In Death and Grief We Find Love

Reflections for Easter, Passover, and Spring

By Donnie Yance

Man looking at the horizon

Just before Christmas, I lost my youngest sister Gi Gi, to a sudden accident. She was in a coma for several weeks prior to her transition. As my sister hovered between life and death, I found myself in a deep state of grief and reflection.  A reflection on birth, life, death, and the embracing of the great mystery. I choose to call the great mystery Love, or, better stated, Agape Love. 

Grief, after all, is just love with no place to go—but only at first. In death and grief we find love. As we move through grief, we find a way to draw from it, and allow it to soften our heart and be of service to others.

As my family and I have been grieving the loss of my sister, I try to remember W.O. Abbott’s beautiful understanding of birth and death:

For years I never knew whether the twilight was the ending of the day or the beginning of the night.  And then suddenly one day I understood that this did not matter at all. For time is but a circle and there can be no beginning and no ending. And this is how I came to know that birth and death are one. And it is neither the coming or going that is of consequence. What is of consequence is the beauty that one gathers in this interlude called life.” – W.O. Abbott

Agape Love Helps Me Grieve

Agape is the essence of goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight for the other.

Agape Love means wholehearted love of and service to our neighbor, a true commitment to the well-being of each and every human being, and to all of creation. 

For Martin Luther King, Jr., the concept of agape stood at the center of both his spiritual faith and his assertion that love and nonviolence were essential to remedying America’s race problems.

MLK, Jr. defined agape as “purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is the love of God operating in the human heart.” (Papers 6:325)

God gives us the power to love. Meister Eckhart says this is the “gift of our faith.”

In Christianity, the concept of agape includes the heart’s connection to faith and the resurrection of Jesus.

Like a plant that doesn’t look like much until it flowers or a butterfly that emerges from a caterpillar…when we trust, we experience freedom, enabling us to reach our full potential. That potential is agape.

The challenge of God is to trust, actively empower others to be everything they can be, and know that we, in turn, are loved and entrusted. Having trust in God and in others is truly liberating. It sets us free to love and facilitates healing in the world.

Embracing the Mystery

The Cloud of Unknowing is a fourteenth-century text on contemplative prayer. The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing tells the reader that you’ve got to balance your knowing with a willingness not to know. For example, the resurrection of Jesus cannot be completely understood, and like birth and death, it requires us to embrace “The Cloud of Unknowing.”

Drawing on teachings from The Cloud of Unknowing, Franciscan friar and ecumenical teacher Father Richard Rohr, describes the necessity of a “beginner’s mind.” He believes we must seek to have the attitude of a beginner and a learner.

Being open-hearted and open-minded, Rohr says, is the best way to read scripture, learn, and use what we learn for good. Without the heart (the intuitive mind), the mind in itself is incapable of wisdom.[1]

Woman embracing herself thoughtfully, meditating

Albert Einstein said something similar: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

The Chambers of the Heart

“Set me as a seal upon your heart.” ~Song of Songs 8:6

The presence of love is a movement from the dissolution of the Ego to the expansion of the self. 

How tragic to consider that there exists human hearts with only a single spiritual chamber. Room, only, for the self alone.

Many people live and die without sharing their hearts with others.

How does this happen?

St. Paul wrote about the chambers of the heart in the scriptures. He said, “It is only right for me to feel this way about you because “I have you all in my heart.” (Philippians 1:7)

There are those who will not allow themselves to love anyone because it pains so greatly when the one we love is taken by death. Better, we feel, to keep love at a distance than to bear suffering and grief. But death has met its match in love, as the beautiful love story in the Song of Songs reveals.

The Act of Giving Fills the Well

St. Frances said and lived by this motto, “For it is in giving that we receive,” and “it is in dying that we are born.” 

Some people feel they lose power when they give, or feel after they have given that their energy is depleted. But if after you have given, your energy is depleted, you have not truly given love, only taken. True giving is the essence of life. 

Man with hand and heart and one hand towards the heavens

True love gains power through giving. It’s like a well that, as you draw water from it, fresher water runs to replace it. In other words, true love gains as it gives. And as one gives love, they are, in turn, filled with love through the action of giving.

St. Francis of Assisi had such a loving spirit. He was able to find and spread love, even within the midst of disease, hunger, poverty, cold, injustice, ugliness, and wrongful death—reality in its most horrible state. He took adversity and substantiated it into reality yet more real, where the wind of spirit blows. 

“Love is patient and kind. Love never gives up; faith, hope and patience never give up.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Wellness Without Love Is Not Wellness

For me personally, as well as within my approach to health and healing at Mederi Center, love is at the center of our clinical care with patients. It is interwoven into all aspects of my life and our way of helping people heal and sharing the profound wisdom and benefits of botanical medicine

Love is the source of wellness.

Here’s how I define wellness:

“Wellness can be defined rather abstractly as intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical vitality; engaging in attitudes and behaviors that enhance the quality of life.
A true state of being ‘well’ is not merely a condition of the individual. Our wellness exists when it is interrelated with the wellness of family, community, and environment.
Diseases can manifest cellularly, energetically, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually and will often involve a combination of these causes.   
Ultimately, to be well, you must give love, receive love, and feel a true sense of belonging.” ~Donnie Yance

Love is a gift from God, a sacred grace that invites us, indeed challenges us to respond with whatever capability we have, to love one another as brothers and sisters.

“We make a life by how we serve” ~Orest Bedrij

A hand reaching toward the heavens

Do Not Fear Death, Welcome Her

To St. Francis, death is our sister. And he invites us to embrace our Sister Death, welcomes her in, and love her. For love, and only love, lasts forever.

As Pope Francis said when he was visiting the United States several years ago: Before there was God, there was Love, and God came from Love.

We must not forget that we are all dying in a sense, death is something no mortal can escape. But life is not merely about survival. 


If we are in faith, able to hear Spirit calling us, and able to visualize God’s hand reaching out to us—inviting us to be with Him despite all the adversities this world puts before us—we shall respond eagerly to that blessed invitation for “Perfect love casts out all fear.” (John 4:18)

The Stillness of Winter Leads to the Vibrancy of Spring

Spring is my favorite time of year for many reasons. I get inspired by nature breaking through the stillness of winter. For months nature has given us the impression of death, but at this time of year, that seeming death leads to a state of rebirth, renewal, and change.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ~Leo Tolstoy

Spring Renewal: A Cycle of Life and Death

In the Eastern Christian tradition, the Easter feast is officially called Pascha. It is the feast to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord.

Pascha comes from the Hebrew word Pesach, which means “Passover.” At this time of year, people who follow the Christian faith celebrate Easter. Jewish people celebrate Pesach.

Pesach celebrates when the Israelites were freed from slavery. And the passing over refers to a moment when the angel of death passed over the Jewish people’s firstborn sons, allowing them to live.

More generally, I think of this time of renewal and resurrection as a time of passing over from death to life. 

A man reaching his arms out towards the heavens with the sun on the horizon

With heartfelt meaning, these words are sung during Pascha in the Eastern church: “This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

Blessed and joyous Easter, Passover, and any other holiday you celebrate this spring.



[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Beginner’s Mind (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2002).

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8 Replies to “In Death and Grief We Find Love

  1. Very nice, Donnie, thank you. All of your posts are wonderful but this one is especially beautiful. Sorry you lost your sister.

  2. Dear Donnie
    Thankyou for sharing your beautiful spiritual comments on LOVE,

    I always look forward to your posts. May the RISEN Lord bless you and your loved ones…HE IS RISEN ALLELUIA !!!

  3. Thanks Donnie.
    Mathew 18:2 – 4:
    And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said:
    “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”

    Children have faith in things they don’t yet fully understand – it doesn’t take faith to believe in something we fully understand.

    Agape love is unconditional – no strings attached – it is the truest form of love – and the greatest example of it is God’s love for us. Even when we turn our backs on Him, He still loves us! We cannot escape God’s love – it’s been everywhere from the beginning – and will remain forever.

    Hope you have a blessed Easter!

  4. Donnie, my heart is embracing you and your family as you say a prolonged goodbye to your beloved sister GiGi. Thanks for this beautiful post about love and the possibility of Resurrection, the greatest gift and demonstration Jesus Christ gave us all. May this Easter season bring you and your family into a new chapter in your lives, one filled with renewal, resurrection, and the blossoming of new life. May divine blessings of rebirth surround you all!

  5. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Dear Donnie–Love shines through your words, a pure reflection of your kind and oh-so-generous heart. Thank you, for shining your precious light in our world–for offering your love, and for weaving such a wonderful web of interconnection and care.

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