Finding Hope

What is the definition of hope? A noun – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Similar words are desire, wish, dream, plan. Verb – to want something to happen to be the case.

What are the qualities of hope?

Research indicates that the protypical high-hope person appears to exhibit optimism, perceptions of control over one's life, perceived problem-solving ability, a preference for competition (but not winning itself), high self-esteem, and positive affectivity.

Wow. I lost my brother to suicide ten years ago. It was a very public death as he had been running for Commonwealth Attorney in Henrico and was a well know attorney.

I can honestly tell you after he died, I had no hope. I was just keeping my head above water trying to raise three kids under ten who just had the rug pulled out from them, not to mention my parents who had lost their only son. A perception to have one’s life in control? Definitely not. Optimism, no way.

It wasn’t until I collapsed in my son’s lower school guidance counselor’s office a puddle of tears and pain that she said to me, “Shannon, it’s hard to believe right now, but you will find hope and joy again. I want you to know that. I did not believe her right away. I asked how is that possible? She simply told me that it was possible and to believe in that. And I did. I started trying. I am thankful every day for that conversation, and I am here today to tell you that no matter where you are on your suicide loss journey that you too can believe in hope and joy. It will be yours again. It takes time.

So where have I found hope? As a family we were very blessed and cursed to have a public death. There was not where to hide but so many people reached out to us with support. Not everyone has that so I found hope there and felt very lucky for it.

I find hope daily in signs that I see. Not everyone believes in signs, but I encourage you to look for them. The veil between life and death is very thin and I personally believe our loved ones are constantly trying to show us that they are with us all of the time. For me, I find hope when I find dimes in strange places, when my pair of cardinals shows up while I am having coffee. When a hawk circles over me when I am thinking about my brother. Hope lives in all of these places.

I am sure you have heard of the five stages of grief. If you have not yet, pick up the book by that name by David Kessler and Elizabeth Kubler Ross. It was a life saver for me and gave me lots of hope. Recently, a sixth stage of grief was identified and it is where I have found the most hope after losing my brother and this stage is called finding meaning.

Finding meaning can mean different things for different people. For me it was in acts of service. I thankfully met Shirley Ramsey years ago and if anyone can inspire hope after suicide loss it is her. She got me involved in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and became a friend.

I participated in my first Out of the Darkness walk at Virginia Beach and then the following year in Richmond. I could not believe the thousands of people in the park had suffered the same type of loss that I had and knew the pain I had been through. It was oddly a great comfort. I choose my survivor beads for the loss of a brother and looked around for people like me and found them.

I joined the board of AFSP and got involved in advocacy and fundraising. I ran a golf tournament and advocated in DC on Capital Hill for suicide prevention and more mental health funding.

This was so hopeful for me. I found a way to use my tragedy of pain and suffering and to turn it into hope.

Now this is not for everyone. It was a lot of work! But right now, just choose to say, I will try and find hope. Trust that the universe will hear you and it will find you.

Just being here today at this International Day for suicide survivors is an act of hope. Perhaps it’s your first step. Maybe you have found it helpful and come every year. Unfortunately, we are all a part of this club of survivors that no one wanted to join. But the good news is that we have each other. There is a lot of hope here. And if you haven’t found it yet, that’s okay too.

I’d like to close with a poem on hope by Emily Dickinson.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

God bless all of you for being here today and I am hopeful for you that you too will find hope.