I recently had coffee with a good friend and we discussed marriage, travel, ideas for an upcoming talk I have; the normal things between long-standing friends. We laughed about memories and made plans for us and our spouses to get together. I knew we had connected to discuss a recent loss in my life and yet talking about the normal things felt safe. I wasn’t exactly intentionally avoiding, but I wasn’t just letting things out.
And then she asked how I was doing.
Not good, ok, heart-broken, better… they were all the truth. It depended on the hour and who I was with. It depended on the last time I had cried and what I was doing. Sometimes even I didn’t know how I was doing because sometimes life throws you a curveball that you don’t see coming. And while you want to talk about the struggle, sometimes you want to just talk about the other stuff and pretend your world is normal.
The pain that occurs with loss can be overwhelming. You wrestle with your reality throughout the day and perhaps finally come to terms with it only to go to bed and awaken with the pressure to reaccept it once more. The world continues to turn, to celebrate birthdays and baseball games, to gather and go to school and work. No one seems to pause and take note of your grief. And the heartache makes it hard to move forward with hope.
So, what do we do and where do we turn when heartache makes it hard to hope?
In the days following the news I alluded to, I noticed my dueling desires. I wanted to be alone, watch TV, and not face the rising sun and incoming day. This was alongside my longing to connect, to have someone reach out and ask how I was doing, to gaze into friends lives on social media, and constantly check my email and texts. I wanted to exercise, to run, sweat and push myself. I also wanted to stay in bed and not even move so far as to the living room. I wanted to cry and I longed to laugh. I wanted to give up and I was desperate for hope.
And somedays I didn’t know what I wanted or where to turn. But I did know this: Whatever you do, Linds, keep on going. For it was necessary to be together and necessary to be alone. It was important to laugh and important to cry. It was helpful to push myself physically and helpful to give myself grace. And it was essential to continue on, both continuing routine and creating space to pause. Even amid the truth of it being hard to hope, we have to keep going.
And as we keep going and allowing for the different twists and turns our heart takes us on, we turn to God, to friends, and to those who have walked a similar journey. We let others know of the ache and risk being a burden to allow others the gift of caring for us well. Slowly an hour turns into an afternoon and an afternoon into a day and we realize we are still going. We become less annoyed at the morning and more willing to step out and show up. As we hold onto our basic values and practices, share with others, and allow space for feelings, heartbreak slowly gives way for hope to return.
However, hopes return is not without going through the mess, the feels, the ups and downs, and the risks. Hope is a scary thing. Hope has the potential to let us fall and fall hard. Hope has the ability to leave us embarrassed, hurt, lonely, sad, and wrecked. When it’s hard to hope, we may be tempted to throw in the towel, but little is to be gained from giving in and giving up. Hope, even when it’s hard, must return to propel us on onward.
A life without hope is simply no way to live. We have to have hope. And ultimately, when it is hard to hope we must connect. This may be to others and is most fully with God. Hope in things and outcomes, like all hope, has the potential to leave us heartbroken. Yet hope in something bigger than ourselves allows us to get out of our own disappointment and pain to a hope that sustains. We accept we are not alone, we navigate the pain and sorrow, and we show up to answer the question, “how are you doing?” and we make way for hope once more — because hope embodied does not disappoint.
Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC