FOSTERING HOPE


Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of St. Christopher's Hospice, near London, once wrote in connection with the care of people who are terminally ill:

"You matter because you are you, you matter to the last moment of your life and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die."

It is the contention of this paper, that having hope is an important part of being able to live until you die; in other words hope is a factor which relates to the quality of life a person may have. Hope is worth fostering.

Hope is an important part of human life in all sorts of situations: consider, for example, this situation different from the hospital context. Imagine, if you will, a self-employed businessman who has been working desperately for month after month to rescue his business from the awful prospect of bankruptcy and receivership. Each month that passes seems longer than the previous one, the financial figures get worse and worse, more and more gloom and doom pervade the business; not just the owner but everyone employed show the stress and strain on their faces, the worry and anxiety, the fatigue and exhaustion; everyone has been trying so hard and yet the company is still a long way from coming out of the wood. People are losing hope and beginning to despair. But then one day the manager receives a phone call: would he consider a substantial injection of cash from another businessman who is now retiring and who would like to become a sleeping partner in the firm. This is just what is needed, for ages the banks would lend no more money; but now with some extra capital, new equipment can be purchased, a new sales drive mounted and old debts paid off. As the news is passed from person to person that the owner has accepted the offer of the sleeping partner, it is as if an enormous surge of energy wells up and takes hold of everyone in the company. There is new hope for the future, a new sense of vitality is felt, excitement replaces dreariness and all the gloom and doom. A new determination to weather the storm and come through is expressed on many faces.

From our own differing experiences throughout our lives, we know the difference it makes when we feel hopeful; without hope life feels flat and dreary and lacking in vitality; with hope life is an adventure, a challenge, it has a different feel and meaning to it.

I want now to move back to the hospital context, or at least to the world of caring for people and not just people who are terminally ill. I share with you seven factors which may help to foster hope in a person's life, and I will say something about each of these factors in turn, and then will go on to look with you, very briefly, at some factors which hinder or diminish hope. I have been helped in what I have written by a book called "Mud and Stars" about the impact of hospice experience on the Church's Ministry of Healing and by an article in the Journal of Advanced Nursing called "Fostering Hope in terminally ill people".

The seven factors helping to foster hope are as follows:

1. Having meaningful relationships with others (or at least one other)
2. Having attainable aims
3. Having a spiritual base
4. Personal attributes
5. Light-heartedness
6. Uplifting memories
7. Affirmation of worth.

1. Having Meaningful Relationships

People who were interviewed about what helped them when they were ill, to feel supported and hopeful, said things such as the following: it is important for me to have a sense of being needed, of being part of something; it helps me to have someone who shares my journey and walks with me; it means much to me to have a friend who shares a part of their self with me; it is good to have others who radiate hope so I feel hope; it matters to me to have a feeling that another person is truly present with me; the touch or the hug that communicates " I am with you" is remembered. Perhaps what all these different things are saying is that it helps greatly through an illness, through a crisis, to have support, to feel the empathy of others, their solidarity with you, their deep concern and love for you, their willingness to listen and to try and understand. All such support be it from family or friend, from hospital staff or visitors, helps to foster hope for the future, even if it is only the hope that the person will not be abandoned or left alone.

2. Attainable Aims

It is one thing to have hope for the future, but are these hopes realistic, are they attainable aims? It has been noticed that in the case of terminal illnesses while a person is quite well, he or she will have various hopes for the future which relate to themselves; for instance, I would like to get home to tend to my roses, I would like to visit my relatives in their homes, I would like to get to my nephew's wedding next Spring. However, as their illness progresses their hopes focus less on themselves and more on those whom they love, they are concerned with envisioning a positive outcome in the lives of those they love; but when death comes close the person re-focuses on themselves, hoping for a peaceful death, for serenity, for inner peace - these are hopes less concerned with 'doing' than with 'being' - being at peace, being released from sickness, having eternal rest.

Both the person who is ill as well as those with whom they talk are concerned then with this task of focusing on attainable aims. It may no longer be realistic to hope for some things or to do some things, but others may be more readily fulfilled. Perhaps an elderly person is having to give up their home and move into sheltered housing or a nursing home; new hope may be fostered in the person, and the future looked forward to. I am not suggesting that re-focusing one's hopes onto different and more attainable aims will necessarily be an easy task - it may be very difficult, for some there may be much inner turmoil and distress, anger or rage as adjustments are attempted to be made. We should note that one aim or hope people, who are terminally ill, sometimes have is the hope to become reconciled with someone from whom they have been estranged. Sometimes too a person hopes to come to be at peace with God. The work of thinking what are attainable aims and of fostering hope in relation to them is worthwhile.

3. Spiritual Base

For many people this will mean having a faith in God; for others it will relate to their value system and their belief in the significance of life and their search for a meaning to death. "God is my refuge and strength" the Psalmist wrote, "all my hope on God is founded" we sing. For the believer, God is a source of hope for both this life and the next "changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before Him, lost in wonder, love and praise". Believing, hoping, trusting in God help a person to move trustingly into the future. There are many hopes connected with faith in God: for example, I may hope that through my illness God will find ways to use me, I may hope that there will be ways for me to witness to love and courage, I may hope to grow closer to God, to mature and deepen spiritually. I may hope that tomorrow will bring new blessings, as God remains unceasingly active around me and in me.

4. Personal Attributes

Once again when people were asked what they felt were the most important personal attributes to have through an illness, attributes which helped them to live with hope, there was a consensus on three main ones: determination, courage and serenity. Whether you are living with multiple sclerosis or recovering from a stroke or living with some other illness, to have determination, courage and serenity will greatly strengthen you in your inner being, in your relationship with others and with God - they will help you maintain an outlook that includes hope for the future, even if some hopes have to be altered from time to time. It is something of a mystery how other people's prayers and presence impart to another person new strength so that resources of determination, courage and serenity do not fail, but in practice it can and does happen.

5. Light-heartedness

Humour allows a sense of the ridiculous to lighten the load. Laughter can strengthen bonds, ease tensions, make the unbearable seem bearable. Light-heartedness , by dispelling some of the gloom and despair, can lift people's spirits fostering and fanning the flames of hope.

6. Uplifting Memories

To think back over the good times, to share memories with others, to look back over the years and recall how other difficulties were weathered, to remind oneself of many blessings - all of this activity may help to sustain a person; and if they believe in God, to renew their sense of the care and goodness of God, enabling them to move forward with hope and faith.

7. Affirmation of Worth

To know I matter, am loved unconditionally, accepted for myself, as I am, strengthens me in my inner being, helps me feel better. I am not just a burden, not just useless, people are genuinely concerned for me, are sincerely working for my well being and my good. If a person believes in God, they may remind themselves that God remains ever loving and faithful - all these ways of affirming one's worth help to foster an attitude of positiveness and hope.

Conclusion

So much for factors, which help to foster hope, but what, briefly, may hinder or diminish hope within a person? I list the following for your consideration: being mentally isolated by a 'conspiracy of silence' or by inadequate explanations of what is happening, or why you are feeling as you do or when fears and questions are not properly addressed or answered. Hope is diminished when it is implied that there is nothing more which can be done, when pain and other symptoms remain unrelieved, when symptoms such as depression are ignored, when the person feels alone or unsupported, when spiritual distress is not recognised, when the future seems to be no more than an insufferable mountain of problems and/or an unrelieved catastrophe.

I believe all us can foster hope in the people we meet: for some of us it may be through our gift for light-heartedness, for others through the strength we seem to impart, for others through our listening, but for all of us through our loving, accepting and affirming other people as we seek to reach out with the love which God has given us to share with others.

Andrew Furlong

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