T he short answer from the myriad speakers and panelists of Open to Hope’s virtual conference entitled Finding Hope During Uncertain Times on June 22, 2020, was a definitive yes. The largest virtual gathering on the grief experience attracted 3000 people to come together during this extraordinary time of a global pandemic. Hosted by Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley, the event speakers were leaders in the grief arena from diverse backgrounds. The common ground they shared was the battlefield of intense sorrow, anger,and despair they inhabited after a devastating loss. Having emerged out of their brokenness into a new wholeness, they were now one in their desire to be a community of support for the bereaved. Several panelists offered a heartfelt invitation to lean on them for hope, because what mattered in the chaos after loss was to grab on to life, to cling tightly to those who had found hope. (In this respect our Kara volunteers are truly lifelines for their clients.).
The participants stressed that there was no way one can bypass the pain, but there were many ways to honor a loved one’s memory to mitigate the suffering. The keynote speaker, Dr. Ken Druck, proposed that ensuring their own survival was the griever’s first step in honoring the person who died. It was affirmed repeatedly that everyone’s journey was different and unique, that there were no boundaries in the realm of emotions arising from grief, and there was no timetable for “getting over” the pain. And each of them highlighted the value and necessity of self care. As Michele Neff Hernandez explained, “emotional experience blocks the body’s physical cues” which can lead to the neglect of one’s health and well-being.
Their concern for each person in the throes of grief was palpable. It was clothed in the encouragement that echoed throughout the day — to give their hurting selves the soothing gifts of kindness, patience, and compassion.
Having lived through the agonizing experience of life-changing loss, the speakers might have harbored sentiments akin to those of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke who offered this guidance to a young poet he was mentoring:
… I should like to ask you, as best as I can…to be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future.
The storytelling throughout the conference evoked a sense of wonder about the multilayered uniqueness of each speaker’s journey. And it seemed to imply that life’s mystery was embodied in the learning and wisdom gained. For it was this inner knowing that finally transformed their grief, opened their hearts, and led them to create a legacy of service in honor of their loved one. For the bereaved, the Open to Hope gathering may have lighted a path to a better day.