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Finding Hope During COVID-19

Rev. Dr. Paul Peters Derry
Clinical Service Lead, Spiritual Health

Dr. Susy Santos
Director of Health Innovation

Remember that commercial where a young father points to his newborn child as his reason for quitting smoking?  The commercial ends with the tagline: “Every why needs a how…”   It’s a great line: the baby is the why, the smoking cessation product is the how. 

The reverse is also true.  Every how needs a why.  Actions are most successful when we know and understand why we are doing them and what we hope to achieve.  As we seek hope, meaning, and purpose during COVID-19, it’s helpful to think about why we need hope, what we expect from it, and even what we are hoping for.

We can agree that hope is “a feeling of expectation” and a “desire for a certain thing to happen.” Why do we go in search of hope?  It provides motivation for facing the variety of challenges we are encounter.  We look for hope to support us as we deal with threats of economic instability, social isolation, reduced access to services, and other challenging impacts on our lives.  Hope is “an optimistic state of mind”, but amid a global pandemic, hope can be an increasingly scarce resource. 

 Life will not soon return to normal – whatever that means – or the way things used to be, at least not anytime soon  The COVID-19 virus will not, as some might proclaim, “simply disappear.”  A vaccine is not on the immediate horizon.  Perhaps grudgingly, we accepted visiting restrictions, the need for physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) as temporary measures.  Thinking about incorporating those things into our lives for a prolonged period is unwelcome news and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. 

Perhaps we might look for it along other pathways. 

During the SARS outbreak, patients, family members and health professionals were interviewed as part of a research project examining their experience of persevering through such a difficult time.  Bearing witness to suffering was a common element.  There was what one described as a feeling of “smothering connectedness.”  A healthcare worker reported “feeling relieved, optimistic and free when precautions relaxed.”  A family member referenced “welcoming kindness, patience and humor.”   A patient expressed appreciation for “the compassion of doctors, nurses and technicians.”

Even amid the worst and most difficult, kindness and optimism took root, and grew.

Several months back, with a patient asking for “Last Rites,” visiting restrictions meant that since the individual was not “imminently dying,” this request could not be accommodated. Instead, arrangements were made for the priest to offer a ritual during a “virtual” visit.  With the right technology, out-of-province family members joined in the experience, deepening the meaning of the intervention. From disappointment, even of despair, came an unexpected but sacred experience. 

COVID-19 has shattered assumed notions of safety and security.  It also offers new possibilities as we take time to listen to each other’s stories, experiences, and frustrations.  This kind of compassion-filled intervention helps restore a sense of balance for care-receivers as well as caregivers.  Caring for each other during these trialing times replenishes reservoirs of hope.

In our search for hope, it is worthwhile taking time to understand why we are looking for it.  When contemplating how we are going to find it, be open to find discovering it in unexpected places.  Especially at a healthcare facility whose tagline is “Small Hospital.  Big Heart.  Clear Vision.”