Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that grief doesn’t end when the casket is closed and buried in the earth. Grief lingers — first as a stabbing pain in the heart or a breath that’s swiftly taken away. As time passes, grief offers some consolation in the form of bittersweet memories.
Dates on a calendar often speak to the heart of one who is grieving as stinging reminders of a life left behind. Month after month, the dates count the time and the distance of a loved one who has passed. But where did they go? When can we find them again? Faith tells us they are with us still, in heaven just beyond. For the one whose grief still lingers, heaven often seems too far away.
I’ve experienced some significant losses in my 53 years of life — two sisters, my parents, and four babies in the womb. Parenting a child with disabilities or caring for an elderly parent carries its own type of grief. This grief is mixed with an awkward guilt. How does one grieve the loss of a life that might have been lived, or of one who is with us, but because of illness or injury, is not the same?
When grief lingers, finding hope can be tough. It’s like looking for the proverbial silver lining in a sky covered with clouds. But if we take the time to reflect and even embrace this lingering grief and the depression that can accompany it, we often find it gives way to HOPE.
Just before Christmas, I finally went through the last of the cards and condolences that I put in a pile after my mother died last spring. I placed them in a folder with the ones from my sister’s death the year before. It took me more than six months do this simple task. Despite the grief, I’ve continued to move forward, albeit slowly, because I choose to hope.
In my book and retreat program, “Breathing Underwater,” I devote an entire chapter to this virtue called hope. I encourage those who attend, most of whom feel like they are drowning in their circumstances, that hope is a choice.
In Romans 8:24-25, the apostle Paul writes;
“Hope isn’t hope if its object is seen.
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait for it patiently.”
Actually, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a hopeless case. To the contrary, if hope is a decision to believe in something we cannot see, who’s to tell you there is no hope? Right? Most people would say, this is nothing more than a Pollyanna view of life. But I’ve learned a thing or two about hope these past thirty years.
True confession, I am not by nature a positive person. I’m a deep thinker and an even deeper feeler. My thoughts and emotions can lead me down some very dark places that affect my demeanor and my outlook on life. I experience anxiety and depression just as the next person. But these negative experiences always eventually lead me to HOPE.
I remember the day I discovered the virtue of hope. I was a struggling teenager going through some hard times. I still remember staring at my face in the bathroom mirror and looking myself in the eye. I cried out to God that I just couldn’t do this by myself anymore.
In that moment, I felt a great burden lifted off of me and it was as if I could hear a chorus of heavenly voices cheering and God’s arms around me as hugging me to say, “ You are never alone.” In that crucial moment, heaven touched earth for me and I realized that God could use everything in my life – the happy and sad, grief and joy, my weaknesses and strengths, for a greater good. I chose to hope in that which I didn’t see, but I believed.
Never again did I feel totally alone. I knew this life was just a foretaste of an eternal life that extended far beyond the grave. And I realized that hope is a choice. I chose to hope that day and I have never looked back. Don’t misunderstand me to mean that I don’t struggle with discouragement, fear, anxiety and depression. I experience all of these, as we all do, but at the end of the day, I choose to hope.
I do have to add a disclaimer here- I hope because I believe in the reality of heaven. Heaven, as in spending eternity with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hope is not that hard if you can believe that life here on earth is not all there is; heaven is the goal.
As has been the case for the past thirty years, the Lord has given me real life examples of these truths through my kids and especially through Johanna.
I remember the first time I ever heard the song, “Temporary Home” by Carrie Underwood. I was sitting in a dark hospital room with Johanna. She was recovering from a recent infection and fighting sleep. We chatted quietly about life. Johanna said she was kind of tired of being in the hospital. “But Mom”, she said, as her blue eyes locked on mine, “You know what gives me hope? That song, ‘Temporary Home.” I told Jo I had never heard it before.
For Jo, everything is a song cue, so in the darkened hospital room, she sang me a lullaby:
“This is my temporary home.
It’s not where I belong, windows and room that I’m passing through.
This is just a stop on the way to where I’m going.
I’m not afraid because I know, this is my temporary home.”
That sweet lullaby in the middle of the night reminded me that as hard as I fight for my daughter to live a healthy, beautiful and long life, it isn’t meant to be our focus for living. Jo helps me to remember to fix my eyes on the hope of heaven. I’ve learned through my daughter and even through the grief that sometimes lingers, that hope connects us to eternity.
This week, I was reflecting on hope while reading Hebrews 6:18-19;
“We who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged
to hold fast to the hope that lies before us.
This hope is an anchor of the soul,
sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil,
where Jesus has entered on our behalf.”
Hope is literally the anchor that keeps us connected to eternity and remembering that this life, as beautiful as it is- is temporary. Choosing hope as also given me a taste of heaven. I have been gifted to share this hope with those who are facing difficult circumstances and tough diagnoses.
This past week, a dear friend who is battling cancer told me that while she fights for her quality of life and a cure, she often recalls Johanna singing “Temporary Home.” This little witness reminds my friend that her hope isn’t for this life alone. Her hope is eternal, despite the circumstances.
Hope gives all of us an anchor in heaven to remind us that this life isn’t the end. It’s a stop along the way to heaven. Hope gets us there.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She is the author of Breathing Underwater: A Caregiver’s Journey of Hope.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children.
Eileen can be reached at CareforaCaregiver.com.