How do you think you’d feel, facing death? 3 out of 4 of us will die on a predictable trajectory… poor health, ageing, diagnosis all leading to the inevitable. What role does hope play in facing death?
Libby Milton, palliative care nurse from Glasgow’s Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice shares her thoughts on Hope.
We use the word hope very easily and often; “I hope you’re feeling better.” But maybe we don’t stop to think of the depth of meaning in the word.
Hope is a very powerful driving force behind all sorts of feelings and behaviours; none more so than when facing a terminal illness.
I work in the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice, as a palliative care nurse. For many years I have worked with and supported people as they wrestle with the losses they face as they become less well and begin to recognise that life is short.
Hope is a central theme to the work of a Hospice; indeed those puzzlers amongst you will spot the word “Hope” is contained within the word “Hospice”.
There are three things I want to say about hope:
- Hope is entirely personal, and entirely fluid. By this I mean that the hopes of one person will not be the same as those of another, and will not stay the same over time. As a palliative care nurse, I would ask someone “what are you hoping for?” and then help them work through their feelings about these hopes. Some hopes are small, others are enormous, but they are an important driving force within an individual. Sometimes people need some help in pinning their hopes down, or perhaps saying them out loud: sometimes people need help in trying to accept that a particular hope will not be achieved. But there is always hope. Part of the process of moving towards an acceptance that life is short is about the shifting of hope; perhaps from cure to care, perhaps from years to months, perhaps from distress to peace.
- The opposite of hope is despair. This may be a crushing force, destined to bring us to a place where the world feels black. Some of our fears can be addressed or minimsed, others can only be acknowledged and accompanied. But it is my firm belief that some hope can always be added back into the picture, to rebalance, to reframe, to give strength and purpose. This may be through faith, through acts of support, or may simply be the connection of one human being to another.
- All this exploring is not easy. It’s sometimes hardest to do with those closest to you. If these deep issues are left unexplored and misunderstood, they can lead to a level of distress that overwhelm and make it difficult to find peace. This may be when an ‘outsider’ can help bring empathy and compassion.
And this would be my hope. That all those who are experiencing despair would find some small measure of comfort, some opportunity for grace and peace to break through, some hope to hang on to.
This may be through talking, through being in nature, through the love and support of friends and family, through art or music, good food and drink, through making precious memories and momentos to leave behind.
All of this is what the Hospice can do to bring hope. It’s not a service to be scared of, it is there for you to make use of.