Getting Hope Back
by Bob Baugher, Ph.D.
Hope Has Gone
You are reading this because someone you love died—your child, your sibling, or your grandchild. The word hope has gone out of your life. In the last issue of We Need Not Walk Alone I discussed what it means to wait for hope. In this issue we’ll look at a more active approach, namely at a few things you can do to put hope in your life. First, let’s look at how hope changes.
It matters not whether the death of your child, sibling, grandchild, spouse or friend was sudden or due to a chronic condition, the moment-by-moment absence of this precious person has left you dazed, shocked, confused and wondering how you can live another day. If your loved one died of an illness, the initial diagnosis of a terminal condition likely led you to hope that the doctor was mistaken. If your loved one died suddenly, your first reaction was likely hoping that it wasn’t true. You hoped that the person who informed you somehow got it wrong. But, ultimately, the hope that your loved one would still be in your life was crushed.
Hope That the Pain Will End
As the days turn into weeks and months some people in the depths of their grief may begin to hope to end their pain by ending their life. This type of hope goes something like this: “If I die, the pain will stop and I will be with my loved one.” If you have had these thoughts, you are not alone. They are absolutely normal. It is what a desperate brain does when it is left with no hope. If you are still having these thoughts, I ask you to tell a trusted friend or relative. As you know, letting yourself die at this time will add to the grief that your other family members are experiencing. Tell someone who can just sit there and be a good listener and who will not judge you.
A couple years ago I finished a video project in which we followed up six men whose child, sibling, wife, or parent had died 20 years prior. At one point in the video, titled Men and Their Grief—20 Years Later, I asked bereaved dad, Don, “How have you dealt with the guilt of your son [who had died in a playground accident]?” and his answer came immediately, “Time.” Then, he hesitated and again said, “Time.” After years and years of blaming himself for letting his son go to the playground, his brain gradually let it subside. Does his guilt still come up at times? Yes. Has he found hope? Definitely. Will he ever forget his precious son? Of course not.
So, one way of hope coming back into your life is for time to pass. However, when I asked TCF parents, grandparents and siblings what they did to put hope back into their lives, they said that, at first that they cared little about hope. Because they were in so much pain all they could imagine was another day with more of the same. They told me that, later, however, they found hope by doing at least one of the following:
1. Find Self-compassion
One mom stated, “I came to the realization that few (or none) of my previous life experiences prepared me for this and therefore I had to learn to be good to myself and forgive myself.”
2. Make a decision to go forward
Despite their pain and missing their loved one, many people stated that, at some point they made the decision to move forward with their life by bringing the memories with them. Several dads told me that they eventually came to realize that that they could not outrun their grief or fix it, but they had to fight to live another day. One dad said, “I had to realize that I’m a new man because my son now lives inside of me.” A man whose sister died told me, “When I realized that I wasn’t going to work through grief, I let it work through me; and I decided to have a new life and a new me.”
3. Attend a TCF Meeting
Have you ever sat in a TCF group meeting? If so, do you remember the first time you walked in prior to the start of the meeting? Of course you do. What did you see? People chatting, some even laughing. For a moment you may have thought you were in the wrong place because—well, these folks couldn’t be people who’ve experienced the death of a child. However, you soon found that, indeed, this was the right place. How did hope eventually emerge from the depths of your grief? By the gift of the so-called “old timers,” such as Chapter Leaders, group facilitators and long-time attendees who seemed to have found hope. At first you may have mistakenly thought, “These people could not have loved their child or sibling as much as I did.” However, as you got to know these folks and learned their stories, you realized that, despite their tragedies, they could laugh again and even reach out to others with hope and caring.
4. Educate Yourself
Time and again TCF people have told me that understanding the craziness of grief through books, articles (such as those in this magazine), online materials (see www.compassionatefriends.org), videos, and workshops helped them to eventually move through the dark tunnel of despair toward the light of hope.
5. Give to Others
If the death of your loved one is recent, the thought of helping others at this point in your life may be a far out notion. However, there are thousands of stories of people who, after a time, were able to reach out and offer a hand to those in need. There may come a time in your grief journey where you find that you may be ready to offer some of yourself. Those who have chosen to take this step report that the very act of giving helps them to begin a new journey—a journey of hope, of finding their way again, of getting in touch with who they are, or discovering a new part of them that feels right. Perhaps you’re not ready. But when you are, there will be people who will be so grateful that you have chosen to help. And you will be thankful that taking this step has brought hope to your own life.
6. Start Paying Attention to the Blessings
The death of a child, grandchild or sibling can reaffirm the realization that life is so very precious.
7. Attend a National TCF Conference
Each year more than 1,000 people make the decision to register online, get into their car or on a plane, check into a hotel and attend a TCF conference. Have you done so? If not, then consider attending the next conference. As those of you who have attended a conference know, you walk into the hotel and see hundreds of people, each of whom has experienced the death of a child, grandchild, or sibling. The keynote speakers and workshop presenters provide amazing stories of hope—stories that lift the spirit and leave people with the clear message that, despite their feelings of loss and grief, they can find joy and meaning in life again. A TCF Conference is a place filled with caring people, lots to learn, hugs, and most importantly hope. However you can do it, find a way to get there. And, look for me in a workshop, walking down the hall, in the bookstore, or at the banquet. Come up and say, “Hi. I read your article on Hope and now I’m here.”