Hope, unbound

Thanks to What I Had Really Meant to Say for this opportunity to visit with hope today as part of the Hope 2012 blog relay.

The summer my mom snapped, I didn’t understand “hope.”

What I understood that summer was that I might never talk to my mom again. That the resources available to assist the mentally ill and their loved ones were woefully inadequate. That a woman could struggle through hardship after hardship only to find new hardships where at least one iota of peace ought have been.

I pieced hope together slowly over the years that followed. Shopping for hardware with my boyfriend one Mother’s Day, I found a colorful card that reminded me of my mom. I wrote on it that she’d always been a little colorful, but that her colors made the world brighter and richer. I delivered the card to her house only to have her scream and wave a shovel at me.

My boyfriend held one of my hands in both of his own as I cried in the front seat of his car. But I, like my siblings, kept at it. I believed something might happen to change the game tomorrow, or the day after it.

I passed by my mom on a run a couple of years later. Instead of screaming at me, she told me about all the neighborhood squirrels she was caring for. I slowed my run so I could accompany her all the way to the town’s bus station. I didn’t know if I’d ever have another moment like that, so I wanted to prolong and savor it.

Hope came a little easier after that.

Conversations were a little stilted when they happened, and my mom still occasionally accused her neighbors–and her children–of bizarre crimes, but conversations did happen. It seemed, after years of struggling, we might be getting somewhere.

Then, in the middle of 2009, my sister Rache called to tell me Mom’s doctor was concerned our mom might have “the C word.” My sister couldn’t even say it the first couple of times we spoke about Mom’s early appointments, so that I misunderstood what “C word” we were talking about. It hit me like a train to the stomach when Rache finally said the word: “cancer.”

That evening, I wrote my dearest friend:

I feel like I lost my mom several years ago, so I didn’t think it was possible to feel greater sorrow on that front. But hearing that physical death may also be imminent, it’s clear there are degrees of loss. Intellectually, I understand that there’s very little hope my mom as she existed while I grew up could be regained. Apparently, though, my heart has been holding onto hope that there might be some movement that direction. With physical death, what once was and what is now are all wrapped up neatly and concluded, with no chance of semi-happy endings.

When my mom’s diagnosis was confirmed, I was devastated. For years, I had hoped, and that hope had been destroyed by a single word spoken in a single second.

I thought and thought, and I fought with myself over what was and wasn’t reasonable in light of my mom’s diagnosis.

I’d trained myself to hope. I couldn’t not hope. So what, then, could I hope for?

I hoped that my mom would live long enough to meet her first grandchild, with whom I was seven months pregnant. It was a hope replete with moments of agony and frustration that I should be limited to such a small and fleeting hope, but I clung to it. I needed it to sustain me.

My son was born. Tickets home were purchased. My mom held her grandson.

She hated how she looked, but I saw only the love.

After my mom met my son, I invested my hope in the possibility of my mom’s recovery. And yet, there came a time where it was clear that hope would not be translated to truth.

I hoped my mom would get to see my son again, but I was struggling. It was easier to tell myself to hope than to actually tend to its tiny embers and set them full aflame again.

My mom did see my son again. He brought her great joy through suffering written so clearly on her face that I couldn’t help but feel its echoes, and despair.

He brought her so much joy that, occasionally, she’d grit her teeth and try climbing unsteadily from her bed, saying, “I will survive. I will live and see him grow up. I will meet my other grandkids.”

I would smile at her and try to calm her enough to get her back in bed, and then retreat to the cold bedroom down the hall and cry, and cry, and cry.

I didn’t know what to hope, but I knew better than to share that fleeting, wild hope of hers.

A week after the last time she told me this, I wrote my friends a letter that began:

At 2:35pm yesterday, my mother breathed her last breath in the loving arms of my sisters. 

The letter described many things that brought me joy, and great love for those who’d helped me through the last months of my mom’s life. What it didn’t describe was hope, for I felt hopeless, even as I wrapped up that letter thusly:

Next October 30, I will celebrate alone the birthday I shared with my mother. But she’ll be in my heart, and the gifts she bestowed upon me will carry her spirit forward in my every action, every day.

At my mom’s memorial, I caught sight of my son sleeping and felt the slightest stirrings of hope.

My mom’s final chapter had been written, but my tiny man’s life had so many chapters remaining. Imagining those chapters filled me with joy that couldn’t be touched by words, and kindled those stirrings so they began to take on their own vibrance.

As I worked with my siblings to clean out my mom’s house, I thought about all the chapters remaining my son. I saw that I, too, had many chapters left in my own life.

I chose hope. Even as I bawled, and cursed, and listened to music I hated to know my mom would never hear again, I chose to believe that there was good ahead.

I would edit one of my books. I would nurture my son’s passions. I would lend a hand to others as often as I could. I would focus not on what had been taken away from me, and the inevitability that still more would be taken away from me with time, but on all the possibilities left open to me, my son, and my loved ones. They were so, so many.

In August 2009, I believed hope was lost. In August 2012, I see that hope was simply hiding then. She was clenched tightly to herself, nestled deep within me, keeping herself safe until once again free to expand to fill me.

Hope has since unfurled and stretched herself into every piece of my life. Sometimes she retreats, but I know she will find her way back to me, and I to her. She needs me to give her my voice in this world; I need her to remember why I have a voice, and how to use it.

Hope was never lost to me. She just needed to be freed from the constraint of being tied to one place, to one situation, or to one person; for, indeed, she thrives best of all when her feet are untethered and she is allowed to wander as free and far as the human imagination extends.

Instructions for Hope 2012: A blog relay

Step 1: Write a blog post about hope & publish it on your blog.
Step 2: Invite one (or more!) bloggers to do the same.
Step 3: Link to the person who recruited you at the top of the post, and the people you’re recruiting at the bottom of the post.

Melanie Crutchfield will be holding “Closing Ceremonies” around August 10 and will gather up little snippets from people that wrote about hope, so make sure you link back to her as the originator of the relay

I call on:

  1. Running from Hell with El
    August 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Wiping tears away as I read this . . . such beautiful writing and such a gorgeous message. OMG I don’t know what else to say, except thank you.

  2. August 11, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Tears streaming as I read this, but I couldn’t help but remember the day you shaved your head. That day was a day of such joy and a celebration that hope was alive. That day, it was the day I knew you walked a couple of inches above the concrete, floating a bit on your buoyancy, bounding across life despite everything; it was the day I decided I wanted to be a bit of your bravery.

    This was excellent and now I remember why even when I feel helpless sometimes, I try to remember hope.

    • August 27, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      Oh, Valentine. I love this comment so much. I cried when I read it the first time, and I’m crying again now. It did feel like a day of joy and celebration and hope. I wish I had a video of the moment I slipped away and walked into the bathroom. I prayed I’d look as beautiful as my mom did; indeed, when I saw myself, I melted into one of the brightest smiles to have ever lit my face. I was more truly my mother’s daughter in that moment than ever before.

      I thought it would be so scary but, instead, it was freeing. So freeing.

      I love you, my friend.

  3. August 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Beautiful story, beautiful photos.

  4. John Erickson
    August 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I tell you what – I’m going to bypass this offer for right now. August holds only memorials of military events for me. September, with the country-changing day of 9/11, my 20th wedding anniversary, and the death of my mother back-to-back-to-back – should provide fallow ground for the search for hope. And strength. And the reason to raise my head from my pillow to face another day.
    It’s not too hard the other 362 days a year. But September 11th thru the 13th – well, call me on the 14th. That’s the start of my new year. As it has been, every year, since my mother passed without me. A sin for which I will never find forgiveness. But that’s my bear to cross.
    And I’d shave my head to show my support and love for you, but … well, shaving a bowling ball is a heck of a task and VERY unproductive, so I’ll just give you a smile, and hopefully a little chuckle to lighten your load. 😀

    • August 27, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      You excel at bringing me smiles and chuckles. I thank you for that, so much. I actually just checked FTIAT to see if the weekend after was taken; if, for some reason, you felt like posting on 9/21, the spot is yours. Otherwise, I will simply continue to delight in your comments. For delight me they do, sometimes in sad ways, others in laughing-from-my-belly ways. Always so, so very true.

  5. August 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    So touching and beautiful!

  6. 5kidswdisabilities
    August 11, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Oh, hope is so important. Without it, we wouldn’t enjoy the sun streaming through the clouds as a sign of joy.

    • August 27, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      I think I would still enjoy that, but I would enjoy it only literally; the metaphoric enjoyment, however, would be lost to me. And that would be a loss!

  7. August 11, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the baton. It’s amazing how much hope we bury deep in our relationships; mothers, fathers, siblings, sons and daughters…thank you for taking the time to share your hopes.

    • August 27, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      Thank you, Melanie, for reading them and for leaving this beautiful comment and helping me see this in terms of a baton. It is a baton, and one I am ever so happy to carry.

  8. August 12, 2012 at 1:31 am

    One of my favorite of the posts on hope so far. Incredibly touching. Thank you.

  9. August 12, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Beautiful. I choose hope as well. And I feel it in you. Thank you Deb. this is just so beautiful. Like you. Your soul rises.

    • August 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      Every time I see your name, my spirits lift. Then I read your words, and it’s like I’m flying. Thank you, Katy, with much, much love.

  10. August 12, 2012 at 9:42 am

    I couldn’t help but be reminded of my father when you wrote, “I feel like I lost my mom several years ago, so I didn’t think it was possible to feel greater sorrow on that front. But hearing that physical death may also be imminent, it’s clear there are degrees of loss.”

    He had Alzheimer’s, so we lost him long before he died. Towards the end, we knew it was just a matter of which bout of pneumonia would finally be the last one. I already keenly felt the loss of my father, and didn’t realize how much deeper it would feel after he physically died.

    I couldn’t do more than just go through the motions of my life for a long time, but enough time has passed that I figured I’m back to “normal” (whatever that is). But when you mention hope, my mind couldn’t focus on anything solid, so now I wonder if I ever really did get that back. I know writing will sort out my thoughts, but I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with that writing. And so this post has me wondering, not only about the question of hope in my life, but what I’m going to do with the answer.

    I so admire your courage in sharing such raw, honest writing.

    • August 28, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      Sometimes I wonder where I’d be without the process of writing to guide me through my thoughts. I don’t like to wonder that for too long.

      I hope your own writing will assist your sorting out these thoughts. Even if those writings land in a box in the back of a closet, the act of having set them free will be a benefit in and of itself. At least, that is how it’s been for me. I hope you find the same.

      Thank you so, so much. Ganbatte.

  11. August 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm


    I love you, Deb. And what I can’t seem to quantify is how it’s even possible that every time you write something like this, I love you even more. Because I didn’t think it was possible to love you more, and yet there it is. It’s like you laugh in the face of physics or something.

  12. Miranda Gargasz
    August 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    With tears in my eyes, I thank you for tagging me. I can only hope to move others with my words the way that you have moved me. Beautiful post. I’m so happy that L’il D has that photo of his grandma and him together. Her smile in it is worth more than all the tea in China.

  13. August 13, 2012 at 6:23 am

    I read this post late last night and I thought about your words all morning. I have to tell you, your blog is one of the rare ones that does that to me. You have such a powerful way of sending thoughts straight to my heart and then they stay there and blossom. Thank you for tagging me. I have an idea for my hope post rattling around in my brain. I can only hope I’m able to convey my feelings on it as effectively as you have here, Deb!

  14. August 15, 2012 at 4:09 am

    This is so, so beautiful and one of those posts that I’ll be thinking about throughout my day. For some reason your posts haven’t been showing up on my WordPress reader. I had to hunt them down!

  15. August 16, 2012 at 8:22 am

    What a wonderful post. I don’t have adequate words. Miranda at Scattering Moments tagged me to write my own post about hope. No way will I ever come close to touching either of yours but I am sure going to try to write about my perspective of hope!! Thanks for the wonderful and emotional read today.

  16. August 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Yours is a beautiful soul, my friend. Thank you for being you…

  17. August 25, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    This is a great blog about hope, Deborah. Very touching, very moving. The photos are precious too. I want to tell you briefly what our hope was for our quadriplegic daughter. This goes back to 1974 when we couldn’t look after her any more in our home. We were hoping then that a suitable place could be found for her. We did not hope in vain. For as long as there is life there is hope. And where there’s life there’s death also. We were prepared for our daughter to die at an early age. She had to sleep in an iron lung for most of her life. Despite her disabilities she lived a very productive life. She had a lot of struggles and still greatly enjoyed life, always trying to make the most of it. She was truly a marvelous example to a lot of people. She died last month. On the 28th August would have been her 55th birthday. In August 1961 on her fourth birthday she had been struck down by poliomyelitis.

  18. Melissa
    August 27, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. My husband and I are nearly homeless. By nearly I mean we are just waiting for the police to knock on the door.
    Any ways I had almost lost hope. Everything I tried was a waiting list, , no room or just plain you made your bed now lie in it.
    However reading this while it may not give us a roof over our heads. But its gives something sweeter.
    hope. Hope for a chance to live. Hope for the future.

  19. March 14, 2014 at 8:21 am

    That part about hoping she would get better, then realizing she was leaving altogether is exactly how I felt. I went to my mom-in-laws and cried as she held me. I told her about how I had “lost” mom a long time ago, but this was worst. I had been hoping for a miracle, that God would heal her. It felt like I was loosing her twice.

  1. August 12, 2012 at 7:26 pm
  2. August 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm
  3. October 10, 2012 at 9:21 am
  4. November 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm
  5. December 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm
  6. March 13, 2014 at 12:36 pm
  7. May 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm
  8. July 16, 2014 at 6:47 pm
  9. September 14, 2014 at 10:36 am
  10. September 27, 2014 at 7:14 pm
  11. October 1, 2014 at 8:40 pm
  12. November 5, 2014 at 8:53 am
  13. May 27, 2015 at 8:44 pm
  14. June 5, 2015 at 7:20 pm
  15. June 17, 2015 at 9:46 pm
  16. June 27, 2015 at 10:39 pm
  17. August 2, 2015 at 10:45 am
  18. September 7, 2015 at 12:49 pm
  19. September 8, 2015 at 7:31 pm
  20. February 3, 2016 at 4:13 am

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