By: Gina Shuster, LMSW
Someone you love has died and you are changed. Your life has been altered in ways that you couldn’t have anticipated. In a single breath, life shifted and the person who was your present and your future suddenly became your past. This reality is shocking, even if you knew the death was imminent. Even when you think you’ve had time to prepare and think you’re ready to say goodbye, the truth is that rarely is anyone ever really, truly ready. It’s one of the cruel realities of life that you don’t understand until you’re face to face with it.
Suddenly you have been confronted by the seemingly small details of your everyday life that you had no idea would be changed. The impact of your loss reaching a much greater radius than you could have possibly anticipated. Unexpectedly a seemingly normal trip to the grocery store can leave you weeping in front of a display of juice because it triggers a memory of your loved one. Or the simple act of opening the mailbox can leave you breathless because you pulled out a piece of mail addressed to your loved one. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by these things and even hopeless at times. So, what do you do then? What do you do when reality is staring you in the face and hope is nowhere to be found? Where do you turn for comfort and how do you move forward in the midst of this grief? Society loves to tell those who are grieving to “hold onto hope”, but what about when you feel there is no hope left to hold onto? That’s the problematic thing about hope, sometimes it can be hard to find.
Hope often hides in the depths of pain. It is often found deep in the darkness where people are reluctant to go searching. Sometimes you catch little glimmers of it, peeking out behind your pain, but it can be easily overshadowed by sorrow. That’s another thing about hope, you’re often unaware that you
need it until it’s nowhere to be found. When life is going well and you are happy and content, it’s easy to overlook hope. Hope becomes automatic, something that takes little to no effort to feel. It’s just there, and it can easily be taken for granted. You have no reason to believe that life will be anything but the joy and contentment you feel at that moment. But when the tables are turned and darkness is all around, hope is the first thing you will notice is missing. There is emptiness and uncertainty in the space hope once occupied. Without notice, there is great effort required to find it again. It becomes work. It requires you to roll up your sleeves, so to speak, and get messy. In order to find hope again, you have to walk through the muck that is your grief. You have to be willing to sit with the pain in order to find joy again. When you allow yourself to experience the depth of your grief, you also allow yourself to connect with the love you shared. Your grief, your pain is all a direct result of having loved and been loved.
Hope starts as a small seed and it grows bigger and stronger over time. Hope grows with each warm hug or word of encouragement from a friend or a loved one. Hope grows with happy memories shared or kind words spoken about your loved one. Hope can also grow out of the smiles of strangers or through the understanding tears of those who have experienced similar pain. Hope grows each time it’s a little bit easier for you to get out of bed in the morning. Hope grows each time you’re able to sleep through the night and not awaken in pain. And many times, it will come as a complete surprise to you, the joy catching you as much off guard as the pain. Suddenly you will find yourself laughing at a memory or smiling at a song that previously brought you to tears. Each day you will grow a little stronger in your journey and each day that seed of hope will grow a little bigger until one day it will be in full bloom again. It just takes time.
In the movie, Hope Floats, the character Birdie sums it up perfectly. She says,
“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the
middle that counts the most. You need to remember that when you
find yourself at the beginning. You just need to give hope a chance to
float up, and it will.”
You’ve just experienced a sad ending and you’re now faced with a scary new beginning. Give yourself time. Lean on the memories of the middle, the life well-lived. That love that will always be a part of you, and HOPE will rise again.
Gina Shuster is a Licensed Master’s Social Worker and Therapist at Oakland Psychological Clinic in Grand Blanc. Gina’s areas of specialty include grief and loss, trauma and abuse. She has been working in the field of grief and loss since 2007 and in mental health since 2005.