I come into people’s lives at times when hope is challenged. I hear phrases such as, “we aren’t giving up hope”, “there’s no hope” and “it’s hopeless”. Individuals often describe feeling hopeless as well.
Hope is not a feeling.
It is something you feel yes, but in and of itself, hope is not a feeling. Think of it like ‘wet’; You can feel wet, but wet is not a feeling.
Hope is a process.
Isabelle found a lump in her breast one day while taking a shower. She noted it, felt a little concern and decided to monitor it before mentioning it to her doctor. She hoped it was nothing.
A couple months go by and Isabelle feels the lump has gotten bigger and seems to be more painful than previously. She makes a doctor’s appointment and hopes it’s nothing.
Her doctor feels it warrants further examination so sends Isabelle for a mammogram. Her doctor and Isabelle hope it’s nothing.
The mammogram indicates need for a biopsy. The doctor and Isabelle hope it’s nothing.
The biopsy comes back malignant. The doctor recommends a lumpectomy and a biopsy of the lymph nodes to determine the extent of the condition. The doctor and Isabelle hope there is nothing found in the lymph nodes and that the lump is removed successfully.
The lymph node biopsy comes back positive for cancer cells. The doctor recommends a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. The doctor and Isabelle hope this will stop the progression of the disease.
After months of treatment the cancer has spread very aggressively throughout her body. Further aggressive treatments would deplete Isabelle’s quality of life with no likelihood of a cure. Isabelle foregoes aggressive treatment and hopes to fill the rest of her life with quality family time and be comfortable.
Surrounded by her family and friends daily, Isabelle hopes that she has enough time on Earth to leave no words unspoken, no amends not made and no doubt how much she loved life. She wrote letters to be read after her death to special individuals and hopes each one brings a sense of peace and closure to the recipient. She hopes that she made a difference in the lives of those she loves and she hopes that continues on in them long after she transitions to the next place.
Isabelle’s family and friends hope they have enough time to give back to Isabelle all that she has given to them over the years. They hope that she feels loved during the Living Wake they held for her. They hope that she knows she is not alone. They hope that she is not in pain. They hope that they will see her again some day, in some way. They hope.
Hope takes many shapes depending on the evolution of the situation. It morphs and transforms at the direction of its beholder. It relies heavily on perception and mindset. It is undeniably fluid.
Hope is ever present and can be felt by proxy. If you can’t feel it someone else can feel it for you. It is often thought of as contagious for this reason. The mere action another holding hope for you and your situation, can help you feel hope too.
Hope is not tangible. Hope is not concrete. Hope is organic and cannot be defined. It is a dance that cannot be choreographed by a few well spoken words. Hope comes from your soul.
You are either one to experience it or not. In my experience those with hope are more positive, finding all reason to hope despite the situation. Also, in my experience however, I find denial disguised as hope.
Denial is often portrayed as ‘positive thinking’. Denial is the underlying belief that if I ignore something it will not come into being. Denial is considering only the best case scenarios and suppressing the fears of the possibility of an undesired outcome.
Denial isolates and divides, but true hope unites and bonds.
Hope is not holding onto a desired outcome no matter what. True hope is holding the desire for the best outcome in one hand, while holding acceptance of the possibility of the worst outcome in the other – and preparing for both.
It is in this preparation for both that the uniting and the bonding happens.
When I consider things, I always play the what if I’m wrong? game. “If I do this thing and I’m wrong then (fill in the blank)?” And then I weigh it against “what if I do that thing and I’m wrong then (fill in the blank)?”
So, let’s play that game now.
Imagine a situation where you have been diagnosed as terminal and never consider the possibility of death because you are being ‘positive’. You never have conversations about it with others. You never express the things on your heart. You never talk about your fears. You never express your wishes regarding your services. You never make preparations.
You think about dying. You worry about it. You have no one to talk about it with though because you are being positive about it. You lie in bed at night and think of all the things that you will miss. You feel great love but do not express it because it will scare your family to think you are giving up.
At some point the treatment is deemed ineffective, causes severe side effects and reduces your quality of life. You have no energy to visit with others. Treatment is stopped and you are sent home with hospice.
You die three days later with no chance to say a quality goodbye.
How does that feel?
Now imagine a situation where you have been diagnosed as terminal and pursue aggressive treatment while also accepting the possibility of death. As you go through treatment you have open deep conversations with family and friends about your fears and your hopes. You begin to make decisions about the celebration of your life. You make a list of songs for your memorial service, last wishes about care and you even write a letter to be read at your service.
You cry and laugh with your loved ones. The whole experience draws you closer to your family and friends.
Your aggressive treatment is successful and you live several more years with these deeper relationships.
How do you feel?
Which scenario feels more hopeful now?