When the Greek gods created the earth they kept, captured in a box, all the grievous ills and ailments that could afflict us humans. You remember the story…about Pandora, to whom the gods gave the box for safe keeping. And you remember how curious Pandora opened the box thereby releasing all the ills and evils upon the world.
Poor Pandora collapsed into a guilt-anguished puddle on the floor next to the box from which she had just released all those horribles. As she slumped, she closed the lid, but too late.
I bet you don’t remember “the rest of the story.” Here it is.
As Pandora lay there, she heard from within the box a soft buzzing sound coming from the now closed box. She was, remarkably, still curious, even in her dreadful anguish. But she had learned. Yet the buzzing continued.
Should she open the box? Would you?
And as her eyes rose above the walls of the box she saw, buzzing in the corner, Hope, the last gift of the gods.
Without Hope we are in shambles.
But when we’re well, and okay, and feeling good we don’t notice Hope. We take Hope for granted.
And when we’re well and feeling good but with someone who isn’t so well or feeling so good we forget that their Hope is different from ours. Listen to the changing Hope of an ailing person: “I hope nothing’s really wrong; I hope the doctor can tell me what’s wrong; I hope the doctor can fix me or can aid me in my responsibility to regain the most health I can; I hope the next ‘cure’ works; I hope I won’t be in too much pain; I hope I won’t be a burden to others; I hope I can keep being myself; I hope I can die peacefully; I hope to die.”
“You should never take away hope,” goes the maxim. That’s right. But Hope doesn’t desert a patient no matter what we say. She just changes in a never-ending, often slowing, intimate dance of life…and, finally, death.
Hope accompanies us from the cradle to the grave. She helps us accept life and death. She teaches us that life is good and death can be good.
When in counsel with an ailing fellow human, match your hope with the patient’s. Let the patient know that Spring follows Winter. And don’t deny Winter. Winter isn’t without Hope. Winter dies that Spring may live. Every beginning requires an ending.
Be careful to match your hope for the patient with the patient’s hope for self. And when a patient is ready to die be careful not to foist false hope, a hope projected from a well person onto a very sick one. It’s hard to allow hope to change from cure to termination. Freud said we can’t really imagine our own death because it’s so foreign. It’s also hard to imagine the death of another…and to imagine that they could actually desire it. Ernest Becker wrote a most challenging and rewarding, Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, on this subject. It is “must” reading.
Refer terminally ill persons to Hospice.
Hospice’s middle name is Hope (HOsPicE). They’re ready to serve the sick (hoSpICe). Hospice is “Hope for the sick.” Hospice matches sick people with their Hope, especially if their Hope is to die at home.
Read about the author, Dr. Rob Neils