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'I've been estranged from my child for 9 years. Here’s how I put aside hope without giving up.'

"When hope dies, action begins." — Derrick Jensen

I have been without my youngest daughter in my life for over nine years, and I know a thing or two about hope. When a beloved child removes themselves from our lives there is an avalanche of emotions — grief, bewilderment and shame. 

Beneath all these there is always hope that our child will return to our lives. We are suddenly living in a space of waiting that is filled with desperate hope. It feels like hope is all we have.

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The thing is, hope can be like being locked in a room when someone else has the key — someone who has walked off with it and may or may not ever come back. So we have to make a choice. Remain a prisoner to hope, or set ourselves free and move on with our lives.

I spent the first few years of estrangement writing letters, emails and sending gifts — then waiting for a reply. I was so hopeful. I always thought, "This time. This is the time. This will be the thing that opens the door." The anguish of hearing nothing back was too much to bear.

So, finally, I gave up on hope. That does not mean I have given up on my daughter or the possibility of a reconciliation. What it does mean is that I replaced hope with a willingness to accept my experience as it is. Hope required that I want things to be different. Acceptance enables me to relax into what is.

Michael Schreiner, a Seattle-based counselor, and the founder of Evolution Counseling, writes, "It’s easy to confuse the idea of mindful acceptance with unhealthy states of being, like giving up, complacency, or settling for less."

I have had quite a few parents react with horror to my stories of how I have reclaimed my life, expressing disbelief that I could "give up" on my relationship with my daughter. It seems to them that by moving on, I am saying I either don’t care, or don’t want my daughter to come back.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

But after several years of hoping and praying for a return and reconciliation, I discovered that hope is exhausting. There is a weight to hope that becomes a burden to carry after a while. Hope, very often, depends on the action of someone else. Hope relies on circumstances beyond our control to suddenly turn in our favour. There is very little within our control in hope.

In his article The Problem With Hope Michael Schreiner, says, "Everyone knows despair is a dangerous thing, but hope can be just as dangerous, it’s really just despair in disguise, since if the hoped for circumstances don’t appear, then sooner or later that hope will dissipate and despair will take its place."

When we hope for something to happen, with the expectation that we will be happy when it does, it prevents us from being happy in the present. Expectations are often at the core of our pain, and hope is an expectation for something to happen the way we have imagined it. The problem is, many times we are disappointed.

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When we hope for something for a long time and it does not happen, we begin to despair. This plunges us deeper into the abyss of pain. Wanting my daughter to reach out, answer my letters and emails, call me, or show up at my door was exhausting. Each time I hoped, and was disappointed, I became more and more despondent.

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When I finally realised that the hope was at the root of much of my pain, I conceded to the reality that I was living with. I had no choice but to accept that this was my new truth, and I had no power to change it.

Choosing to accept that I may not see my daughter again is painful, but as my mind gets used to the idea, I am able to shape a life around the reality I am living with now, instead of trying to build it around a hope for something that may never happen.

By letting go of hope, it forced me to start looking at myself and assessing what I need to do to change and grow, healing myself. I am doing the work to make a different life — one that does not include my daughter for now. Letting go of hope does not mean shutting down, or closing the door. I am open to life’s possibilities. 

I know that things can happen that we never anticipate (like estrangement) so it stands to reason that a reconciliation could happen one day. I am staying open to that. But I am not putting any energy into clinging to it. I am just allowing it to exist as a possibility while I go about my life.

I understand that you may be objecting to this idea. I get it. We reach a point where it feels like hope is all we have left and we cling to it like a lifeboat. We are afraid if we lose hope we will drown in the sorrow. But the hope can keep us trapped in a perpetual sense of loss. Letting it go can open space for something better.

Reach out to your child if they will let you. Never give up on them or your relationship, but hold loosely to your expectations. "Don’t overhope" as someone I love likes to say.

But, if they will not allow any contact, acceptance is the only way to go. Be open to the possibilities, but don’t put your life on hold until your child returns to your life. Live while you can and welcome them back with rejoicing should they return. 

You can live a full and happy life, but first you may need to let go of hope and replace it with acceptance. It is a balancing act that every estranged parent has to learn for themselves. It isn’t easy, but choosing acceptance will free you up to get on with your life.

Feature Image: Getty. The feature image used is a stock image.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

Beth Bruno wrote her first story when she was eight years old. She has been writing about life and all its complexities ever since. She keeps thinking that one day she will get it all figured out. She writes about relationships, mindfulness, mental health and things she sees out her window. She loves hanging out with her adult children and grandchildren, gardening, raising chickens and camping on uninhabited islands. You can follow her on  Medium here and Facebook here.

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