FOSTERING HOPE IN A WORLD OF WORRY AND ANXIETY
The possibility of getting COVID-19 has increased our stress and anxiety levels. We listen every day to the latest reports. Over a million people have died from it. Lockdown restrictions are hard to live with. It's weird to see sports stadiums and golf courses without spectators. Rich and poor, but especially the poor, feel helpless. In the slums the people living there cannot keep at a social distance from each other. The health services of many countries are unable to cope.
Everybody longs for a vaccine to be available, but no one knows for sure when that might be. It's hard to keep our spirits up when so many areas of life are affected - family, business, education, health, pastimes. We know the difference it makes when we feel hopeful. We lack motivation and vitality without it.
What helps us to keep hopeful and, on the other hand, what makes the struggle to remain hopeful much more difficult? I am indebted in what follows to Dr Kaye Herth for her article on Fostering Hope published in 1990 in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. Although this article focuses on the end of life, most people will find that they resonate with many sections of it, regardless of the current circumstances in which they or their family or their colleagues live. As well as drawing on her article, I have added in my own thoughts.
1. Having Meaningful Relationships
It can help us as we go through a crisis if we have someone who shares our journey and walks with us. It is valuable to have others who radiate hope so that we feel hope. It will be of great benefit to us if we feel the empathy of others; and know of their willingness to listen and to try and understand. In some situations, it's a comfort to be told by others that our life has made a difference; people are grateful for who we are and what we have meant to them, as well as what we have done with our life. All such support helps to foster hope in the present and for the future, even if it is only the hope that we 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? In the case of terminal illnesses while a person is still reasonably well, he or she will have various things for which they hope that concern themselves. For instance, they would like to get back to work, would like to go to their nephew's wedding next Spring; they would like to feel that their life in some way has made a measurable difference. As their condition deteriorates their hopes focus less on themselves and more on those whom they love, they are concerned with the welfare of such people.
When death comes close, they re-focus on themselves, hoping for a peaceful death, for serenity, for inner peace - these are hopes less concerned with 'doing' and more with 'being'. For a believer in God, hope is for things as yet unseen. I am not suggesting that re-focusing our hopes onto different and more attainable aims will necessarily be an easy task - it may be very difficult, there may be much inner turmoil and distress, anger or rage as adjustments are attempted. It is difficult to accept, to adjust and then to achieve, especially if it is to unwelcome news.
3. Spiritual Base
For some 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. 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."
4. Personal Attributes
The most important personal attributes to have through a crisis are determination, patience, courage and serenity. Whether we are living with multiple sclerosis or recovering from a stroke or living with some other illness, or having to change our plans for the future, these attributes will help us cope as best we can. It is something of a mystery how other people's prayers and presence impart to another person new strength, so that resources of determination, patience, courage and serenity do not fail, but in practice it can and does happen.
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 our spirits fostering and fanning the flames of hope.
6. Uplifting Memories
To think back over the good times, to share memories with others, to recall how other difficulties were weathered may help to sustain us. People, who have lost a loved person, know from experience that for the rest of their lives there will be a continuous bond with that person, despite being separated by death. This can strengthen them as they face into the future.
7. Affirmation of Worth
To be confident that we matter, are loved unconditionally, and accepted for ourselves warts and all is supremely important. We are not just a burden, not just useless, other people are genuinely concerned for us. If a person believes in God, they may remind themselves that God remains ever loving and faithful - all these ways of affirming our worth help to foster an attitude of positiveness and hope.
8. Factors that diminish hope
Some include being mentally isolated by a 'conspiracy of silence' or by inadequate explanations of what is happening, or why we are feeling as we do, or when fears and questions are not properly addressed or answered. A person's hope can be diminished when it is implied that there is nothing more that can be done, when pain and depression are ignored, when the future seems to be no more than an insufferable mountain of problems and / or an unrelieved catastrophe.
We all can foster hope in others as well as in ourselves. 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 loving, accepting and affirming other people as we seek to reach out to them with the love within us, regardless of where we believe its source to be.
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