Friday, June 10, 2016

Hope goes last

Modo liceat vivere, est spes
While there's life, there's hope
Heauton Timorumenos (The Self-Tormentor) by Publius Terentius Afer

The saying "Where there's life there's hope" dates back over 2000 years. It is found in the above quoted play and that playwright died in 159BC. It survives over the centuries because it is generally accepted as true. My realization that I accept that as true came only recently and qute by accident. As is often the case, these truths come at you from left field.

Last month I was speaking on a panel of parents of patients at UCSF Children's Hospital. The audience was the spiritual care department.  They always want to do a better job serving families and went straight to the source, the parents.  We shared our experiences, what worked and what didn't. Because I interacted with Spiritual Care during Maggie's last hospitalization I told them my experience then. It was a very positive one.

Maggie had her incident on Friday morning and died on Saturday night. We knew what was happening. We knew Friday morning in the Emergency Room. We knew she was not going to survive. Neither Steve nor I said it, but we both knew it.

As we sat there in the ER, I saw Benjamin, one of the Spiritual Care team headed toward us. I worked there, so I knew who he was and he didn't need to introduce himself. Of course I also knew why he was coming and I dreaded it.   I willed him to keep his mouth shut because I was afraid he would say aloud what we both intellectually knew to be true. It was crucial to me that it remain unsaid. He came over and stood with us and said nothing. He was just there for us. It was perfect.

I didn't know why then, but looking back I know now. I was holding on to hope even though I knew she was going. Knowing something in your brain and knowing something in your heart are two different things. If he said it out loud it would be true and everyone would know what I knew. It's not rational, but it doesn't have to be. If we kept it quiet there was hope I was wrong. There was hope she would recover. There was hope.

I explained that during the panel and said simply as the realization hit me:

"Hope goes last."

And it's true. You hold onto to hope when it's all you have. Even as you have to accept the inevitable, you start to hope for different things. One more smile, a peaceful end or whatever. But Hope is the last thing to leave.

At the very moment I was speaking on this panel Steve was in Seattle dealing with the immediate aftermath of the death of our friend Chris, who took his own life.  We didn't know he was in trouble. We didn't know he had been spiraling for months. None of his friends knew because Chris being the generous and gentle soul that he was didn't want to be a burden to anyone.

I do not have depression. I have certainly dealt with periods of prolonged sadness but it has always been based in life situations, not in my brain chemistry. I do not know what that is like and I'm not going to lie, I am glad I don't. But as I sat there armed with my new realization that hope goes last I also realized that for Chris that wasn't true. He lost hope. And we lost him.

I continue to hope. Some of my hopes are realistic, others are probably not. (My presidential bid is looking unlikely). We all have to adjust our hopes many times every day, but the hope is there. Hold on to it and it will hold on to you.

Hope goes last.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all. Emily Dickinson


  1. Your comments cause me to reflect upon the heavy impact of the mental and emotional aspects of life, as opposed to the merely actual events. Sure, we grieve for bad outcomes, like divorce, loss of loved ones, or missed opportunities (for example, like not getting into the college of ones choice). But so much of our emotional lives are taken up with worry over what COULD go wrong. Some examples that come to my mind are: what if he drives off the road? What if they don't like me? What if I get a terrible disease? Likewise, our mental state is elevated by hope. Ooh, what if I win the prize? Maybe he'll ask me out? Maybe my child will get into UCLA! It's what makes us human. (Though I guess it could be argued that a dog anticipates a walk and grieves when it is left behind.)The mental and emotional aspects give our lives meaning, but sometimes become overwhelming. Then, to take it a step further, in hindsight, we experience regret, or sadness; or pride, or satisfaction.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Sally!! You write so well and always draw me into your stories. "I was afraid he would say aloud what we both intellectually knew to be true. It was crucial to me that it remain unsaid." You made me tear up. I have experienced this, what feels like, too many times. I have not lost a child or a friend to suicide, but my heart and mind automatically try to feel and understand what these experiences are for you. Although I cannot empathize, I do sympathize. I am so sorry for the loss of your close friend, Chris, and I continue to think of Maggie and talk about her amazingness to friends and family very frequently.
    May we continue to hold onto hope and may it hold onto us.
    Thank you!

  3. I found this post both unbearable and incredibly illuminating, Sally. I think it should have wide coverage and hope you have considered submitting it.


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