Grieving the Loss of Hopes and Dreams

I just realized my birthday is tomorrow. Seriously, I totally forgot. Although I’m always bad with dates, truthfully I think this is more the product of selective inattention. I know bemoaning your birthday is so cliché, but I’ve been wishing that time would slow down for, like, 8 years now.worry troll

The passage of time has been especially bothersome to me lately. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store and out of the blue feel like the guy in front of me buying boxer briefs just turned around and punched me in the gut. Then I’ll realize it was just a jab from a little worry-troll come to remind me that I’m getting old, my kids are growing up, and someday (who knows when) I’m going to die.

I want to be clear, my anxiety doesn’t stem from a fear of wrinkles or other vanities (although I’m certainly not above them), nor is it directly related to death (although I am certainly afraid of it). What stirs me most these days is the feeling that I’m running out of time to fully become the person I want to be and to live the life I always assumed I would.

With age, I grow wearier and my load grows heavier. Decisions have to be made about what I can carry forward and what I should leave behind. Although intentions for the future, hopes, and dreams are usually worthwhile freight, at some point most will either become actualized, reach a point of futility, or become an impossibility. I understood this truth the day I gave up hope that my mother would survive cancer, and I understood it again when I had my first daughter and saw that the dream of her being cradled in her grandmother’s arms was an impossibility.

Hopes and dreams get snatched away from people due to things like death, age, infertility, injury, poverty, and chronic illness all the time.  Sometimes it seems so random who’s dealt winning or losing hands.  And when things have gone terribly awry, it’s far easier to feel cheated, bitter, sad, or angry than it is to accept and rebuild.

The loss of hopes and dreams are true losses that need to be grieved. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in a letter written shortly after the unexpected death of her husband, Dave Goldberg,

“Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A.”

When I first read this statement what struck me most was the strength with which she promised to try and embrace option B. I think these words inspired many people and so I’m grateful she shared them, but I’m most interested in what she said next.

She goes onto say that she will always mourn for option A. Option A is where the sorrow lives and it carries the weight of the hopes and dreams she and her children lost when her husband died. There is bravery in her promise to “do all [she] can” to see option B through, but her words are hardly a battle cry. Her statement is humble and acknowledges she may have limitations, I suspect because dealing with the loss of option A is really damn hard.


Regardless of the scenario, the loss of hopes and dreams can be incredibly hard to accept and cope with. These losses aren’t just felt at one time in a person’s life; true to grief-form, they pop up as milestones, reminders, birthdays, important events, regrets, and emptiness forever. I think the magnitude of this can be hard to recognize when looking at it from the outside in and I think those who experience the losses are often surprised by how hard “acceptance” is.

When we care deeply about something, it can be difficult to know when to let go. Sometimes our hopes are all we have to keep us getting out of bed in the morning. People always like to say things like, “It’s never too late to follow your dreams” and many times this is true. When there’s a chance to see your dreams through or there is still joy in the journey, by all means keep going.

The reality is, though, that some dreams will eventually be impossible and when our hopes for the future are truly futile, we have choices to make. We could hold on tight and keep carrying our hopes and dreams forward, but such a heavy and hollow load limits our capacity to find other more fulfilling alternatives. We could drop everything and walk around angry and bitter, but this distracts us from finding joy in the things we do have and leaves our arms empty. Or finally, we could find ways to grieve our losses and some day, if we’re lucky, we’ll gain enough peace and acceptance to embrace our option B.

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April 12, 2017

14 responses on "Grieving the Loss of Hopes and Dreams"

  1. In just over a week it will be six years since my husband killed himself then our wedding anniversary is two weeks after that. This piece of writing spoke to me….about the loss of Plan A. I had no Plan B…I didn’t think I needed it. Now, even his birthday each year is not as hard for me to get through as the anniversary of the day he left. I have bookmarked this blog and will return often. Many Thanks

  2. Can I ask where the header artwork originated? The female/butterfly image is beautiful!

  3. Hospice Chaplain ReganJanuary 4, 2016 at 11:43 amReply

    Fertility and pregnancy is my dream that I let go, despite social pressure and pressure from some of the greedy medical offices profiting on people’s dreams. No one can tell me that my grief was insignificant or self-created. I continue to live in a body that has reproductive system issues, reminding me everyday. I let go of my own pregnancy ever happening because I learned to love and value my life in the present moment as much as or even greater than the dream of giving birth.

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      I’m sorry that you had to let go of this dream, but I am so happy to hear that you’ve found peace in the value of your life and the present moment. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  4. It may be difficult to ‘let go’ of some things and people, but when the event that took his life changes the entire world (even your experience at the airport) it feels IMPOSSIBLE to find a way to ‘let it (him) go.’
    I was exceedingly annoyed when they wanted to test me for something in relation to boarding my plane and burst into uncontrollable tears when asked. The idea that anyone would think I’d do to another family what was done to ours and thousands of others’ was too much to handle.
    I haven’t gone to an airport since then. Probably not the best way to let it go but I’m certain I’ll never be able to tolerate being treated like the very people who killed him.

    My daughter had more trouble with grieving hopes and dreams than I did. She got her driver’s license and graduated but made no big deal of it. She didn’t even want to go to the ceremony bc he wouldn’t be there to watch, which left us to miss out on it too. Another thing for which I felt angry at the people who did the ugly deed.
    Everything she’s done since her dad died, she’s done almost in secret. She didn’t want to attend the college graduation ceremony either.
    I have no idea how to help her with it. People say I’m not very good at being there for her. They might be right; my mom wasn’t there emotionally, I have no idea how to begin to help another person through an emotional wringer.
    I continue to struggle with how to help her. When I first looked for information on how to help teens deal with 9/11 all the data was for those who HADN’T lost relatives or friends or colleagues there. It was for someone who watched what happened but didn’t know the victims.

  5. This is the best article yet on this site. Thank you for it. Pretty sure it was written just for me!!✏️✏️

  6. Wow. Thank you for letting me cry over this. I read Sheryl’s post and obviously cried through it, amazed that this woman was so enlightened in 30 days on things I’ve maybe even just learned as a young widow nearly 5 months down the road. You picked up the same thing that I did from her final paragraph. Most applauded her determination to kick the sh*t out of Option B, and will now undoubtedly be confused when (not if) they see her continue to struggle and/or relapse….Non-grievers may even ask “Wait, what’s happening, I thought you were going to kick B’s butt?” without realizing that (1) There’s a lot of fails along the route to kicking B’s butt (2) We/She still hurts for Option A

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Hey Stephanie,

      Litsa and I had a pretty similar conversation about Sheryl’s letter. At 30 days you have yet to hit many of the grief potholes that are scattered throughout the first few years. It’s natural to want to kick the crap out of grief at the outset, but whether it can always be done quite another thing.


  7. Beautifully written from the heart. Thank you for the many things you touched on that I find in my own life.

  8. What a great piece and so well-written. Rings very true for me as I approach yet another birthday and struggle to hold onto hopes and dreams of my own. Grief is a journey with many suitcases….some you will manage to drop off and some you’ll carry forever. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I hope there are others almost as far “over the hill” as I am at 85 who read your stuff and like it as much as I do. Every posts gives me an idea for my “Death Happens” I look forward to comments on your hope and dreams piece.
    . Yes. I give you well deserved credit.

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