At the kitchen table: on hope

photo by  Kate Inglis

photo by Kate Inglis

What’s the use
of something
as unstable
and diffuse as hope-
the almost-twin
of making do,
the isotope
of going on:
what isn’t in
the envelope
just before
it isn’t:
the always tabled
Righting of the present.
—Kay Ryan*

In bereaved parent circles around the world, "finding hope again" seems to be a rallying force, a beacon of light in the darkness, an all but necessity to learning to live on after unthinkable tragedy.  Memorial fundraisers and charity walks are built around the concept of hope.  One of every two bereaved parent support groups seems to include the word "hope" in the name.  For many, hope resonates; over time, they latch on intuitively.  Others find hope, in some way or another, repelling.

We want to explore how each of us perceives and feels about hope, in the context of our loss(es). We would love for you to join us in our reflection on hope by adding your responses in the comments or by linking to your blog.  

* With gratitude to poet Kay Ryan for allowing us to highlight a beautiful piece of her poetry. 

1. What does 'hope' mean to you?

Gretchen: For me, there are two channels of hope.  In terms of my earthly existence, I think of hope as something desired and feasibly attainable, something we may or may not be able to influence, which we ache to make reality.  That kind of hope means nothing to me now that Zachary has died.  I have been humiliated by it one too many times.  If there is hope that exists in me at all, and there do seem to be a few strands of it hanging limp between the monstrous gaps of disillusionment, it's the hope of heaven.  I worry those strands of hope may be clinging only for selfish reasons, only because I want to believe I will exist there with my two dead sons someday. 

Mrittika: Inasmuch as I have lived and still live in abstraction, with only the death of my daughter as concrete as a plaster cast around me, the concept of hope these days is too abstract for me. I don't know what it means, I cannot imagine it. Is it optimism? Is it faith? Is it purpose? If it is any of or all of these three, I have none of it. Raahi's death was the ultimate blow in a very difficult life for me, the grand finale of a Sophoclean tragedy. I try to live more concretely now. Wake up. See husband and son off. Eat. Medicines. Bathroom. Brush teeth. Sit. Stare. Read. No. Really. Read. Eat. Sit. Stare. Read. Smile for Aahir. Catch up with them. Eat. Medicines. Sleep. There is not much room for hope in this. Can I hope I get better used to this pattern? Maybe. Can I hope I don't need to someday remind myself to eat or read? Maybe. I hope to find purpose someday. Just a little direction, a little more matter, a ground to stand on tiptoe. Where I don't have to remind myself to stand.

Burning Eye: Hope is something I want, something that lies just out of reach yet I yearn for. In Spanish, the word "esperar" means "to hope" as well as "to wait for." As in, "I'm waiting for the bus." That used to bother me, being a language nerd, because those meanings in English seemed so far apart. I didn't "hope" for the bus. But then, after Joseph died, something clicked, and it started to make a bit of sense. What I hope for is what I wait for. Sometimes passive waiting, sometimes actively working towards something. 

Merry: Hope—if applied to life passively—seems a rather irritating concept to me and particularly since Freddie died has irked me in the same way that religion and belief does. I didn't want to sit around and 'hope' to feel better, get pregnant again, learn to live with grief or come to terms with anything. I didn't want to passively allow life to continue happening to me and blasting me from wall to wall with me a helpless passenger in my own life. I could 'hope' for a good day or I could immerse myself in 'hope' that I would never find my actions had killed my son. I could 'hope' for answers or 'hope' for acceptance to come to me. Perhaps hope was something I saw as part of acceptance or finding meaning in his death and I railed against it.

I'm a do-er and a maker of my fate—or I like to think I am—and I think that is epitomised in a quote I chose for a gift I received in the time between Freddie's death and my subsequent child being born. "When the world says, 'Give up,' Hope whispers, 'Try it one more time.'" I look back now and think I grabbed hope by the neck and tried to harness it. I'm not entirely sure it was helpful but it was how I managed.

2. What hopes did you have for your baby(ies) who died?

Gretchen: B.W. was our first child and so, I hoped he would be healthy and that he would change us.  I hoped to know him intimately, in a way my parents never got to know me.  I hoped I could help him through life.  I never knew to hope that he would live.  When I was pregnant with Zachary, I hoped he lived.  Period.  And then, he was born and he did live.  He was expected to continue doing so.  At that point, my hopes for him caught and spread like wildfire.  I can't think of a parental hope that didn't register, deeply and fully, on my radar during the two weeks of his life.  I think my hopes for Zachary were as close to expectations as hopes get, for an already untrusting bereaved parent. 

Mrittika: I have been hoping for and dreaming of Raahi from the time I fully realized I was a woman, and could give birth. It was very biological, very organic for me. Not a live doll, but I was aware, as aware as I was of my body, that it could give rise to another individual. And that individual, in my burning hopes, actually burning faith, was a girl. Back in those days I wanted her to be ferocious, brave, spontaneous, warm, balanced. I had very specific hopes for her, very specific adjectives.

After a very difficult time with having a family, just conceiving, carrying, delivering, and staying together through it all, I started hoping for our family through Raahi. She was my symbol of perfection, she completed us, she made my dream come true, she was the restoration of my faith. I knew when she made her arrival, that my dreams for her would be pale compared to her personality, that she was bigger than my hopes, my dreams. I now believed she would carry our family forward. High hopes for a tiny girl, right? I knew she would rise high, I believed she would be resilient and strong. I wanted her to flaunt the deep cut on her belly. I hoped she would be tall, dusky, like her Dad. I believed she would ground us all. I believed she would be the backbone of our family. High hopes for a tiny girl.

Burning Eye: This is a hard question for me to answer, because Joseph was our first child, and we didn't know he was a boy. All our hopes were those grand, nebulous hopes that I imagine all parents have for their firstborn. I think, like Gretchen said, I was waiting for our baby's birth to change me, to change my life. I was so ready for that. And then he died, and nothing changed, and that outward sameness was excruciating. It's been over two years now and it's hard to remember if there was anything I hoped for Joseph specifically. Mostly, I remember the wind-knocked-out-of-me feeling of all those hopes for Joseph crushed. I had hopes for myself, too, as a mother, that have been crushed. I was going to be a really relaxed mother to my children. I was going to raise my children to have a deep spiritual connection to the world and God. I probably would have raised my children to relish little superstitions and believe in signs. Joseph's death robbed me of these little aspects of motherhood I thought, and hoped, I'd have.

Merry: Freddie was the first child we struggled to conceive and so he was quite a turning point in my life after 4 quick and easy previous conceptions. So some of my pregnancy with him was dotted with an understanding that part of my life was coming to a close and my baby making days were almost over. That said, he was a huge hope in his own right; we had almost separated as a result of a terrible error of judgement we made and had really been through the mill, including marriage counselling. Freddie was the result of a lot of forgiveness and new understanding. He was supposed to be our happy ending, a rainbow baby in his own right, a new start and something to draw a line and make a new beginning. Beyond that, I had barely really thought about him as a person I suppose; life was busy and full and a 5th pregnancy goes fast and I already knew that children are who they are, regardless of parental dreams.

3. How has hope changed for you since your loss(es)?

Gretchen: After B.W., over a period of years, my hopes for my family were renewed but humbled.  Any hope which materialized into reality was relished with immense gratitude, with recognition that I was not necessarily worthy of it.  At the moment we learned Zachary would die, on his eleventh day of life, my hope for anything (beyond mere existence) died.  It was obliterated, right along with his health and his previously perfect brain.  At sixteen months from Zachary's death, there hasn't been even a flicker of renewal or recalibration of that hope. 

Mrittika: There's no hope, really. I'm bitter, jaded, hopeless. Earlier, hope was intricately woven with faith. If I hoped for somehing, I also believed it would happen. Now I'm paranoid. Some people get their wishes fulfilled. I get my premonitions and fears fulfilled. I now hope for survival. Of us. Of Aahir. All the while fearing that I just jinxed it by hoping for it.

Burning Eye: I've been having trouble with the concept of faith since Joseph died, but for some reason "hope" seems its more accessible sister. More kindly, less demanding. To me, having hope gives me hope. Maybe that's a catch-22. But even in the darkest days of my grief, I had hope that I would have another baby.  But still, I know regardless of what I hope for, I might not get it, and the outcome isn't dependent on how hard I've wished for it. I think that's why I've had such a hard time praying since Joseph died. Because I've lost that personification of hope, some divine agent that I am dependent on to fulfill my hopes. It all just feels like chance to me now, and luck.

Merry: I don't assume anything. I caveat EVERYTHING with 'if' and 'assuming xy and z goes okay' and 'so long as'. I never assume all my other children will live. I never assume we will make it to tomorrow unscathed. I default to disaster in all circumstances because I expect to be the one to lose everything. I have no sense of comfort in the future other than the now and I know better than to hope things will turn out okay or that life will go right for us. You cannot watch an 11 day old baby die for no known reason and believe in the safety of anything ever again.

4. What do you hope for now?

Gretchen: "Making do" as Kay Ryan writes, and foolishly readying for the next unknown tragedy, is all that is left in me now, after losing Zachary on top of having lost B.W.  I hope my living son does not die.  I know that sounds quite depressing but it is real to me.  Two of my three children have already died.  I also have a nagging sense that I better really think about the eternal hope thing, rather than endlessly ruminating on how I feel

Mrittika: I hope I can still look for a meaning and a purpose in why I was made, and why I lived (the guilt of outliving Raahi all but kills me sometimes). I hope I find it in me to give to others. I hope I can bring Aahir up well and be a part of his life. I hope he outlives me and is healthy and happy. I hope he can have a sibling someday who will not come home and leave forever.

Burning Eye: I hope that I will not always be actively ancipating death. I hope that I will have a living sibling for M. someday. And that M. will outlive me, and not die in the hundreds of little accidents I imagine daily, and that the someday-future-sibling will outlive me, too. 

Merry: I have 'hopes' and they are that I never have to watch anyone I love die again and that whatever our future holds, that I die first and without putting anyone I love through the same experience. Occasionally it occurs to me how very abnormal that it. My only other hope is that none of my children will ever experience this type of loss. Perhaps more positively and practically it has been a freeing experience in a sense; I'm very content to let my children find their own path to happiness and fulfillment without feeling I have to approve. I can't live through my children and I don't want them to hope for far off goals either. Life is too short.

5. What do you hope people remember about your baby(ies)?

Gretchen:  I want the world to know that B.W. and Zachary are loved as intensely and as unconditionally as their living brother, C.T.  That Zachary was the strongest-willed of my sons, that just his gaze could penetrate the sickest soul.  It also matters to me that people know and remember how senselessly Zachary was struck ill and suffered; how hard he fought to live despite the unforgivably delayed care he received.    

Mrittika: That Raahi's life, and our love for her, mean and matter more, than her death. As Aahir said on her second birthday, "Love does not go away even when life goes away."

Burning Eye: That he was. Period. 

Merry: I'm not one for the dramatic charity fundraisers and 'making him count' to change the future. I would like to think that Freddie is remembered as a boy who was loved so deeply that he gave me words I had no idea I could write. I would like to think that people see a daffodil and remember the boy who just would not stay but will never be forgotten. I would like to think that our love for him will let people know that everyone is remembered and has an impact, even if it is the softest thought on the edge of candle flame in a quiet evening moment. I hope people will read about him and understand it is possible to survive the unthinkable and that surviving loss does not reduce the love.


Share your responses to the questions here, or write on your blog and link it in the comments.