Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you will have heard Oprah Winfrey’s phenomenal acceptance speech for her thoroughly well-deserved Golden Globe Cecil B.DeMille award.
So many parts of Oprah’s speech resonated with me, particularly the part when she spoke of those “people who have withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you.”
She said the one quality all those people share is “an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights.”
What overwhelmed me, as I cried with my bestie during a particularly tough day, was the friends who tagged me in their share of that post on social media, or messaged me saying they thought of me when they heard the speech.
While there are many in this world who have endured days far uglier than mine, I have finally come to a place where I can sit in the discomfort of what life has thrown at me in recent years. It is after all, my truth.
While I was single-parenting my, at times medically volatile, baby, my 35-year-old sister was diagnosed with stage four terminal bowel cancer. The world of my family and everyone close to my sister was turned upside down and inside out.
It was 2010, and living in a state of positivity had become very popular. If you believe in something without any doubt, you can make it happen, right? Think positively and it will all work out, right? Everything happens for a reason, right? If someone really wants to beat cancer, they will, right?
Karma? I know for certain my son did not do anything to deserve the health challenges he has endured. I’ve wracked my brain thinking back to everything I’ve done in my life wondering why karma has thrown such challenges at me. I know for certain my extraordinary sister did not do anything to deserve the relentless cancer she fought with her absolute everything. She was determined to beat it.
Karma? I call bullshit.
Listen: Sometimes, it’s beneficial to structure our grief. Robin Bailey and Bec Sparrow of The Well explain. (Post continues after audio…)
So, when life is throwing obstacles at you, how can you possibly manage to maintain hope? I think for all of us who have lived with this daily battle, it is different. It is different because we all have our own unique histories and life experiences that mean we have different coping mechanisms.
The tight circle I have in my world, who have let me have my bad moments, have become my rocks. They are the people who hold me up when I don’t think I can go on. They are the people who remind me of what I have come through, and the ones who let me ‘ugly cry’ when I need to. They have been around me long enough to know that the ‘ugly cry’ is a short time of release that I need to then move on to the ‘getting back up’ state I more regularly reside in.
Sometimes it’s the tiniest things that keep me going. There have been many a day when quite literally the one productive thing I manage to do is have a shower.
The reason I keep getting up each day is also why I'm constantly in a sleep-deprived, stomach-always-in-a-knot state. My son. Whether I want to get up or not, I haven’t had a choice not to. I’ve been on my own with him since he was five weeks old. It’s only ever been the two of us. I don’t know what it’s like to have someone to rely on, to give me a break when I am at my wit's end in the darkest of times. There’s been no one to ‘tap-in’ so I can take a moment to breathe. He needed me to be okay, even when I wasn’t. So while the pressure of that felt insurmountable at times, I had to find a way.
I have relied heavily on my dreams, unsure how they will ever come true, but knowing that keeping the hope alive was all I had. As my son’s nightlight would fill the ceiling with stars, I would dream of the future we might have together when all this sickness and stress was not part of our every day.
But I also knew that in the meantime, I had to find the small joys to appreciate.
Easier said than done, but finding those little things to get through a day are the things I grab onto with both hands. Feeling sand between my toes always helps, getting my son outside always grounds both of us. A coffee and some banter with the guys at my local cafe, an all too familiar escape from what were sometimes very dark days with no other conversation with another adult.
Caring for a sick child on your own doesn’t exactly lend itself to an active social life, or the ability for a telephone conversation.
I learned to say yes to help. During a five-day stint in isolation in hospital, I was blown away with the food drops, magazine deliveries and care given to me by those in my world. These people will stay in my heart forever. The silver lining to this particular terrifying time, where the first night saw me nearly lose my son, was that the isolation meant there was a bathroom in my son’s room and I didn’t have to leave him in order to relieve myself.
If you’ve ever had a child in hospital, you will know how extraordinarily lonely and exhausting it is. You can’t even drink hot drinks in paediatric wards, so no coffee. Everything is almost impossible, like eating and going to the bathroom.
When we arrived home from that hospital stay, a mum I knew from the gym arrived at my door. She arrived with goodies for Isaac and an insistence that I disappear for a couple of hours to have some time to myself; go to the gym, sit and have a coffee and a bite to eat, breathe. I cried, hugged her, and left. People like this keep hope alive when you are running on empty.
It takes a village, and I am forever grateful for mine.
I don’t think you need to be a parent to feel this way. We all have our stuff. We all have our reasons to want to hide from the world and have the need to find our way through.
If I had to give my top five tips on how to maintain hope when it’s all too damn hard, they'd be:
1. Get outside and get grounded.
Whether your happy place is in the sand, or in the garden, in the sun or in the rain, get there and breathe it in. For me, salt water therapy moves mountains, even if it’s just ankle deep in the ocean, there’s something about salt water that grounds me.
2. Spend time with someone who lifts you.
This is not the time for toxic people.
Exercise really helps. I know, annoying. If you’re trapped at home with a sick child, this may mean walking lunges carrying your child. Star jumps. Dancing in your pyjamas, possibly to the Trolls soundtrack. Stretch. If nothing else, spend a few minutes stretching and breathing.
4. Don’t lose sight of your dreams, keep the dream alive.
Whatever you’re going through, whether it be good or bad, it will pass. Let it. Dream big, dreams come true… well, I’ve seen them come true for others, so why not us too?
5. Be kind and gentle to yourself.
Be your own friend. No more judging, it’s exhausting and pointless. Seriously, let it go and just be kinder to yourself.
Remember, you are not alone, and as difficult as it may be to believe right now, our best days just might not have even happened yet … and that never fails to give me hope.
Listen: Robin Bailey and Bec Sparrow examine grief: the situations from which it arises, how we manage it, and how it can affect our kids.
How did you get through the toughest time of your life? Let us know in the comments...