Have you ever hoped for something so hard that it hurt? Maybe you wanted a toy as a kid, a party invitation as a teen, a job offer as an adult. Or perhaps, like me, maybe you were hoping to heal an important relationship.
This kind of hard-hoping physically knots your stomach, churns your insides, and pulls on so many of your emotions it feels like you a never ending ride on a rickety old merry-go-round. This kind of hope is all-consuming.
For people like me living with ambiguous grief, hope gets in the way. Losing someone you love, but not to death, is tricky.
For a solid 8 months after the discovery of my (now ex) husband’s double life, I stood firm in my commitment to understand why he did what he did, and like a dutiful wife, get him the professional help he needed. I hoped that therapy/medicine/meditation/treatment would solve the riddle of WHY, and we could then get on track for healing him*. My hope was that he would do the hard work required to find answers, to understand his hurtful and damaging actions, and “return” to the man he once was. So, knowing he was the only one who could do his piece, and armed with the (wrong) belief that ‘If I didn’t help him, who would?’, I waited and I hoped.
I hoped and hoped and hoped.
For those who lose a loved one to death, hope for a reunion on earth is gone. Grievers by death aren’t waiting for their loved one to call and announce they are seeking treatment, or waiting for grand gestures of apology and working toward amends.
But that’s exactly what makes ambiguous grief so tricky.
Without a physical death, hope remains.
In observing my own behavior during this time, I noticed something: the more I focused hope on him, the faster that rickety, old merry-go-round spun. Then, I would hop off and take a break. Then with a running start, I’d hop back on. Until I had to jump off, again. This is the dysfunctional cycle of hope.
As my cycle breaks grew longer and longer, I realized that it was during this time that I focused on myself. I was just too exhausted and drained to focus my hope on him and his healing, something I realized I had no control over.
I used these breaks like a nap, recharging for what comes next. It was during this time, that I practiced hoping for my future as a single mother.
I took inventory of my life and my interests.
How can I best care for my children?
What are my passions?
What are my gifts?
How can I be of service to others?
How did I want to define my life moving forward?
The time and energy I spent hoping for me changed everything.
Every. Single. Thing.
I was able to detach from the hope of any resolved relationship, to see my marriage for what is was, and even for what it wasn’t (but I thought it was), and to begin to stand on my own again. I didn’t “give up” on hope for him and his healing, I made a conscious decision to stop hoping in his direction.
But, hope is persnickety and would still make surprise drop-ins. When that would happen, I would acknowledge it, and then use mental imagery to move that hope to a box I keep tucked away in the attic of my mind. Then, immediately, I would envision a hope I have for myself, sit with it a moment, and then move on with my day.
Hope keeps us going. But it’s dangerous because sometimes, it shouldn’t. Not when it’s misdirected, and especially not when it’s been misdirected for so long that the rickety old merry-go-round begins to rust. That’s a huge sign that it’s time to hop off. I am so glad I did.
Now, my hope is for my healing, for my post-traumatic growth, and the beautiful and (God willing) long life I have in front of me.
*My friend Catherine wrote a beautiful piece on “The Big Why“. She’s also started a gifting service for those wanting to send comfort to their loved ones in grief. You can check out both here: