About the Book

2017 Nautilus Book Award - Silver Medal, Lyrical Prose

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2018 Rubery Book Award - Short List, Nonfiction

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Book cover of Grief’s Compass: Walking the Wilderness with Emily Dickinson, by author Patricia McKernon Runkle

Grief’s Compass: Walking the Wilderness with Emily Dickinson is a memoir and poetic exploration of loss and healing. Written in a collage of forms—narrative, poetry, and journal entries—it tells how author Patricia McKernon Runkle turned to Emily Dickinson’s letters and poems for perspective on grief after the devastating loss of her brother. As she charts a path through the holy madness of grief and the grace of healing, she asks, What is grief? How do we heal? She finds no stages. Instead, she finds points on a compass and lines from Dickinson that illuminate them. Gently suggesting that we can take our time healing, she becomes the reader’s patient companion. Although Grief’s Compass features Emily Dickinson, it is not an art book or a scholarly work; it is intended to reach a wide audience. It sets grief and healing in the broadest possible context, explores their meaning in direct, accessible images, and tenderly affirms our innate ability to heal.

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At times of great loss, it is hard to find a true companion, one who will understand your deep sorrow and not try to get you to move on. Patricia McKernon Runkle is that worthy companion. While recounting in searing detail her response to the loss of her brother, she shines the light of her attention on the poems of Emily Dickinson, whom she chooses as her own fierce companion, and they bloom for us as never before. Most powerful of all, she shares her own diamond-like work—finely wrought prose interwoven with her own spare, honest, kind, and deeply wise poetry. In Grief’s Compass, she creates a space in which readers can visit their own grieving and explore the way stations she has found. This book is a sanctuary, a refuge. There is medicine in these pages.
— Susan Deborah (Sam) King -- Poet, teacher, retreat leader, consultant
Patricia McKernon Runkle’s unfailing devotion to the ache of truth taps the universality of loss in lines like this—“Where was the Gardener in his life, at his death?” And this—“Where does the eye want to look?” And then—“Do parts of the self, like tendrils, latch on to truths until finally the whole self heaves into a new center?” Poetry by Emily Dickinson laces through Runkle’s story without distracting from her own stunning voice. Slim and spare, Grief’s Compass is a treasure to hold close.
— Julie Maloney -- Founder/Director Women Reading Aloud
Grief’s Compass asks us to step into the unknown and be made new. In this beautiful story, Runkle helps us feel the struggle between sorrow and re-emergence as she delicately searches for wholeness in the midst of grief. Along the way, she reminds us to help children navigate the chaos that grief creates and the self-discovery that awaits on the horizon. 
— Joseph M. Primo, M.Div. -- CEO Good Grief, Inc. Children’s Grief Support Centers
This story has the feel of a physical touch, of one griever reaching out to another with a clear message: you are not alone. Patricia offers grievers tangible hope—not merely a wish that things will get better—and meaningful points on a compass to navigate and gradually return to normalcy, comfort, and inner peace.
— Judith A. Pedersen, MSW -- Founder and Executive Director Hearts of Hope Foundation, Inc.
Patricia McKernon Runkle’s Grief’s Compass is a luminous journey through the landscape of grief. Patricia’s vivid collage—of memoir, journal, and poetry—dances with Emily Dickinson, who becomes a fearless muse helping Patricia navigate the tragic death of her brother. Patricia does not reduce grief to a neat Kübler-Ross process, nor does she offer advice. She embraces, as Emily did, the abyss: “Before me was a challenge: to give up wanting to know. Beyond that challenge was another: to give up assuming that I could know.” So intimate and honest is this work, so vivid and insightful the writing, that, as a reader, you will feel that Patricia’s voice is your voice; her pain, yours; her triumphs, yours. Grief’s Compass proves what Dickinson wrote: “‘Nothing’ is the force that renovates the world.” More than being a stellar addition to the treasury of works about Dickinson, this book is “a hand reaching for yours.”
— Susanna Rich, Ph.D. -- Poet and Distinguished Professor Kean University Union, New Jersey