This is Why I Paint My Own Rainbows
Choice #6: I redefine Hope.
1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
2. a feeling of trust.
1. want something to happen or be the case.
Have you ever hoped for something and it didn't work out?
There you were in a place of defeat:
Your plans destroyed, your world turned upside down. You, knocked flat on your back.
How did you get up and go on?
How did you find hope again?
I became fascinated by hope after a series of hardships challenged me. To persevere, I shifted my perspective, and this set me on a path to thrive.
Before then, I was always looking forward with the belief,
"Tomorrow will be better than today."
I spent much of my life running from the present, because I wanted the next moment to be BETTER.
But the reality is, we can't control what tomorrow brings: we must expect challenges, and sometimes, we just have to dredge through the muck.
Yeah, I know....it's hard to "keep on keeping on" sometimes....
There was a time I was knocked down repeatedly, and I was tired of picking myself back up. Just when I wasn't sure I could muster the strength to go on, there was a reason for hope:
I discovered I was pregnant.
This unexpected, but welcome pregnancy coincided with the year anniversary of my son's accident, which I wrote about last week. I took this as a sign:
This baby was my hope, a rainbow after a storm of adversity. My family was going to heal after a year of trauma, surgeries, managing pain, accepting scars, and wrestling guilt.....
I lost that baby in the second trimester.
I know, this is heavy. I wish this wasn't my story, but it is.
Yes, I could bury this loss in the depths of my heart, because it did not leave visible scars I must explain to the world...
But that baby boy I held so briefly in the palm of my hand taught me a valuable lesson on hope.
I am better for him. I am grateful for him. I share this part of my story in his honor, knowing I am not the only woman who has lost a baby and had to move on.
Many women have faced hardships far worse than mine. Some keep these losses tucked away and grieve in silence. Others, like me, are open.
I share, because through the adversity I faced, I have grown. I believe we all can. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I WILL be strong enough to endure:
I found hope in resilience.
The boy I lost taught me I am yet to discover the depth of my strength....
This is How I Held Onto Hope:
1. I redefined hope.
Hope is a concept of positive psychology, so when I was struggling, I dug through an old box in the attic in search of an old binder from grad school. I found my notes on hope, and with them, the inspiration I needed....
Immediately, I was struck by the memory of palliative care physician Chris Feudtner, who gave a powerful lecture on hope. I remember sitting as a student in stunned silence, as he described the mission of his work:
He tells parents the death of their child cannot be prevented. Then, he asks them about hope.
I remember thinking,
Hope? These parents are losing their child, and you are asking them about hope?
Feudtner told us that he always started by empathizing with their agony. Often, his question, “What are you hoping for?” would elicit the response, "We want a miracle." But with time, they would shift their attention to something they could control:
--Hoping that the doctors and nurses would stop poking and prodding their child.
--Hoping their child would be free of pain at death.
This is when Feudtner stepped in to help them formulate a plan to achieve those goals.
Enter my "aha" moment:
I realized I struggled with hope, because what I was initially hoping for was impossible. Just like parents wishing for a miracle to keep their child from dying, I was holding onto an unattainable goal that tomorrow would be free from adversity:
I hoped that my family would reach a point where everything felt normal again, and difficult things no longer happened to us.
This is about as unrealistic as assuming any pregnancy will come with guarantees, or that you can heal from pregnancy loss by simply trying again....
My hopefulness was further challenged by three difficult months of medical interventions that were necessary to rid the remains of the pregnancy that ended too soon.
A hysterectomy threatened my fertility, so when I realized I might not not physically be able to have the baby I thought would heal my family, I was forced to either redefine hope, or lose it.
That's when I started to say,
"I hope I find the strength I need to endure whatever it is tomorrow will bring."
2. I actively reached for hope.
Feudtner has helped many grieving parents face reality with greater purpose by helping them locate hope, and you can read more about that here.
His work is based on research suggesting individuals experience hope when they have an expectation that a desired goal can be achieved. "Hope Theory" requires:
1) Goals we wish to attain.
2) Awareness about ways to attain those goals (“pathway thoughts").
3) Belief in our ability to successfully follow a chosen pathway (“agency thoughts”).
In my experience, creating a more realistic goal was an important first step in reclaiming hope. Acknowledging my limitations, "I can't control tomorrow," then shifting my focus to what I could do, "I can become stronger," is when my shift began.
I went from being passive (waiting for tomorrow to be better), to becoming an active participant in keeping hope alive:
"I'm not going to wait around for a rainbow to appear. I'll just go find it, and if I don't, I'll paint my own."
When I stopped waiting around for hope, I transformed. As a purveyor of my own hope, I healed from adversity, and found a renewed sense of purpose.
This is How You Can Keep Hope Alive:
If you are struggling to move on from failure or loss, here is how you can locate hope:
1. Look at your goals. Ask yourself, "are they realistic?"
2. If you find goals that are no longer possible, then what new goals could you adopt in their place?
3. Once you have a realistic goal in mind, think about pathways to that goal. Do you have at least 2 approaches to reach your goal?
Remember, roadblocks happen. If you find you are blocked from your goal by circumstances beyond your control, do you have an alternative path that will keep you moving forward?
4. Do you believe you have the strengths within you to move toward your goal? If not, how can you boost your confidence in yourself to meet your goals? How can you better support yourself in achieving this goal?
I did go on to have another child, so ultimately, I was blessed with a rainbow in the form of a baby.
On the year anniversary of her birth, I wrote about my transformation from suffering to joy, in an article on The Huffington Post,
My "Rainbow Baby," Rose, is nearly two now. Daily, she reminds me that just as we need to actively fight despair, we must work at allowing the experience of joy.
Tomorrow might be BETTER, but I am less focused on that, because there is so much joy right here, right now, TODAY.
I am more mindful. I strive to be present (even on the hard days), and I savor like it's my job.
I found the courage I need to fully experience joy through loss. When I think about that baby boy who so briefly touched my life, I am grateful for the lesson he brought me on hope.
The rainbows I paint are the words I write on resilience. The stories I share with you are the manifestation of my hope.