Can We Maintain Hope Even in the Darkest of Times? Written by Dr Linda Berman.



“To live without hope is to cease to live.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky


Promissory Note.

If I die before you

which is all but certain

then in the moment

before you will see me

become someone dead

in a transformation

as quick as a shooting star’s

I will cross over into you

and ask you to carry

not only your own memories

but mine too until you

too lie down and erase us

both together into oblivion.

Galway Kinnell.

The poet above, in an intense and powerful few lines, assures his lover that he will become a part of her after death, if she will be prepared to carry both their memories through the life she has left.

There is a powerful hope here, that he will live on inside her, that he will not be obliterated through death.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Hope in Palliative Care


“Someone told me today that I “take care of dying people”

Nope, I take care of people.

Living people.

‘Cause every breath is a moment of life.

Filled with hope, purpose and meaning.

And the dignity to respect that.”

Adam B. Hill. M.D. (Twitter)

How is it possible to have hope when there is terminal illness? Can it be maintained, even in the darkest of times?

When there is no hope of a cure, what hope is left?

Many people may then move on to hope that the time they have left will be as good as it can be:

“If it becomes clear that there is no cure, your hope may shift to living the rest of your life as well as possible. There is the hope to love and be loved, to feel good about the life you have lived, and to live in the present moment with satisfaction and a measure of peace.” (Horst.)

The psychotherapist Yalom, in his book ‘Staring At The Sun,’ discussed in my previous two blog posts, makes the important point that a cancer diagnosis may make people more appreciative of their life.

He has witnessed people in this situation feeling more able to communicate with the important people in their life, more appreciative of the world around them, less concerned about being rejected by others and more compassionate.

In addition, he talks of a terminally ill woman who felt she could give her children and friends a courageous and dignified model of how to die.

Near to death, she still felt she had something of great importance to offer others.

Yalom thus emphasises  that there can be hope in life, no matter how late on it might be in that life:

‘Many times I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see a patient make substantial positive changes very late in life, even close to death. It’s never too late. You’re never too old.”



Symbols of Hope

Hope has many symbols, which may be comforting in difficult times.

The open door or gate



The bird of hope. (Hope is the thing with feathers….)


Hope as a light or candle:

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Desmond Tutu



Hope and the Anchor 

Another symbol of hope is the anchor, which expresses a sense of security, groundedness, safety and steadiness.

The anchor symbol is often used in religious contexts in relation to hope and the soul being saved. (“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. “Hebrews 6:18-19.)

“Hope holds you fast like an anchor so you don’t give way.”
Philip Pullman


Flag of Rhode Island. Wikimedia Commons

“In the storm, our only anchor is hope.”
Lailah Gifty Akita


Phrases about Hope, considered:

“Hope is the things with feathers,” says Emily Dickenson.  Hope is always there, singing, no matter what happens, even in dark times in our lives. It never stops.

This also connects with the Pandora’s Box story, below and also to Alexander Pope’s words that ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast.’ 

There is light at the end of the tunnel“: this phrase encourages us to keep being hopeful, there will always be some relief after a period of despair.


“Hope for the best, Expect the worst,” is a wonderful song by the equally wonderful Mel Brooks and  is certainly worth a listen! Tune in now!


Mel Brooks. Wikimedia `Commons.

“Glimmer of hope”: where there is a small chance something good might happen. Again, here is the use of light as a symbol of hope.

Hope against hope: you can always hope, even though a hopeful outcome is unlikely.

The Story Of Pandora’s Box


Pandora. Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Wikimedia Commons.

Pandora. John William Waterhouse.Wikimedia Commons.

The Greek myth of Pandora’s Box  has many versions and variations. It tells how Pandora, the world’s first woman , was forbidden to open the box, given by the Gods.

Inside this box were hidden all the evils and hardships of life. Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her, she opened the box and out flew all the ills of the world, unleashed onto humankind forever.

The only thing that remained at the bottom of the box was Hope.

Why was Hope left at the bottom of the box?

Again, there are many interpretations of this ; some say that Hope can be false, seen as bad and that was the reason for it being included amongst all the ills of the world.

Others say that not only bad things were in the box, some good things were released into the world as well. Alternatively, it could be that, despite the existence of many evils, hope always survives.


Pandora. Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Wikimedia Commons


Pandora trying to close the box that she had opened out of curiosity. At left, the evils of the world escape. Frederick Stuart Church. Wikimedia Commons.

They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.

Tom Bodett


image‘Hope.’ Edward Burne-Jones. Wikimedia Commons

At the end, at the very end, the poem below may give us Hope, of the possibility of dying with a peaceful heart.

Going Without Saying, by Bernard O’Donoghue

It is a great pity we don’t know

When the dead are going to die

So that, over the last companionable Drink, we could tell them

How much we liked them.

Happy the man who, dying, can

Place his hand on his heart and say: ”At least I didn’t neglect to tell

The thrush how beautifully she sings.”



“When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.”

Jim Henson


My hope is that you have benefitted from reading this post! If you have, do become a follower. Loads more thought-provoking posts on relationships, psychotherapy, life, are planned for this year.

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Thank you, existing followers of my blog , for your encouraging feedback and support.

You really are appreciated! Linda




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