Will You Dance?

My daughter Valerie cracked her fortune cookie, let out a little gasp, and quickly traded its contents for mine, saying, “This one’s for you, Mom.”

I hope you dance.

Yes, this one was special. It had been barely a month since my husband Earl died, after nine months living with pancreatic cancer. He’d told me several times before his transition, “You will live a wonderful life, Julie. You’ll see.” I think Val was feeling Earl’s urging when she read the cookie’s concise message.

I’ve often noted that most fortune cookies don’t actually tell fortunes.

Most of them capture truisms, statements about what is. A fortune predicts something coming to pass in the future, and most fortune cookies I’ve opened don’t make predictions. This one was in that not-a-fortune category; rather than predicting, it expressed a wish as a short and sweet sentiment. I smiled and accepted Val’s gift.

Soon after that event, I came across another interesting variation of the dancing theme in a quote passed around on social media.

“I want to love you with a freedom that makes you want to dance all night long, with or without me, because I know how much you love to dance.”

~Angela Meyer

This one also resonated nicely with Earl’s proclamation on my future. Isn’t it a wonderful thought? Dance all night long, with or without me, [because that’s the way I love you, with an unconditional freedom]. I think it reflects the best of loving intentions.

I’ve heard it said many times that we honor the dead by choosing to live well. As I forge ahead without my late husband’s presence, I will live well for the both of us. His death is a magnifier of my life, bringing into sharper focus what truly matters most. It’s still up to me to honor those priorities, to make the most of the time I have here.

Grief can open us up to life’s breadth and depth. It can open our hearts to illuminate our life purposes and experiences in wholly new directions. When the reality of death is fully accepted, and even embraced, grief can be a life-giving motivator. Grief can teach us how to make our daily actions become spontaneously choreographed adventures, revealing truths about each precious day and each cherished relationship.

What sort of legacy will I leave when it’s my time to go? Will I have honored my greatest intentions? Expressed my greatest gifts? Will I have danced the dance only I can dance?

Time will tell. Meanwhile, I leave you with my one burning question:

Will you dance?


Julie Nierenberg
Julie Nierenberg
Julie Saeger Nierenberg is a freelance writer and editor, lifelong educator, and artist. A proud parent and "grand-partner," Julie grew up in Northeastern Oklahoma and now lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she has worked as a freelancer since 2006. Inspired by the experience of her father’s dying and death, Julie published a short memoir about her family’s grief and loss. Daddy, this is it. Being-with My Dying Dad (2013) launched a true journey of connection and transformation, as Julie reached out to share it with those who assist the dying and bereaved. It has been called a “how-to book for conscious dying” by several reviewers who work in dying and bereavement support roles. Following its publication, Julie received numerous end-of-life perspectives from others, many of which are available in Journey's End: Death, Dying and the End of Life (published in 2017) and soon to be republished by Stratton Press). Writing and publishing in this heart-led direction, Julie hopes to contribute to a cultural shift in how we prepare and support others in the final chapter of life. In recent months, she completed her training and certification in end-of-life planning using the Before I Go Solutions method. She is in the process of launching her education and pre-planning business, End-of-Life Matters, to provide online coaching for individuals, couples, and small groups. In 2018, Julie published a journal memoir about her experience discovering that she has a benign but seriously located brain tumor. It Is What It Is: Learning to Live with My Brain Tumor chronicles her journey through finding out all she could about treatment options, discerning which would be best, and then finally choosing and receiving treatment. The book has some light and funny parts despite the serious nature of the topic. Julie also enjoys editing legacy writing, fiction, and nonfiction works; she feels privileged to help other writers succeed. Her other creative pursuit is making watercolor and acrylic paintings, primarily of landscapes. She does commissioned work, such as custom portraits and favorite landscape scenes, when requested. Julie is never at a loss for something to do next.

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  1. Hi, Julie Neirenberg.
    A good message. Thank you for posting.

    I would like to tell you a story and offer a thought on ‘dancing’.

    In early June, 1978, my first-born son was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia 3 days after his 4th birthday. He didn’t quite live 6 months after that. At this time of my life, I was a ‘sorta’ practising Spiritualist

    The worst time I had with grief or anything like it was 6 weeks BEFORE he died. on the day his mother – now my ex-wife – and I were told that all treatments had been exhausted, that he still had the leukaemia and had about 6 weeks to live. After that interview, I had to drive 2 hours back to the family home to pack it up and mover closer to the hospital.

    For the first 1 hour and 50 minutes of that drive, I was VERY angry that he was being taken so young without a chance to experience life and to learn and grow. Ten minutes short of my destination, without the slightest cnahge in my driving and I can still remember the bend that it happened on, I pulled that train of though up and I asked myself, “With my understanding and my beliefs, WHY am I thinking like this? I KNOW he doesn’t need to be here to learn and to grow.”

    From that moment on, NO anger, NO sadness, NO grief. I have simply celebrated the almost 4 1/2 short years that I DID have with him and the examples of his love and his courage.

    Ten years later, I did exactly the same thing when my mother died, also of leukaemia.

    The thought on ‘dancing’: “I would suggest that it is WAY better even if you only dance in your mind than to not dance at all.”

    Just my 0.02. Thanks again.

    You have a wonderful day. Best wishes. Deas Plant.

    • Thank you, Deas, for sharing your heartfelt story. I am so honoured that you were moved to share it. I am grateful for the profound shift you were able to experience and that it informed your future grieving process. Yes, even a mental dance is better than none at all. May peace and joy be our ongoing comforts. Best wishes to you too. Thank you for your 0.02. I find it of great value.

  2. Welcome Welcome Julie!
    Your heart on paper, reads with such compassion and love for love and a life well lived.
    You have captured so much truth in this one statement alone:
    “Grief can teach us how to make our daily actions become spontaneously choreographed adventures, revealing truths about each precious day and each cherished relationship.”.
    May we all find a sense of peace in this truth.
    Thank you for living your life out loud! #willyoudance

  3. WOW! That one brought me to tears! I actually used the “I hope you dance” line as a dedication in my book to my oldest brother who passed away earlier this year. I love your insight in this story, and I LOVE that your sweet daughter was so generous to gift you with such a special fortune. I do hope you dance, because we all should!

    • Thank you for your very kind comments, Dorothy. I’m sorry for your loss and hope that your writing (and your dancing) will help you to integrate your grief. Blessings of peace and comfort to you.

  4. Quite an interesting question, Julie. Here’s my conundrum. I much prefer to play in the band while others dance. I’m not much for “shaking it” if you know what I mean. But I think there’s an interesting metaphor for the musicians in that one as well.
    Thanks for sharing an intimate story with us.

    • Thank you for your comment, John. Playing in the band is as essential to this process as is the dance! Personally, I’m constantly singing, making up new lyrics for old songs and inventing new tunes as I go. Sometimes I subject others to these creations… okay, the truth is I often do that. 😀

      You are welcome and I wish you a wonderful day.

  5. This is a beautiful essay, Julie. My mother passed from pancreatic cancer last year. It was tough to watch. But accepting grief and loss as a necessary component of being alive is pretty much the only way you can FULLY appreciate the moments we get to dance in life. Enjoy your next dance. I know I will mine. Thank you for this.