Hope and serious illness

Submitted on Wednesday January 11th, 2012

In the context of serious illness, one's greatest fear is that the condition will be fatal. Feelings of hopelessness are common-and a life without hope is grim indeed. The challenge of terminal illness is to learn to live with dying, to find purpose and meaning even in the face of a limited future. Without purpose, you risk the death of emotions while you are still alive. Even if a condition is incurable, it is possible to have hope. It's simply that your definition of hope must change.

With terminal illness, a person's focus shifts from long-term goals to the here and now. You may have noticed how the characteristics of hope have been changing. Before the diagnosis, you might have hoped you had a simple problem that might even go away. After the diagnosis you might have hoped for a cure. As time progresses, and if a cure appears unlikely, the nature of your hopes will continue to change. You might instead hope to survive to see a grandchild born, attend a wedding, or be visited by a sibling. You may look forward to a favorite food or hope for a day with energy or a day without pain.

Along with this shift in the quality of hope, many people with terminal illness describe a renewed sense of appreciation of life and its simple pleasures. As such, you may find joy in a sunset and hope for a resplendent display at day's end. You may hope for the birds to come play in the bird bath or for the chance to listen to a favorite, soothing piece of music. As you learn to live with dying, you are given the opportunity to become more fully alive in the present moment. You may come to measure your days in terms of the quality of life rather than its quantity.