There are times when it feels impossible to be hopeful. Or even silly and misguided to go there. But wouldn't it be healing to transform disappointment, grief, sadness, and even despair into something positive? Here's how.
What Am I Hoping For?
It's important to realistically identify what you're hoping for. There are some things that cannot be changed, no matter how much you wish or how hard you try. It won't do any good to hope that our departed loved ones come back to life or that a challenging situation simply ceases to be. But we can hope that our responses to life stress of any kind can improve, thereby helping us to ultimately feel better.
When my son David died, I spent a lot of time at first wishing it were a terrible nightmare and that I'd soon awaken, overwhelmingly relieved that it wasn't really so. That would have solved everything, but it obviously wasn't realistic. It was agonizing to know my dreams would never come true.
Over time I realized my Self actually needed something to hope for, even though what I really wanted wasn't possible. So I began a quest to find something achievable to anticipate.
I could hope for the pain to ease... for less tears and, someday, more smiles. I hoped for the strength to walk through my grief and for the ability to feel peaceful again. I longed for the day when it would be "old news" and memory would feel like a blessing instead of a curse. Later I hoped to transform my sorrow into something meaningful that would benefit others.
What Is Under My Control?
Another key concept is control or even influence. There are so many difficulties in life that we honestly just can't dictate, so yearning from something different may not be a fruitful exercise. However, we can all choose how we'll cope no matter how awful the circumstances.
Returning to the example of my own loss, part of my healing work included figuring out my choices. When did I want to go back to work? To whom did I want to talk? How much solitude did I need and how much connection? How much distraction was useful and how much focus on what happened? There were endless decisions to be made and what at first felt overwhelming later became helpful proof that there were still many things under my control.
How Can I Help Myself?
Once it's determined where your control lies, you can then figure out your own self-care strategies. The obvious ones include getting regular sleep (sometimes easier said than done), healthy eating, exercise, and appropriate medical attention. Each of us also gets to choose activities that are personally replenishing, like being in nature, taking a bubble bath, or enjoying art or music (just a few examples).
Take the time to list everything you find restorative. These are usually centered around the 5 senses - things you can see, hear, taste, feel, and smell. If a certain type of music, for example, always makes you feel relaxed and soothed, this is the time to bring more of it into your life.
How Can Others Help Me?
Close friends and family members may not know what to say or do, even though they want to help. Don't hesitate to let them know what's useful (and not useful) for you at this time. Of course this can only be discovered through some thoughtful musing, so give yourself the space to ponder possibilities.
I remember telling people it felt good to hear David's name and to please talk about him. I asked for help acknowledging contributions and gifts of food; I sought out stories from other bereaved parents. And talking with an unbiased, supportive, and nonjudgmental third party is always healing.
I don't believe I'm any different than any other human; we all get to choose our own path in the face of stress, loss, or challenge. I "hope" the questions above help you along the way!
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Essays on Grief Resilience