Serving Greater Vancouver & the Fraser Valley

Surprised by hope

by Sharon Simpson

It’s spring again and the sunshine after months of grey has done some good to the spirit.The crocuses are peaking through the ground and there are daffodils on the table in a vase. It’s time, again, for the beauty of newness to touch our hearts and our spirits. There is hope.

Our spirits are lifted – we sigh and let the warmth sink in, reminded that there will be better and warmer days ahead.

We use the term “a ray of hope” to describe the small amount of hope or happiness that can happen in a difficult situation.

I was commiserating with an older friend about how the market prices in our part of the world will likely exclude the next generation from owning a home.

My friend told me about how his father-in-law grilled him with questions before he began his life with his wife. In the 1970’s, I was shocked to hear, her income as a full-time teacher did not qualify as stable income for their mortgage approval. The banker told them that she will likely have babies and the income could not be counted on. They barely qualified for the $13,000 loan. He laughed.You can’t even buy a new car for that today.

His father-in-law was worried that his job as a blue-collar worker and his recent purchase of a flashy car (misplaced priorities, said the father-in-law) would land his daughter in lifelong poverty. This was not the case. They found their way. My friend assured me that the next generation will make their way and that it isn’t helpful to worry or instill in them a hopelessness for their future.

Reading CS Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, I love the idea that God unexpectedly meets our spirits and shows Himself in our lives. In this book, CS Lewis describes his faith journey from atheism to theism to Christianity with the underlying theme that this took him by surprise and that it brought him joy.

Although hope can be more of a stable foundation with a fixed focus on a long-away outcome, it can also take us by surprise. Surprised by hope.

I know many elderly seniors whose lives have been grounded in their faith in Jesus Christ, His death, resurrection and promise of return. I know many seniors who have suffered in life through unexpected loss, unfulfilled desires and sorrows that inalterably changed them. Through all of these challenges, they find a continued comfort and peace in their relationship with Jesus Christ. These seniors know a hope that is existential –a hope that is not anchored in this life and its outcomes. They know a hope that is anchored in the hope of an eternal life.

And still, even the faithful need a glimmer of hope, a flicker of what is not seen. They need to know that someone cares and that the future can be better.

When families are walking the path of dementia, they can experience incredible levels of hopelessness. Some of this comes from the slow loss of the person they know. Some of it comes from unexpected behaviours. Some from the overwhelming amount of work it takes to support a person living with dementia. Some of it comes from sheer exhaustion.

We meet these families everyday as they seek support and help from our seniors campus of care.

Discovering that there are supports available for their loved one is a glimmer of hope that life could be better. We share with them a roadmap for dementia. The knowledge and confidence of our care teams brings hope.

Many families come to our campus of care with the determination that their loved one would never live in a care home. They feel both desperate for support and forced into a decision that they would prefer never to make. They are not usually meeting with us by choice. It is desperation mixed with exhaustion and grief, frustration and anger.

The process of living with any kind of chronic illness or disorder is a journey of both loss and acceptance. This is true for anyone who is diagnosed with dementia or who lives with an incurable illness. Families rally for a time and then they find themselves exhausted. For some, this can mean years of caregiving for their loved one.

When they arrive at our campus of care, we welcome them with understanding hearts and kindness. Can there be hope in the middle of such chaos, exhaustion and sorrow? How can a faithful spouse or child release their loved one to a care home? Touring through the home shows the family the full spectrum of how dementia impacts the lives of those who live with it. Some are walking, some are talking, some are in wheelchairs and some are no longer responding. Many family members cry. There is deep sadness in this journey. Six weeks after the family brings their loved one to our care home, we give them a call to check in on how they are doing – and how we did in helping them adjust to this new way of living.

Many families say  they are surprised. Well, they don’t use those words. They say that they didn’t expect their loved one to adjust so readily. They say that they are encouraged by the commitment and care of the staff for their loved one. They say that they are grateful that they can go back to being the spouse or child, no longer the primary care giver. Their spirits lift and their energies are directed toward the person they love and directed away from getting them up and running each day.

I think of one daughter whose grief was intense at bringing her mother to our care home and her father to assisted living. She felt guilty but she couldn’t do it alone anymore. As time passed and she became familiar with her mom’s daily routine, we would catch this daughter bringing her kindnesses to all of her mother’s new friends. There were fresh flowers on their table each day. She brought in blankets and fixed their hair. She laughed and listened and told stories. She smiled and was kind. She is a sunny day and her rays of hope warmed the spirits of all who were caught in her path.

I have learned from her what it is to be loyal, faithful, generous and kind. She has learned to release the care of her parents into the hands of the care teams and to find her way to be a ray of hope to her dad now that her mom has passed away.

Until we need the safety net of a care team, until we adjust to the reality of dementia, until we get rested again, we need a glimmer of hope, – and we can be surprised by hope, even at a care home.

Sharon Simpson is the director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement

at Menno Home in Abbotsford, BC.

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