Holding on to hope

By Lois Ustanko, RN MA MS Mar 15, 2017

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Love God, all you saints; God takes care of all who stay close to him…Be brave.
Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon. — Psalm 31:23-24

Some events are so life-changing you never forget them. I remember the date, the time and the day of the week that I received the call from Barb, the human resources director for my husband’s employer. In a shaky voice, she told me that he had collapsed at work and was being taken to the hospital via ambulance.

The first 24 hours of coping with his sudden cardiac event were an endless nightmare. Time passed waiting for brain scans and lab results as we wondered if he’d “make it through the night.” All we could do was simply hope that he would pull through. We were told, “Only two in 100 do, but somebody has to be in that two percent.”

Over the next 10 months, we hoped he would be able to recover from the damage his brain and other major organs suffered due to being deprived oxygen during the time his heart wasn’t beating. We put our lives on hold. We focused on progress reports from health care providers and therapists. We protected ourselves from becoming hopeless. As he relearned to walk and talk and perform daily activities like getting dressed, we clung to the ultimately false hope he would be able to return to work. Doing so kept us from hopelessness.

I don’t think we were in a state of denial. I think we, like so many people who experience illness and their families, hoped for a miraculous recovery. Eventually, we reached a plateau. There would be no more progress. The abilities he had were as good as they were going to get. We both had to accept that he would never return to work. Deflated, he fell into a period of deep despair. I worked up the determination to create a new life for the two of us.
In this phase of his illness, we were eventually able to transition to new hopes: to live long enough to see grandchildren be born; to have enough energy to spend time with them on a vacation; to simply enjoy a quiet day sitting at the lake.

A number of months ago, we learned that his treatments we no longer effective. Quite the opposite, as in fact they were creating complications he’s not willing to live with. In all honesty, though your head knows this day is coming, your heart is never ready when it arrives. The news hits you like a ton of bricks, knocking the wind out of you. You feel deflated, like a sail on a dreary day, without enough wind to propel your boat forward. You are anchored in place, bobbing helplessly on the water, unable to get back to shore.

When we were finally able to talk with each other about our fears, we were also able to express our new hopes. Through this dialogue, I learned he fears suffering and losing his independence. He learned I fear being alone. Now, we are hoping for more time together at home. We relish sharing a cup of coffee over quiet morning conversation. We have made plans to celebrate our 40th anniversary with our families at the end of the summer. These are the simple things that sustain us as we face this new phase of his illness.

It’s unlikely we’ll celebrate our 50th anniversary as we had hoped on that sunny day in June of 1977 when we exchanged our vows of commitment to be together, “in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” We’re on the downhill side of the mountain of his life, but in the end only God knows whether we’re looking at weeks, months or years. We both know he’s not going to get better; some things are just not fixable. So, he’s living his best possible day right now, every day when he gets out of bed. These times when we share old memories and create new ones, while connecting with family and friends, are some of the most important moments of life — his and ours.

In reality, we never stop hoping, we just change what we hope for. Even when we accept what will likely be the inevitable — that he will die much sooner than we wanted — we leave the door open. There’s a remote possibility that someone, somewhere will discover a new drug, or a new treatment that will rewrite this final chapter. Hope for a cure….Perhaps even a miracle.

Sometimes when the pain is so crushing that it brings you to your knees and you feel shattered, all you can do is find hope in being washed in His grace. Your soul searches for God in the midst of the mess. The best you can do is take a deep breath and tell your heart to keep beating. Music comforts me at moments like this. I particularly like Danny Gokey’s “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again,” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUHRDCYnFfg

Prayer of Hope

Lord, at the moment nothing seems to be able to help the loss I feel. My heart is broken and my spirit mourns. All I know is that Your grace is sufficient. This day, this hour, moment by moment I choose to lean on You, for when I am at my weakest Your strength is strongest. I pour out my grief to You and praise You that on one glorious day when all suffering is extinguished and love has conquered, we shall walk together again.

There is a piece of Scripture that grounds me and it is this:
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. — 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

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