Facing Loss: When Hope and Grief Co-Exist

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

For further articles on these topics:

My mother died of pancreatic cancer. If you know anything about pancreatic cancer, you know that the survival statistics are bleak. Those who catch it early have the best chances, but, even then, the five-year survival rate is only about 7%. 

When discovered at an advanced stage—such as in my mother's case, a person may only have a matter of months to live. The doctors gave my mother less than a year, which was consistent with the statistics and treatment options.

There was no reason for us to hope she'd survive, but not hoping felt just as irrational. I don't care what anyone says: It's darn near impossible to stop hoping that someone you love will live and not die. 

We hoped for my mother's survival right up until her final days, and so did she. And, for a long time afterward, I was angry and remorseful about, what I viewed as, our ignorant optimism. 

I felt disappointed, abandoned, and bitter. I blamed hope for stealing our final weeks. For preventing the deathbed moments of quiet repose so often depicted in the movies. Moments, where everyone has accepted the end is near and meaningful words of goodbye can be shared. 

The truth was, my mother never wanted to accept or acknowledge she was dying. Even if she had, I was avoiding the entire situation from two states away. There were plenty of reasons why we didn't have the quintessential "Hollywood Goodbye", and if I'm being honest, hope wasn't one of them.

"Whoever was still alive had reason for hope" Viktor Frankl

When Hope Feels Complicated

It's hard to make a case against hope. It's associated with many positive effects like increased happiness, health outcomes, and life satisfaction, and helps to buffer the impact of distressing—even life-threatening—experiences. But, over the years, I've seen how our wishes for the future can become complicated when they get mixed up with things like denial, avoidance, or black-and-white thinking.

For instance, if a person is only willing to acknowledge partial truths or ignores significant realities, then they may build false hopes on faulty beliefs and misinformation. These hopes have a high likelihood of not panning out, leading to disappointment, frustration, and despair. 

In other cases, a person may fixate on their hope for one possible outcome and blindly refuse to acknowledge other possible, or likely, outcomes. Anything other than the desired outcome seems like a disappointing path to eternal unhappiness. For example, a person facing a breakup may fail to see the okay-ness—or even potential happiness—inherent in other futures. They cling to the hope that Plan A will pan out even when it's obvious it will not.

With certain grief experiences, allowing oneself to consider any alternative other than the hoped-for outcome may cause a person to feel like they're giving up on their loved one. A person may feel ashamed for thinking about what will happen if their loved one dies. Or, they may feel guilty if they experience anticipatory grief.

This is also true in ambiguous grief, where the loved one may be changed but not deceased (e.g., substance use disorder, severe mental illness) or when it is unknown if the loved one is dead or alive (e.g., kidnapped, missing in action). But in these cases where there is no resolution, it's more necessary than ever to learn how to maintain hope while also being able to acknowledge and, if necessary, grieve the reality of the present moment. 

Pauline Boss, leading expert on ambiguous loss, discussed this in her interview with OnBeing:

"The only way to live with ambiguous loss is to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. These are some examples: With the physically missing, people might say, “He’s gone, he’s probably dead, and maybe not,” or “He may be coming back, but maybe not.” Those kinds of thinking are common, and it is the only way that people can lower the stress of living with the ambiguity."

When Hope and Grief Co-Exist

It took me a long time to understand that hope wasn't the barrier I thought it was. Through the two-dimensional lens of my memory, I couldn't see how we could have been both realistic and hopeful. I believed that, as long as hope existed, we couldn't also have had an accurate understanding of my mother's prognosis or experience anticipatory grief. These things seemed contradictory in my mind's eye.

Now I realize that without an understanding of the adversity we faced, we would have had no to reason to hope so blindly. We knew my mother would die, but we really hoped she wouldn't. We lived every moment in these alternate realities. It was extremely uncomfortable and so I chose to avoid a lot of what was going on. So in the end, avoidance is my regret, not hope.

Never hope.  

Before I started writing this post, I had gathered all sorts of research and information to discuss things like hope theory. However, as I was writing, I realized this:

Hope is really difficult to define or quantify. Hope is incredibly personal and subjective.

As I struggled with the topic, the Emily Dickinson verse, "Hope is the thing with feathers," kept circling around in my head. And, though it may sound like nonsense, I ultimately had to concede that individual hope can be described more perfectly with a lyric or a verse than any psychological construct (at least in the way that I've seen it manifest in some of the darkest of loss situations).

Share your experience with hope and grief in the comments below. If you prefer to describe hope with a lyric, verse, or quote, by all means, please do.  

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

Let’s be grief friends.

We post a new article to What’s Your Grief about once a week. Subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts.

Related Blog Posts

Related Blog Posts

See More

30 Comments on "Facing Loss: When Hope and Grief Co-Exist"

Click here to leave a Comment
  1. Nichelle  May 27, 2020 at 8:56 am Reply

    This blog post details almost exactly what took place with my mom (different cancer: stage 4 colorectal cancer mets to liver, lungs and bones. Same outcome: passed on May 23 at age 55). For me, it was imperative to maintain a hopeful and optimistic attitude throughout her diagnosis and treatment because she never accepted the terminal diagnosis. While treatment worked, she would attend her bi-weekly chemo sessions and then, almost like magic, it was over for two weeks. She had this incredible ability to act as though she completely forgot she even had cancer. But once her health started deteriorating, and it did so very quickly; when she could no longer pretend that cancer and imminent death weren’t the reality she was facing, all of her optimism and subsequently her will to live dissipated much quicker than I expected. I always told her she wasn’t going to die until she decided to, because as we know, the will to live is an immensely powerful source of strength to draw from, but while it kept her alive, it did not ease her suffering and once she realized that things would not get better, she passed in a matter of days. Most likely preventing us from watching an even more painful death. But also confirming to me that the will to live is truly remarkable, she was a very sick woman for 11 months and you only knew it in the last month.

    Just prior to stumbling upon this site, I’d be researching articles on anticipatory grief, because I knew I’d been experiencing that type of grief for months- since the moment she was diagnosed. I cried for days when I read the statistics, but soon after she told me she didn’t care about the stats and she was ready for a fight, so I pushed those to the back of my mind and became her biggest supporter and advocate, making sure if she didn’t want to be ‘written off’ that no one would, certainly not her oncologist. It seemed like my duty as a daughter and combined with the fact that I could not realistically envision a world without her, to be there every step of the way. And in all honestly, it wasn’t that much of a leap to set my mind to ‘everything is going to be okay’ mode for my own sanity. Now that she’s gone, I needed to validate the complicated emotions I felt along the way (and yes I’ve also felt a microscopic sense of relief at her passing. Watching the strongest woman you know become a shell of her former self is no easy feat and being a caregiver when you’re so emotionally invested is, for lack of a better expression: pure hell). To stumble upon this site and see a post detailing how hope and grief can co-exist has validated my experience so much. However, all along I thought I was keeping hopeful for her, but in the few short days since her passing, I realized that I was hopeful for myself too. Which is odd because I’m usually such a pessimist, or realist if you’d prefer. This is the only time in my life that I blindly believed that the outcome would be different than what the facts were telling me but for myself and mom, it kept us going a lot longer than we could have imagined. Now the rest of my life starts; the one where I have to keep going without her, but oddly enough I feel different. That difference may be that now, despite the outcome for my mom, I’m irrevocably changed from a pessimist to an optimist. And if nothing else, I know that she would want it that way.

  2. Jennifer Smith  May 17, 2020 at 8:01 pm Reply

    Drugs have stolen my daughter… this person who occupies her body is not the child I raised. My daughter is gone. At the same time, it’s not realistic for me to be hopeless…it’s only natural that part of me has hope that someday, however small the possibility is, she will return to a life as a healthy woman. Will that life be with her son and I? I don’t know. There are too many possibilities. I was frustrated and stuck in this quandary of a black and white future until my therapist helped me understand that living without hope is impossible, especially as a mother. I didn’t want to hope, I wanted closure. Now that I’ve accepted this, I’m working on decreasing the amount of energy I spend in an anxiety state over grieving and having hope at the same time. I’m a work in progress, as always!

  3. Marilyn  November 4, 2019 at 12:44 am Reply

    Reading all of these heartbreaking stories, does make me feel not so alone. Wasn’t sure if I could go through with this, opening up is really hard for me, but hoping it will help. I lost my father about three years now, and still haven’t yet really dealt with his passing. One thing I’m certain of is weather your young or old NO child should witness their parent become helpless and frightened at the same time. It is cruel, merciless, heartless and just plain wrong. My dad had a stroke right in front of me, and there was nothing I could do help. I would desperately love to get that image out of my head, but sadly I cannot. I struggle with that everyday, three years later. As difficult as that was, My story sadly doesn’t end there. This would be my tragedy forever, could honestly be my breaking point. Recently, well about two months ago, I also lost another family member, My beloved Sister. No one can understand the depth this is for me, she was my best friend, my right hand, my EVERYTHING !! It to me is like losing a twin, a part of me. She without doubt took a piece of me with her, there’s a hole in my heart that will never be beating the same. Sometimes feels like I’m just numb inside, hard for me to catch my breath or to even breathe. Her passing has tested my faith, but her amazing strong willed children that show me strength, and courage , and enormous fight each and every day. Only for them do I continue to somehow still function. I’m taking this horrible nightmare that I’m in one day at a time. But I “Thank” both of them, My father taught me so many things, how to stand tall, integrity, gratitude, just to be yourself. My Sissy gave me the ability to love, and so much of my laughter. For her I’ve become a better person. Her Bravery was unconditional, no words can i tell you of what a special human being she was. For us all that are suffering or that have suffered, I’m telling you a hand out to one another, or just a simple hug sure does mean a lot. My Prayers & deepest sympathy to all.

  4. D  October 18, 2019 at 11:42 am Reply

    I read all the comments, I don’t know why I do this to myself. I cry over and over for all of us left behind. I am a widow, just coming up on 4 years. It truly breaks my heart each time I read the same painful stories. We’re all the same. Broken in a million pieces not by accident but by evolution. There is a time to die and we just are the ones who have had to stare it down now. The world through our eyes will never be the same, but I know when it’s time for others I will be the person to sit and hold their hand and welcome them lovingly to a place they never hoped to be. I am the first of my circle, but I won’t be the last, sadly.

  5. Nancy Miringoff  October 7, 2019 at 12:35 pm Reply

    My sister-in-law died almost a year ago from pancreatic cancer. She lived almost four years from the date of diagnosis which was remarkable. At one point, when we were visiting her surgeon (she had the Whipple surgery early on) he commented: “I have known you for a long time.” We realized then that life was short with this kind of diagnosis, but for him and for her, she had lived a relatively long time with this disease, both from her perspective and from her doctor’s perspective. It did not seem like enough time for us. During her illness, I read a book, “Choose Hope,” by Elizabeth Clark. The theme of the book is to always choose hope when facing any kind of adversity in life. The last sentences: “…the single most important thing that each of us can do for ourselves and for others is to choose hope. Always choose hope.” I read the book because I needed to, I wanted to help my sister-in-law, and I instinctively knew that keeping hopeful was the best thing to do for me and for her. On my own, I struggled with pessimism and the reality of the seriousness of this disease. Yes, it is very difficult to simultaneously keep hope and reality in one’s head. But my heart told me differently, and then I read this book. Hope sustained my sister-in-law through it all. She never gave up and she never fully admitted that she was dying when she was. While it was painful to not have the chance to fully say goodbye, in the ways that are described above, we did have our moments when we acknowledged our love for each other weeks before the end. I am glad that we were both able to do that for each other. Relationships with sisters-in-law are not the easiest ones, we had our “issues” with each other. But it was the ability to hold onto hope that kept our relationship alive.

  6. Lisa  October 1, 2019 at 2:21 pm Reply

    I lost my Mom to pancreatic cancer close to three years ago. We never said proper goodbyes, as we were both in denial. I regret that now. She fought her battle for 9 months. My Mom was my best friend, we talked every day. I have two daughters, both were expecting at the time my Mom was dying. I couldn’t even be happy that I was going to have two grandchildren because I was consumed with my Mom and grieving her before she passed. It’s been 3 years and just today, I came to the realization that I have been a very angry, bitter, self destructive person since losing my Mom. I’ve taken my anger out on my entire family , friends coworkers. I left my job, have been over drinking, I’ve gained weight. Just coming to this realization today, is a blessing. I feel a sense of relief and peace. I’m going to move forward in life with happiness and gratitude for the loving family I still have with me.

  7. Brittany lear  September 18, 2019 at 7:17 pm Reply

    My mom passed away August 9th. She had cervical cancer twice. The fist time was in 2008 and she beat it. She was in and out of the hospital with pain for 6 months, tjey never checked what she told them to. A hospital out of town found it with a simple blood test! March 19th 2019 she was diagnosed with Cervical cancer again. They told her that it would kill her this time. There was nothing they could do. She could do chemo it coukd givw her a year or 2 bit there was no cure and no beating it this time. She done a couple chemo sessions but she had to stop because she kept getting infections. She was doing good for a while we all had HOPE even though there was no reason for us to have hope. She was worse than we wanted her to be. On July 18th she was put on hospice I got married to my husband in hospice 2 days later knowing she wasn’t gunna make it to the wedding in August. She passed away August 9th. My life has been flipped upside down. She was my mom, my best friend,y #1 supporter, the one who believed and me and the obe that never have up on me. She was my everything. I’m not sure how to deal with anythong honestly. I feel like I’m just walking. 🙁

  8. Denise Hicks  September 17, 2019 at 7:11 am Reply

    I lost my son to a rare form of cancer two years ago to this day, He had lived with his illness for eighteen years more than half his life. He left this world at the tender age of 33. He never allowed himself to date because he knew his fate. He struggled and suffered a lot, but he loved living he loved his family and his car hobbies. He even loved working and was so proud of his accomplishment’s. I prayed so hard for his recovery and would say each year that passed and Spring would come. David made it another year. He never gave up. Hope? As a mother the hardest thing I had to do in my life was to help David make plans for his death. It is and will be forever in my mind. His last day of hope was when he was rushed to the hospital and the family all in one room with David as the doctor told him he was dying and he was not going to leave the hospital, he looked at me and there was no “hope”. Hope is just a word, it has no meaning to me.

  9. Marsha  September 15, 2019 at 2:45 am Reply

    Thank you so much for this essay. It speaks to me. My husband never wanted to talk about dying, though he clearly was dying of esophageal cancer, and had deteriorated rapidly over the short months since diagnosis. On the morning of the day he passed, he told a friend he was worried about me. She assured him I would be fine–she is a widow, too. He wasn’t soothed by her comments. My husband said “I’m going to talk to her this afternoon.” He died suddenly a few hours later, and we never had “that” talk, never had the Hollywood ending where I cradled his head as we listened to classical music or his favorite Beatles song, had one last lingering kiss, one last sweet look into each other’s eyes, and he professed his love again to me and told me to live my life fully in his honor. It tortured me, wondering what he would have said, what that last kiss would have been like. Sometimes it still does, but I also think his quick departure was a gift to me. I didn’t have to listen to those painful last breaths, didn’t have to say goodbye, didn’t have to watch him go from alive to dead, didn’t have to have those last seconds burned into my memory. Thank you again for your perspective, for your reflections and clarity.

  10. Mandy Rose  September 9, 2019 at 2:59 pm Reply

    I lost my dad a week ago today, to a rare form of cancer called paranasal melanoma. I still can’t believe I’m even saying that.. even when I read it. I was very much stuck inside of anticipatory grief for the past 3 months of his life. I knew that once his cancer metastasized to his brain, my hope would take a hit. I’ve been sad, and missing him for a very long time. When he first got diagnosed, the survival rate was low. He had a 10 hour brain surgery, and when he got through that.. I thought my “Hope” was going to save us from everything. He then went through radiation and 4 years of immunotherapy. It took a TOLL on his body, and mind. I started feeling selfish over my Hope, because I saw him suffering. His oncologist had originally told us the longest he would survive was 5 years. He made it 5 1/2. My grief… is insane. I’m sorry to read all these stories, and see how many other people are feeling this pain, because it’s excruciating. When my dad died, he told my mom he was happy for all of our hopes, and prayers. He said “can you imagine how much worse everything would be if we didn’t have hope?”

  11. Angie  September 9, 2019 at 3:59 am Reply

    Hi, I lost my husband on Easter Saturday this year to an incredibly rare and vicious form of Cancer. He had a reasonable sized lump just appear on the morning of his 48th birthday and the doctors spent a year trying to identify what type of cancer it actually was as it divided too fast for them to know. His bloods never showed that he had cancer right up until the end but the scans did. We were told very bluntly that there was no chance of surviving it, but we didn’t expect the delivery from the doctor of ‘no hope’, that was 10 weeks after finding the lump. He did ask ‘how long do I have? The doctor replied ‘do you really want to know? And he said ‘no’, she then said ‘no I don’t think you do’. And I never asked her either, I would say to him we are all going to die at some point but we aren’t ment to know exactly when that is. He fought for just over 3 years and we both hoped he could be the other ‘one in 7 billion’. I was the one pushing for him to get things sorted so that he could have things the way he wanted, as it was one of those “we should have talked about this when he wasnt looking down the barrel of a gun” moments, and he didn’t want to because it was too raw to contemplate. So I would leave it for a while and just drop it into a conversation at another time more appropriate. He was incredibly brave and the 3 years we had were mixed with sadness, happiness, laughter (the humour was quite dark at times which could lead to almost hysteria), misery, lots of love and anger and DEFINITELY a lot of hope. Those 3 years were also fraught as we have 2 teenage sons and the youngest was 13 when we got the diagnosis and at 14 he had a mental breakdown as he could’nt/wouldn’t face what was happening. We didn’t tell them straight away we eeked it out over a year to try and soften the blow and allow them to come to terms a little with what we were all facing. He is still quite ill although not to the same degree as back then. Our oldest was 16 and somehow during one of my husbands awful bouts of ‘Chemo Brain’ and our youngest breaking down got through his GCSE’s but that was break point for him too. He found it very difficult to flourish at school after all that although he tried very hard and sat his first year of A levels twice. In the end hope found a way of living in tandem with me (it still does). In the 2 months before my husband passed he had a realization and set about telling me as much as he could about what he wanted for his funeral, the kids and for me (these one where so hard for me and him as we would always both be in tears). I always knew we didn’t have long and within the last month knew but couldn’t put it into words that he was going soon. The last 3 months were the most painful for him and that was awful to see and bear although I did everything I could and that he asked for even when it went against what I felt he really needed. He went into a hospice to get better and he did for a while but then we realised that we were up against something far bigger. He had always said he wanted to die at home and so we brought him back. Those last 10 hours are NOTHING like the Hollywood movies – if only…. and I was with him as was his mum throughout. We both knew the week before that he probably had about a week to go and he survived a little longer through sheer force of will, but because he’d been in the condition he had for hours that night, when the nurse called me for some information, I said to him I’m only going to be a few minutes PLEASE just wait, I was gone a few mins when he died. His mum was with him but I had just stepped out. This happens a lot I know but I don’t feel as bad as I probably should do, this is because I felt him leave his body about 4 and half hours earlier and I don’t think he wanted me to see him physically leave. All of us were there including the kids and as much as I knew what was coming you can’t help but hope you maybe aren’t right just yet. He died 4 days before our youngest 16th although he tried to stay for that. My life now is very different and I miss him more that I can put into words. Family don’t live nearby so the loneliness is overwhelming sometimes. Our oldest is here (thank goodness) as is our youngest but he’s still very unwell and needing a lot of support. It’s tough but it is what it is and you can only realistically move forward if you want progress, as death is part of life. I just continue to take one day at a time, one bit at a time as it’s how I survive ? ?

  12. Jen  September 9, 2019 at 12:23 am Reply

    In a matter of 9 months I have 2 of the most beautiful people in my life – my grandparents. They were the parents I never had. April 2018, from that date on my life changed forever.
    Grandad suffered a Major Stroke and nearly died from sepsis. Nan fell apart and couldn’t go on without him, we lost nan a year ago.

    My Grandad fought on, and I had the pleasure of caring for him right up until he lost his mind in July, and died after a brief illness. He missed nan so much he couldn’t sleep without her. I miss them both so much but I know they are together. And that means everything to me,
    However soon after he died, I lost my forever home so ended up almost homeless.

    One thing I would say, is the amount of bullshit I’m getting from one member of my mums family is vile. Be mindful when something as devastating as this happens because the people that did the least expect the most. Clearing the house, changing the locks and being completely disrespectful during this time is uncalled for.

    Still in the process of finding a job, but I have a roof over my head, and a cup of tea in my hand. I know things will get better – they just have too!! ?

  13. Jonathan Stadler  September 6, 2019 at 5:31 pm Reply

    My wife who I had known for 25 years died in July 2018. We had just bought a new house together, our daughter was and still is at university and I had started a brilliant new job. We were the happiest we have ever been; we worked the garden to get ready for spring and I spent most nights sanding and patching and painting and planning. On the night she died, I made a stir fry and she said it was the best I had ever made. She went to bed early saying she felt a little like she was getting flu. Conny was always super healthy, but had recently experienced thyroid abnormalities and we had booked for surgery in a few weeks. I awoke late that night to see Conny gasping for air, her eyes bulging, her body writhing in agony. I lifted her onto the bed and called emergency services. I sat with her trying to force her to breath. She then said “Jon I can’t see you, I can’t see you’, and died in my arms. The ER arrived and tried to resuscitate but it was too late. She suffered a massive coronary. My teenage daughter witnessed all of this. When the ambulance left we started to panic, screaming and crying. Soon relatives started to arrive. I told everyone that Conny was still here. I could feel her. Now a year later I cannot feel her anymore. She is gone forever. I talk to her but I know she cannot hear me. But I still hope to see her at the front gate, as if returning from a trip, like she used to. Smiling while I hug her and kiss the top of her head, smelling her perfume and feeling her leather jacket.

  14. K  September 6, 2019 at 9:54 am Reply

    I heard a quote on a TV show once, I can’t remember exactly how it went but the sentiment was – “there is no such thing as FASLE hope, it’s just hope” – the takeaway being that hope, no matter how small a chance, exists in and of itself – it shouldn’t be denied regardless of the eventual outcome.

  15. Sandy Staup  September 6, 2019 at 8:46 am Reply

    My husband died February 22, 2018. He was diagnosed with Stage IV Renal Cell Cancer 17 months prior. The RRC had metastasized to his lungs and he underwent a biopsy of the largest lung tumor to verify if it was RRC or another primary cancer, it was RCC. I am not writing to focus on his death but on his life. My husband had hope enough to move mountains up until the last 2 1/2 weeks. He and his oncologist were very fond of one another and I was the realist in the room at times as my husband had a 7% chance of living for 5 years but he expected to live another 30. I just wanted more time but when the cancer began to take over his lungs and the Pulmonologist told him that he could not longer work or drive(he was a semi driver) and the Palliative Care Doctor told him that he was going to die, just not today on February 5, 2018 my husband began his process of dying with dignity. We were blessed to have had this time to say good bye and I learned so much from this brave husband of mine. He had no regrets and we spent our last couple of weeks together night and day knowing that he was dying. Grief begins before the passing into eternal life and life does go on. Life will forever be different and I will forever love this amazing man, my husband Jim.

    • Richard  September 6, 2019 at 3:41 pm Reply

      So sorry. My late brother got me hooked on this site. I now bike down to his grave and “talk” to him about the latest postings. Misery sure loves company! Miss him soooooo
      much. Would like to start over again with my mother. Yet,
      I do not know how! We barely talk anymore. Grief can tear
      a family apart.

  16. Carl Buonafede  September 6, 2019 at 8:22 am Reply

    Thanks for this posting…I lost my Mom to pancreatic cancer 5 years ago, and my wife this past Nov to breast cancer….yet we always felt there was a chance of pulling through. We all knew the odds were against both of them, but their health rallies always created optimism and happiness. We did say goodbye in spoken and unspoken ways, but now the burden for me is moving forward and trying to find joy in life. At the moment the pain is suffocating, but still I remember the happy moments at the end. Hope springs eternal in our hearts.

  17. Joni  September 5, 2019 at 11:31 pm Reply

    My soulmate died 2.5 years ago out of the blue when we thought he was perfectly healthy, so hope wasn’t ever part of the equation for me, other than the 40 minutes or so that I hoped resuscitation might work. (And even then, when it was clear they weren’t going to work right away, I’m glad they didn’t work after significant brain damage. He would’ve despised that.) And I have a different take on hope when it comes to my dad, who has Lewy Body Dementia. My hope there is that his gimpy heart takes him out sooner, not later, so that none of us including him has to go through the torture I know from experience severe dementia doles out. Given the effects that are already disabling, I’d rather hope for his quick, less painful death than have him for longer. This part of life sucks.

  18. Bud Gilbert  September 5, 2019 at 8:11 pm Reply

    Lost my mother to pancreatic cancer October 17, 2017. She lived 3 months after being diagnosed. She fought hard, but could not take treatments due to having a damaged liver too. Thank you for the article. I still have the hope that I one day will see my mother again.

  19. Laura Groshong  September 5, 2019 at 7:43 pm Reply

    I so enjoyed your essay/article, and ALL the comments as well. I’m a little flabbergasted, and somewhat relieved, that you all didn’t have those conversations you now so wish you could have had. My husband died suddenly 2 years ago from a heart attack. He was 57. It was a shock to everyone. There is SO much I wish I could have discussed with him and said to him. Wow! I guess it doesn’t really hit until they are actually gone. Blessings to you all as you journey this road.

  20. Trish  September 5, 2019 at 7:24 pm Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experience and your perspective. I feel as though mine aren’t just the opposite, though, and difficult for me to describe. My beloved husband died at home, with me, almost 3 years ago of bladder cancer that metastasized after surgery, chemo and immunotherapy no longer could slow it down. We went through it all together, 24/7, every appointment, every procedure, every bout of figuring out what he wanted to eat and then couldn’t, etc. Each of you already know too well about that. It felt like we had grown even closer and more in love than we possibly could: we had an awesome marriage already. My heartache or regret was not having hope. Paul never gave up and never ever complained. But I did. He was “the healthiest 66 year old patient” his oncologist had ever had. The last time he’d been in the hospital he was 7 years old. He wasn’t the one who should’ve died: that would have been me. I was the one always having weird illnesses or surgeries. But, when his cancer returned almost a year after his bladder was removed, I understood that he wasn’t going to survive the metastasis. I don’t know if I gave up as much as felt defeated and hopeless. We did talk and plan for what might happen, as he insisted on saying. We got our paperwork all in order, documented logins and passwords, talked about what he wanted done “afterwards.” But. He did not want to say goodbye. To anyone. So, he didn’t want to talk on the phone anymore (when he was strong enough to) or have company visit. He didn’t even want me to update or friends and family. I felt all alone and would walk our dog so I could make phone calls and cry. The dog thought the more frequent walks were a bonus. 🙂 She died several months after Paul did and all that grief doubled. I guess I’m too pragmatic or even cold but I knew better than to hope. We had just started having hospice come to the house, they didn’t have their interminable paperwork done, when he died. I was sleeping next to him on the couch that morning when something woke me up. He let out a long breath and was gone. His life was over and so was mine. I feel guilty for not “staying positive” or “being more optimistic” as my friends encouraged me to be, but I already knew better and couldn’t fake those things. Paul knew, too, but it helped him and was so like him to stay on the upside of his feelings. I don’t know if this makes any sense but I needed to write it out for some reason. I’m so sorry for all of us but I know we’ll get through whatever else happens; we’ve already had the worst day of our lives.

    • Kristin Bittner  September 6, 2019 at 9:51 am Reply

      Thank you for your honesty, Trish. It is so refreshing to see that we’re not alone in our feelings or our un-feelings. <3

    • Jody  September 6, 2019 at 5:35 pm Reply

      Trish, I’m so sorry for your loss… at times it just feels like too much, because it is. I think others want us to be positive or not lose hope because our pain is too uncomfortable for them. Our society does not allow for us to be broken and grieving, and our conversation about grief and loss is limited, the language to describe it is lacking. Please don’t apologize for your feelings. They are yours, have them. For as long as you have them. I think it may be next to impossible to have a sense of hope in the midst of raw grief. I think hope can dawn later. Be gentle with yourself in your process.

  21. Kathy zeblisky  September 5, 2019 at 7:14 pm Reply

    I am so sorry for everyone’s losses who have posted so far. My husband died 18 months ago from pancreatic cancer. He was given 8 months to live but lived for 44 months thanks to participation in clinical trials. It was his wish to stay positive and be hopeful, both for himself and for me and our family. We did have “the talk” but held on to the hope. We held on to the hope throughout the rollercoaster rides of treatment response, and disease progression. Part of that was hoping his participation in the trials would help other patients. So we had a future hope to hold on to. When we did hear those words “there’s nothing more to be done” the hope was gone, but it was replaced by gratitude which probably sounds strange. Gratitude for our years of love, for our family, for the compassionate care he received, for a higher power, for the fact that he died peacefully at home. I am still grieving and will miss him for the rest of my life. But I don’t think we could have functioned, and loved, and walked that long cancer journey without hope.

  22. Holly  September 5, 2019 at 6:27 pm Reply

    Thank you for this. It is a timely tonic to my struggle. My brother died in May after fighting his pancreatic cancer like a boss for 14 months. We rallied around him through his battle and encouraged his fierce hope as we fiercely hoped right along with him. He battled through aggressive chemo, experimental surgeries, radioembolization and many consults. There was no reason not to believe that this otherwise extremely healthy, active man in his 40s could be one of the success stories, and beat the odds. He responded well to his treatments for so long…until he didn’t. His will never gave up, even if it was clear his body was starting to. So then there was the guilt of grieving not the diagnosis but suddenly the chance that maybe he wasn’t going to beat it, and keeping it to myself because the last thing I wanted him to think was that I was giving up on him. I held out hope, and I rallied for him and beside him while he but all the while wanted to have more of “those” conversations, the ones that I knew I would regret not having–yet I couldn’t. Not yet. His body began to fail, but his spirit and determination never waivered. It was the liver failure from his metastatic process that ultimately landed him in the hospital. It was on a Wednesday that the doctor he trusted the most told him, his wife, his daughter and all the rest of us–in the most compassionate and tender of ways, which will stay with me always–that despite my brother’s amazing fight through this insidious disease there was nothing more to be done. Our hearts broke as the news sunk in, and as we saw the strike to my brother’s spirit. We mourned together as a family with laughter and tears that day. He went home with hospice the next day. He died the day after. It was being told that essentially there was no more hope that allowed him to give himself permission to allow his sweet soul to flee his tortured shell. It has been the weeks and now months after his death that I grapple with whether or not I let hope be a barrier to saying all of the things that I wanted to say and more importantly for him to say all the things that he might want to say but was too afraid to. In the end I try to accept comfort in all of the meaningful conversations that we did get to have–and the fact that really hope was the final gift I could give to my baby brother. While I might grapple with regrets, they feel selfish sometimes, for I know in my heart my brother would have never thought hope to be a barrier–and I am so grateful for that.

  23. Anh Le  September 5, 2019 at 6:08 pm Reply

    I lost my brother 8 years ago and the pains are still here, whenever i think of him. He fought hard and miracle happened many times to save him. I did not believe the doctors when they told me he would be better in the hospice. He was sad when we moved him there because we all hoped that he would get better. They discontinued the treatments and that was not what they promised me before i agreed to move him into hospice. He felt better and ate so well. On Sunday, I bought won-ton soup and he ate it all. I was so thrill and believed he was truly getting better. I went home that night and felt good. That was the last time i talked to him. In the morning, i got a call from my cousin, who came to see him before going to work. She wanted me to get there right away as he did not responded. He was waiting for me, i believed. I was breathing hard but he was out. After a few hours of praying beside his bed, I sat up and held him in my arms. I told him how much i love him and said it’s okay to go now, anh Tung. He suddenly looked at me, left out a long breath and he was gone.
    We all hope for better outcomes and i think hope is what makes me staying on my feet, be strong. I pray, I hope and pray for more. Miracles happened so many times in my life and I believe there’s someone up there listened.

  24. Bret  September 5, 2019 at 4:59 pm Reply

    I lost my wife to pancreatic cancer 3 years ago she was just 41. I can 100% relate to the never having a Hollywood ending death moment. We spent so much effort doing everything trying to save her life. We never had a real conversation about her dying. I don’t think she ever believed she was going to die until the month she went on hospice, even then I think she never lost hope until the last two weeks. I so much regret us not ever being realistic enough to have some deep loving words to say to each other. Why couldn’t we have said “let’s have a talk before I get too sick and can’t”. I felt like if I wasn’t 100% positive about her survival I was not being supportive / uplifting. We both avoided having “that” talk. She died alone at 3:30 AM in our bed, I left the room for 5 min, came back and she was gone. I was with her all night except for that 5 min… still can’t get over that. Thanks for the essay. It is somewhat a relief to know I am not the only one that went through this.

    • fran  October 17, 2019 at 12:33 pm Reply

      Bret – don’t beat yourself up about not being in the room when your wife took her last breath. A chaplain once told me that most dying people actually die alone, when loved ones have left the room. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that somehow, some way, the spirit holds on when there are loved ones around and when they leave, the person finally feels the relief to give up. I think there is something to this. She likened it to some one trying to sleep. When someone is present, it is hard to just give up and give in, there is still the fight to be present. Maybe you leaving the room was your wife unconsciously being able to just let go without worrying about you.

  25. LINDA Lapery-Criscuolo  September 5, 2019 at 4:32 pm Reply

    My husband passed away from pancreatic cancer some three weeks ago after a ‘courageous’ battle of 17 months. Having been given a sentence of 6 months to a year, I would say he fought to live. And fought hard. You have succinctly reflected upon your loss and your reaction(s) to it both during your Mom’s life and now, afterwards. A terminal illness is just that….terminal. A life will end. When? Actually unknown but too soon. We hope and put on some blinders because we are selfish….we so want the loved one/the patient to continue on. We feel that they just ‘have to’…we cannot imagine a life that goes on without them. But, unfortunately, it does go on and leaves us for however long to grieve, despair and wallow in loneliness. It is a shock. I haven’t found my way out of this just yet but it’s early. I have chosen to use a therapist to sort out my feelings and to find myself again. Who I’ll be without my life partner. Will I find an answer…I don’t think it’s that easy but I would steer you towards the help of a therapist, as well. I never, ever thought I would need a therapist…but, now, I do. I wish you peace from the hurting things….this terrible disease called cancer and the like. I urge you to remember the good times, the funny things that you and your Mom enjoyed in the past. I so connected

  26. Wendy Lochner  September 5, 2019 at 4:22 pm Reply

    An excellent, nuanced, realistic essay. It is really impossible not to hope in life-threatening circumstances, even if one does not believe in miracles—the universe is so far beyond human understanding, and so is the resilience of the life force. If I think back on the many occasions in my existence when loved ones—or I myself—were threatened in some way, I find so many positive outcomes. Although I tend to give more weight to the negative ones, I feel that in these cases I’m letting self-interest get in the way of seeing clearly. Life in its very nature is fragile yet strong; it appears unpredictable or essentially sad only from a personal vantage point. If there is a way to hope that is outside individual concerns, that is for all of life, that is what I hope for.


Leave a Comment

YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.