by Ann Brandt
The dictionary defines hope as “desire accompanied by expectation.” But hope is much more than that — it is the essential ingredient that holds the soul together. That sentence has run through my mind more than once as I witness the suffering of others and endure spells of suffering myself.
Hope is delivered, I have learned, in many different forms. When my husband was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, we both needed hope as never before. Brain disease can be especially cruel, rendering a person unable to speak or understand language. Such a condition is called aphasia. He had suffered focal seizure, that is, a seizure in which he did not fall to the ground but lost his sense of being and fell into a brief trance. MRI, biopsy, and hospitalization followed in rapid succession, leaving both of us shocked and terrified.
That fall we expected to celebrate our 45th anniversary. I worried, Will he be here for that event? My mind refused to accept the possibility that I would soon be a widow, but my heart could not find anything to hope for. Then we received our gift of hope.
A man from our church, whom we barely knew beyond brief greetings over coffee after services, walked into the hospital room and changed our lives forever. He brought a small Bible and laid it on the bedside table. “This is for later, when you feel like reading,” he said.
We chatted for a while, becoming more acquainted. “You know,” he said, “my cousin had a brain tumor like yours seven years ago.”
My husband and I exchanged glances. “How long did she live?”
“Oh, she’s still alive. She loves to travel, and she’s on a tour in China right now.”
When our visitor closed the door behind him, he left more than that Bible on the table. He left us with the courage to face whatever lay before us. We knew God was in charge of our journey and would help every step of the way.
After my husband’s recovery and adjustment to being a survivor, we both became messengers of hope. After all, when one is given a gift, the idea is to share. We’ve seen the looks on people’s faces when hope is offered. Sitting one day at the bedside of a man who had been given a grim prognosis, we asked if he had called a cancer hotline that he might speak with a survivor of that type of cancer. At the word survivor, the man appeared suddenly changed. The deep lines in his face seemed to disappear, a faint smile teased the corner of his mouth, and his eyes lost the blank stare of moments before. His wife, sitting on the side of the bed, seemed to shake off the exhaustion I’ve seen on caregivers and doubtless exhibited myself years before. Then the question came as the gift was offered: “Did you say ‘survivor’?”
However, not everyone who receives the gift of hope recovers from a life-threatening disease or accident. We once participated in a prayer for a man with end-stage cancer. His mood was black, and his heart was filled with bitterness. I felt the tension under my fingers as I placed my hand on his shoulder. We asked God to give him a peaceful soul in those last days. I was told the man died with a smile on his face.
I have reached the conclusion that God expects us to share hope as one would share food with people who are hungry. My husband and I continue to attend the brain tumor support group we joined years ago in our quest for something that would give us hope. Years later, we now welcome newcomers to the group. When the group facilitator asks everyone to share their stories, we watch looks of confusion and despair vanish. Sometimes gravely ill people want to talk, trying to create order in their minds and hearts as they sort out their thoughts and emotions. By gaining affirmation and accepting those thoughts and feelings, people can become hopeful. I believe when that step is achieved, God does His best work.
Ann Brandt lives in Broomfield, Colo. Her latest book is A Caregiver’s Story: Coping with a Loved One’s Life-Threatening Illness, iuniverse, December 2007.
This article originally appeared in the December, 2008 issue of Mature Living. Subscribe