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Reasons to Hope: Hope and Grief, When We Lose the Ones We Love

Photo: Veit Hammer

Five years ago today, my mom died in a car accident. Her death had many layers to it and remains a mystery, but that is a story for another time. For now, I am grappling with how to offer reasons to hope in the wake of all too familiar grief, washing over me like salt waves on a wound still healing. But these are waves I know well and I am less afraid of them now. Because I know them, I know I cannot escape them. And so today as we search for reasons to hope together, I am reminded — it is in the dark that hope truly shines. 

An Impossible Ending 

There is a finality to death that our human brains cannot reconcile. We literally cannot compute. It is our biology to stay alive; with no direct command, our bodies will do everything they can to continue to function. This is a miracle. And a metaphor for the inner thrust of the spirit to transcend the outer machinations of physical matter. We were meant for more than this. 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Infinite Hope 

In wrestling with the finite nature of life and the infinite wisdom lodged within our hearts, we find hope. We are built to live eternally, and there is so much about life and death we cannot comprehend. Our philosophers, scientists, doctors and priests have more questions than answers and it will always be so. The more we learn, the more there is to discover. 

But hope is not about hard, finite answers. It’s not about a timeline or even a promise that things will get better anytime soon. It’s a state of mind, a heart space, a place we can go to weather the storm and be held in the everlasting arms, where we are already eternally loved and connected to those whose loss we mourn. Hope travels back and forth between this life and the infinite, carrying messages of love. 

Practical Sadness 

This all sounds good and well, but practically speaking, how do we deal with the visceral intensity of grief? I remember wondering if I would ever feel “normal” again. Would I ever again enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face instead of wondering how it could shine so bright when things were so dark? I remember reading this poem by John O’Donohue, and clinging to the last stanza, thinking, oh, if only that could be. I cannot imagine how that could be. 

For Grief by John O’Donohue

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And, when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

I am here to tell you that there is hope on the other side of tragedy, hope on the other side of deep dark grief. The loss remains with us on this earth. It never goes away. But hope doesn’t either. 

This week, I pray you find comfort in hope, that in good times and bad, you find courage in your very loved very strong very resilient heart. Let’s think of ways hope has gotten us through hard times and if you’re in the midst of a hard time, don’t be afraid to reach out to others to help you find new reasons to hope. That’s what we’re all here for, writing the Book of Hope together. 

Writing the Book of Hope 

If you’re new to the Book of Hope, welcome! Here’s all you need to know to get started.

52 Reasons: Writing the Book of Hope

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