During these dark days and nights of winter, what are you hoping for?
- an end to them!
- an end to the pandemic
- being together again
- warmth and sunlight
- spring flowers
- to get the vaccine
Unfortunately, we can’t do anything to rush from winter and into spring. We have to go through
it as best we can. That has also been the way during Covid. That is the way with grief. We can’t
skip it and get to joy again. Some of us go through grief with despair, and some go through it
with hope. For most, it is a mixture of both. How we cope with grief is a reflection of how we
live our lives, whether as hopeless or hopeful people. How would you describe your own way of
being—are you a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of person?
What is hope? It is a word with spiritual or religious connotations, but in basic terms,
what does the word hope mean to you?
- looking forward to something
- waiting for something presently unseen
When I googled the word hope, there was a sampling of definitions, such as:
§ a feeling of expectation
§ an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of a positive
outcome with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large
§ to cherish a desire with anticipation
My favourite definition of hope comes from a book in our lending library called, “Finding Hope”.
The writers define hope as: “looking forward with both confidence and unsureness to something
good.” Hope is a mixture of certainty and uncertainty, and is possible, even in the midst of the
worst of times in our lives.
When someone we love dies, often in the early days people desperately hope that it isn’t
really permanent, that the one they love will somehow come back and be alive again. Did any of
you have this experience? What was that like for you? In her book The Year of Magical Thinking,
Joan Didion writes about this phenomenon whereby you actually think that you have seen your
person who died, or that you pretend that they are coming through the door.
For people of faith, they have the hope that someday they and their loved one will be
reunited once again in heaven. This is a great source of comfort to people who are spiritual or
religious. Many of the great religions of the world have this as a foundational belief.
Not everyone however, is certain of this. Their philosophy of life is that this life is all there
is and that death is the ultimate end. It is hard to believe, to have hope, when faced with the
cold reality of our loved one’s death. We live in a death-denying culture. We try to mask the
finality of death by using other words to describe it. What are some of the words you or others
commonly use to “soften” the reality of someone’s death?
- pass away
- in a better place
- gone on before
- gone to heaven
- we have “lost” a loved one
Anything to mask the pain of the permanence of our loss. We as a culture are constantly
seeking a quick fix to pain, whether it be physical or emotional. Death is the one thing we
cannot fix or escape from. We can sometimes mask the pain of grief. In what ways have
you tried to mask your grief for awhile?
- substances: alcohol or drugs
- binge eating
We hope these diversions will put an end to our pain. They may for a time.
The difficult thing about hope is that it is something we cannot see. We cannot instantly
attain that which we hope for: an end to our suffering and grief. Instead, we have to look for
the light at the end of the tunnel of grief. And that calls for patience.
Hope is developed in the midst of suffering. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist and a
holocaust survivor, who wrote the book, Man’s Search for Meaning. His pregnant wife and the
rest of his family perished in the concentration camps. Yet he found meaning and hope in the
midst of the extreme suffering of himself and his fellow prisoners in the camps. In an article
published in The Atlantic, Emily E. Smith writes,
As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous
circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. "Everything can be
taken from a man but one thing," Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "the last of the
human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's
own way." (Jan. 9, 2013)
Resilient people find meaning in their suffering. In the midst of that over which they
have no control, ie. terminal illness or a sudden death, they have hope.
What do grieving people hope for? What do you hope for as you grieve?
§ an end to the internal pain of grief
§ that you will feel normal again
§ hugs (after Covid!)
§ that you will be happy again
§ that you will accept the loss which you cannot change
§ that you will survive
§ that someday you will be reunited
These are all legitimate things to hope for.
How long will it take for you to attain what you hope for in terms of your journey
through grief? One thing is for sure: it will take TIME and PATIENCE, and the length of time will
be different for everyone. There is no timeline. However, you WILL get through it and find
hope once again.
FINDING HOPE AGAIN AFTER DEATH
What can we do to foster hope, when someone we loved has died?
1. BELIEVE THAT YOU WILL FIND HOPE ONCE AGAIN:
- belief in a divine Presence and in a divine purpose to your suffering
- Nature: life goes on: how does Nature prove this? A new birth; winter turns to spring; darkness to light; the caterpillar turns into a butterfly
- look to the past: you have survived other losses and recovered; human beings are resilient throughout history
2. YOU HAVE STRENGTHS YOU NEVER REALIZED YOU HAD:
- until you use them, until you need them
- what are they?
- what matters most to you during this time?
- your faith and values
3. BEGIN TO PRACTISE ACCEPTANCE
- no quick fixes; takes patience
- accept what? your lack of control; your feelings of despair and longing; the AA prayer “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”
- meditation: begin in stillness, become aware of your breathing, in and out. Breathe in hope; slowly exhale despair Breathe in acceptance; slowly exhale denial
Try it now!
4. RELY ON YOUR HIGHER POWER
- return to your spiritual heritage
- surrender control
- talk with your spiritual leader
- prayer or other spiritual practices
- the grief and loss will still be there, but, like a candle lit in a darkened room, the darkness slowly turns to light and hope is restored
- be open to the sacred, watch for moments of grace and hope, ask for them
5. LOOK BACK
- remember other times when you suffered a loss of hope: death of someone else; loss of a job; divorce; an illness (yours or someone else’s)
- remind yourself that you recovered hope back then and be encouraged
- recall times when you felt particularly hopeful. Feel grateful for those times, know that you will feel hopeful again
- begin a “Gratitude Journal”. Hope begets hope. The German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote these words,
Gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past, not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within.
6. REACH OUT TO OTHERS
- What are ways to do this?
- join a support group, talk to others who have been where you are
- talk to friends or family members who have experienced the death of a loved one
- talk to people who are hopeful, positive, and caring
- those who are further along in their grief (timewise), ask when did they begin to feel hopeful again? How did it happen for them? What were the small signs of hope?
- “borrow” hope from them: as you hear how they have managed grief and regained hope, ask them if they will “hold the hope” for you until you find hope again.
- find hope in your faith, from spiritual reading or books about hope, inspiring music or movies, even from your loved one who died. Have you talked to your person? You can ask them to give you hope again.
7. SET SMALL GOALS TO MOVE FORWARD
- What small steps did you take during the early days of grief?
- get out of bed!
- make the bed
- call someone you can talk to
- with each small step, you will feel more in control and more hopeful
8. FIND THE HUMOUR
People who laugh are usually hopeful people. Their laughter is contagious. Humour lifts
the spirits as has been proven by medical science. Don’t be afraid to laugh out loud, even
when you are grieving. Belly laughs are especially good for us. What activities have you
found humour in?
- comedy movies: ie. What About Bob?
- watch comedians on TV
- what are some books that you find funny?
- with laughter comes a sense of hope
9. PAY ATTENTION TO SIGNS OF HOPE
- they are everywhere, if we look for them
- where do you find signs of hope in the world?
- snowdrops and crocus pushing up through the snow, cardinals appearing
- a child’s hug; a baby’s laughter
- when you make a good meal
- people getting vaccinated
Expect to find hope when you least expect it. Hope will begin to find you!
10. THE BEST OF ALL
Seek the “continuing bond” with your loved one. Even if you are not a religious person,
recognize that there is another level of reality we cannot see and may not be aware of.
Many people experience and find hope in the feeling that their loved one is always with
them. How have some of you experienced the ongoing presence of your loved one? Can
you describe it? Many people I talk with describe having conversations with their person,
of saying good morning or good night to them every day. Do not discourage this. Be
attentive to their presence in small things. Sometimes they come to us in dreams. It is the
way in which we can continue having a relationship with the one who is no longer with us
in body. This enduring bond with our loved one can give us new strength and hope, and
guide us into the future. Those whom we loved who have died are now our biggest
For those who are further along in your grief, when did you start to feel hopeful once
In her book, Between Two Kingdoms: a Memoir of a Life Interrupted, Suleika Jaouad, a
young cancer survivor, writes these words:
To imagine yourself in the future is a radical act of hope.
You WILL survive your grief.
In closing, take heart. Life will again be good in time. This season of mourning will pass.
Life after loss can still be good. Once you have endured despair, you learn a valuable lesson, that
this too shall pass. You will feel hopeful again. Say YES to hope!
Between Two Kingdoms: a Memoir of a Life Interrupted. Suleika Jaouad. 2021, Random House.
Finding Hope: Ways to See Life in a Brighter Light. Ronna Fay Jevne and James E. Miller. 2020, Tellwell Talent.
A Grief Observed. C.S. Lewis. 1961, Faber and Faber.
Man’s Search for Meaning. Vicktor Frankl. 1946, Beacon Press.
The Other Side of Sadness:What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life after Loss. George A. Bonanno.2019, Basic Books.
The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion. 2005, Knopf.
There’s More to Life than Being Happy. Emily E. Smith. The Atlantic. Jan. 9, 2013.
What Despair Can Teach Us About Hope. Tom McGrath. CareNotes booklet, 2003.
Winter Grief, Summer Grace: Returning to Life after a Loved One Dies. J.E. Miller.1995, Augsburg Books.