I’m lighting it for Vic. As simple as that.

      I return home tomorrow and will spend the weekend catching up on all the things I have not read the last two weeks. I look forward to reading your blog.

  4. July 29, 2015 at 4:22 am

    Susan Scott


    What a beautiful evening this must have been Elaine, the echoes of the rituals living on. I can imagine others reading others’ cards and the effects of this communal ritual being long lasting. Thank you. I will keep this in mind for a suitable occasion.

    1. July 29, 2015 at 10:09 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      The atmosphere gets quieter and quieter and the room more filled with light as the names are read and, after each one, someone walks to the altar and lights a candle. As Naomi Shihab Nye writes in the poem Kindness (and I paraphrase), “We look at all sorrows until we see the size of the cloth.” It’s wonderful to be open and share rather than ban sorrow.

  5. July 28, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Marian Beaman


    The ripples in your pond are growing wider and wider. I love to see all your friends gather. And Anthony. And everyone wearing smiles including you!

    1. July 29, 2015 at 10:05 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks Marian. It was such a sweet experience and meaningful to all of us, especially my son and his community. I’m glad Anthony made it happen. I’ll be returning home tomorrow. And then back to reading and writing instead of walking on the beach and talking.

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