The Heart’s Journey Through Grief

by  Sarah Van Winkle

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you know that the emotions we experience in grief are complicated.  When I lost my dad a few years ago, I knew the pain of losing him would affect me for a lifetime.  I also realized the beautiful memories of his unconditional love for me would soften the pain and help me to continue to live life in a way that would make him proud.  Ultimately, in grief, I learned how blessed I was in having had such a wonderful  dad to know and to love with my whole heart, yet when it was his time to go to God, I also knew I had to let him go. Chaplain Bonnie has shared with me the works from the poet Mary Oliver.  She shares the idea that it is important to look at the world and nature we live in to get an idea of who we are as humans; nature is central to her idea of God. I would like to share her poem that speaks to me:

“In Blackwater Woods” 

Look, the trees

are turning

their own bodies

into pillars

of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,

the long tapers

of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders

of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its

name is, is

nameless now.

Every year


I have learned in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side

is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

It has been such a privilege for me to lead the extraordinary group of people who work for Grace Hospice serving our patients and families in the community. We are a faith based nonprofit hospice always trusting in God to hold us and strengthen us in times of grief.               

Sarah Van Winkle is the executive director and president of Grace Hospice, a faith-based nonprofit agency. She has more than 35 years’ experience as an RN in public health, with extensive experience in hospice and palliative care.      


weaving care, peace, and grace