“It is hope which makes the shipwrecked sailor strike out with his arms in the midst of the sea, though no land is in sight.”
Many a grieving person may feel like that shipwrecked sailor the philosopher Ovid describes – flailing in the water, seeking a shoreline that is just out of view. The death of someone we love can rob us, at least temporarily, of hope. It can be hard to imagine that we will feel happy again, or that there will be things to look forward to when the future seems scary and uncertain. The death of a loved one often challenges our beliefs, expectations and assumptions. It changes our plans and alters our identity. “Who will I be now without my loved one?” Even if we find a way to carry on day-to-day, we may do so without the sense of purpose we once felt.
Some may have already faced the loss of hopes and dreams when confronting the terminal illness of a loved one, while others experiencing the sudden death of someone close have their worlds drastically changed with no warning. Regardless of the circumstances, the question remains – how to find a path forward with meaning and joy? For many, religious faith or spiritual beliefs offer a sense of peace and trust in the future. However, faith can sometimes be challenged by loss as well. I once heard hope defined as “the belief that some good thing may yet happen.” Getting to that “good thing” will no doubt involve letting go of the hopes we once had and grieving for them along with our loved one. It will require recognizing that while hope motivates us it also can restrict us if we aren’t open to change. And while no one can “give” us hope, we usually don’t find it alone.
The support of others is essential in being able to catch a glimpse of the solid ground of hope in the distance. Author Judy Brizendine suggests that grief itself is a form of hope. “Grief is the way we get from pain to a fulfilling life again” she writes. “When we choose to grieve we are choosing hope,
because we’ve decided to take the necessary steps to move through the pain (over time) and start living again.” When we think of it, life is no more or less certain now than it was before our loss – but our perspective has changed. We can take what we have learned and imagine a different future, one that embraces the hope of incorporating our loved one’s memory and legacy into our own lives and the lives of others, even if we don’t yet know exactly what that will look like. Ovid is also noted to have said “Let your hook be always cast. In the stream where you least expect it, there will be fish.”