The fear and anxiety that attend declining health, or the imminent prospect of death, can tend to obscure our awareness of the many good things that do remain present and achievable in our lives. This can cause us to lose sight of hope. We feel that all is lost.
But all is not lost as long as there is life. This is why it is imperative that those who face declining heath, old age or imminent death don’t reduce hope down to a medical cure achieved by medical intervention. Medicine offers us many extraordinary life-enriching benefits, but medicine cannot become the sole arbiter of life’s meaning or hope’s solidity.
A fully human response requires psychological, social and spiritual resources that will help us to identify and nurture the many good things that remain, and set achievable goals that will keep hope alive. As psychology professor David Feldman argues, “Hopelessness is not the absence of hope, but an attachment to a form of hope that is lost.” While it is crucial that we be allowed to grieve the loss of certain hopes and dreams, we cannot succumb to despair by casting aside the many beauties that remain. We must refocus our goals on the good that remains. In a word, we must re-goal to save hope.
This process of re-goaling requires us to identify especially those indelible goods that remain to the very end of life – and beyond physical death – regardless of what other goods have been lost. Good end of life care, and advance planning, must resist the seemingly irresistible force of medical culture to reduce one’s sources of hope to purely medical categories; to “the cure.”
Among those enduring human goods can be found such things as:
- The dignity and sacredness of every life;
- A sense of meaning and purpose in the midst of human suffering and tragedy;
- The enduring freedom to love and be loved;
- The right to a community of support and care; or
- Belief in a provident God’s compassion who promises to be with us in the darkness and opens the hope of a life beyond death.
Hope’s anchors are only as secure as the foundations they are set in. As long as purpose and meaning remain in life, there is hope.
Tom Neal, PhD is Academic Dean and professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and author of the popular blog Neal Obstat.
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