Beyond Hope

PokahoeSunset16.04When I first heard that my mother’s ovarian cancer had not been removed by surgery as the doctors led us to believe but had spread throughout her abdomen, I did an emotional nosedive. I’d been through life-threatening cancer twice before with my partner and had just begun accompanying a dear friend on his journey with brain cancer. I knew how devastating treatment would be. I knew my mother would likely never be cancer-free again.

Immediately inside me an old battle revved up: Keep hope! screamed one voice; Be realistic! screamed the other. Hope buoys the spirits, motivates, and reminds us to stay open to possibility—all of which I wanted, for me and my mom. Reality, however, is real. Ovarian cancer spreads like glitter. My mom’s particular brand of cancer is platinum-resistant, meaning the traditional chemotherapies don’t work. But miracles happen, I told myself—the doctors don’t have the last word.

When I felt hopeful I had the sinking suspicion I was engaging in wishful thinking. When I was realistic I worried that my glum outlook was detrimental to my mother’s well-being. Hope tied me in knots.

As soon as I recognized the fight, I stopped. What was going on? I most wanted my mother to be well. I prayed for this, I wished for it, I hoped for it, and still do. Nonetheless, something felt wrong about setting my heart on hope.

Then I stumbled across this passage from Kathleen Dowling Singh’s extraordinary book, The Grace in Dying. “For the mental ego faced with a terminal prognosis, hope typically signifies one thing: the continuance of self. … Hope and fairness are sourced in the mental ego. … Hope is a clinging wish for something other than what is.” Exactly. I want my mom to continue. I want to continue as my mother’s daughter. I like the form and content and nature of this living relationship. I am severely attached to it. “When hope evaporates, we are left with here and now. Hope, a posture of the mental ego, is transformed into presence, a stance of Spirit. Healing, automatically and naturally, unfolds out of presence.”

Ah. Today I’m immensely grateful for Singh’s insight, that presence and not hope is the source of healing, because it’s freed me from any obligation to be hopeful. Instead my job is to be present—to my mother as she struggles with pain, to the various emotions that flood me an inconvenient times, to my hope and despair, to what is. This I can do, and with a peaceful heart.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


Please join me for any or all of these upcoming events:

Fourth Fridays; 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions
Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

April 22: Describing the Indescribable
May 27: Perspective and Insight

June 19-23, 2016
The Inner Life of Stories: Writing as Deep Listening
The Christine Center

September 12-16, 2016
Alone Together writing retreat
Madeline Island School of the Arts
NOTE:  MISA has extended the Red Barn Special until mid-May–get $100 off lodging.



4 thoughts on “Beyond Hope”

  1. Fighting to die is the hardest of all struggles. So many times I begged for any other option, Jim didn’t lose hope, he found peace, he found strength in dying, he found a gentle grace of being in control when he was so totally out of control. Fighting to die, while everyone around you is praying for just one more moment, for you to continue a battle that already has been lost, for you to lie in pain, desperate for God’s hand, yet being pulled back by those who can’t imagine a world without you. Fighting to die is the end of what was and the beginning of what is, wishing for a moment when you are alone, so you can quietly slip away without interruption . I pray for your Mom and you family everyday. Prayers that when reality actually becomes real, that you won’t find yourselves where I am, knowing full well, that your loss you tear you apart, and you will also fall. I am so sorry about that, but I know you, I know the silent scream, I know the feeling of every fiber bleeding out, and lying still awaiting another blow, another strike, another fall. Praying for you to understand your Mom’s battle and guarding her end game plans. I did as I promised to do, I regret it everyday, anything but death, anything at all, but I guarded Jim’s plans as tho they were my own. Staying strong is an understatement, no one is that strong, they are however that trustworthy, holding ones life so tightly, and then just letting go, true faith in our God, true love!

    1. Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

      Oh, Chelley–thank you. Your words are actually more appropriate today than you know–we’re putting Rhia down today, my cat of 18 years. I’m grateful for all your wisdom and prayers.

  2. I’m so sorry about Rhiannon, people often under estimate the love we have for pets. You have been through so much lately. I can’t wait to hug you in person. Until next week, know that you are hugged. Peace & Love, Martie

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