Is there such a thing as false hope?
This past May, I spent a day sitting by my uncle’s bedside in the ICU. I watched as one machine breathed for him and another pumped his heart. I touched his cold and bluish toned skin and smelled the fear that thickly hung around his body.
I sat with my aunt and cousin’s and listened to them as they recapped what the doctors had told them and tried to make sense of the situation. I held their hands as waves of reality hit them smack dab in the face. I passed them the Kleenex until their tears ran dry.
And the thing is, there was absolutely nothing I could say, nothing I could do. I didn’t think my uncle was going to make it, so it felt cruel to offer them hope when I didn’t think there was any to be had.
While I was sitting in the waiting room, I received a text from a dear friend. Her brother was diagnosed with a pretty damn serious cancer a few months ago. The chemo kicked his ass, and he was back in the ICU for the third time. Up until that day, I’d been sending her words of encouragement, but it had started to sound like her brother may not live to see another day. I began to type a response that told her miracles could happen, encouraging her to stay strong, but then I looked up and saw my aunt hugging my uncle’s doctor and sobbing into his shoulder, and I thought, I don’t know if there is any hope in this day.
On my walk down to the gift shop, I called my dad. He is a brain surgeon and does some pretty gnarly stuff in the operating room. One of my favorite things to do growing up was to shadow my dad on one of his surgery days. I was fascinated by all the medical stuff, but more than that, I was always deeply touched by the level of love and respect my dad’s patients had for him.
I asked my dad if he thought his twin brother, my uncle, would survive his stint in the ICU. I already knew the answer. I expected a few sentences of medical jargon, but my dad surprised me by answering my question with a question.
“Let me ask you this. How’s your aunt, and how are your cousins?”
I was worried about my aunt, and I told my dad as much. I told him that I thought she was in denial and talking about how life would be once my uncle came home, but I didn’t see how in the world that would ever happen. This was when I knew my dad would fall back into doctor talk, but instead, he said this…
“Caroline, you can never take away a person’s hope.”
And there’s that word again. Hope. But this time, it came out of the mouth of the intellectual left-brained scientific surgeon who has based his life on facts and results and what can be seen, shown and proved. But hope can be none of those things. Yet, that’s what my dad was prescribing.
Faith is believing in something you cannot see, and that sounds a lot like hope to me. Hope and Faith. Prayers and optimism. We must accept that we are governed by forces way beyond our control- and still choose to bravely hope in the uncertainty.
A few hours later, I hugged my aunt and cousins good-bye and told them I’d be back soon. When I got in my car, I pulled out my phone and texted my friend whose brother was in the ICU and told her to hang on, encouraged her to stay strong, reminded her that miracles could happen.
False hope or emotional life support?
I believe there is hope in any day, in every day, in ALL days. Hope may not look the way we wanted it to, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still dancing with the fear that hangs heavily in the hospital room. And, if you don’t believe me, refer then to my brain surgeon father’s advice to always trust in your heart.
In love and Hope,
Hope and faith can move mountains- that is what I have learned in working with families with children with disabilities.
I love your posts
Thanks Ana :)) Amazing how hope and faith can work in our lives…
Amazing post, Caroline. It’s interesting because sometimes I’m inclined to think that hope clouds grief when what is really needed to heal is to just grieve. But really, when you really think about it, the two work together to heal – it’s important to grieve but it’s equally important to hope, as this is what enables you to rise above the grief and move on. So thank you for this. Your post is spot on. Love you always, Sharman
Sharm- this is so true. I love the idea of hope and grief working together to heal and rise above. And love you!