How do you find hope?

When I think of hope, I see a little glimmer of something sparkly and deep within a darkened heart. “A light at the end of the tunnel,” maybe. The sliver of a new moon against a chalkboard black sky and diamond stars lifting your heart to the point of possible.

There is a thought that has stuck with me over the years. I don’t know if it is something I read or saw in a movie or I just created this belief because it made sense to me and I like to find meaning in what feels meaningless. A person dies so that another can live. A life for a life. I like the balance in that. New life replacing one that had to leave us suddenly or desperately, or hopefully timely if only to avoid more suffering.

When I was 21 and just starting to take classes to get into nursing school, I took care of a woman named Sara, who had a severe form of cerebral palsy. She wasn’t expected to live past 17, and she lived until the age of 24, a year after I had the pleasure to start working with her in her home.

I became close to Sara and her family quickly and her mom Eileen was like a second mom to me. Sara felt more like a sister than a patient and although she wasn’t able to speak with words, she could laugh and smile and say yes or no by blinking her eyes and shaking her head. For Halloween, I brought her a squishy red clown nose and we made silly faces and laughed together. In the summer, I would go to their beautiful lake house on the weekends to give her parents a break from her full-time care.

She ended up dying rather unexpectedly in the middle of the night when the trach tube attached to the machine that breathed for her popped off and the alarm did not wake her mother in time. I didn’t know how to feel. I was numb, not prepared to accept the death of someone I loved who had been on borrowed time as it was.

I spent 9 months grieving and not working before I became employed with another family caring for a 9 month-old infant who had a rare disorder that affects the part of the brain that connects the left and right halves. Astrid, like Sara, would never be able to speak or walk. Like Sara, she had the brightest smile and ability to giggle profusely, especially when I made silly faces at her.

Rationally, I know that the timing was most likely a coincidence and it didn’t entirely fit with my theory. Astrid was actually born 12 days before Sara died, not the same day or hour as would make more sense if for whatever reason Sara’s life was given for Astrid. Their similarities in my mind were uncanny, though. Two round-faced, bright-eyed blond little girls with a bigger smile than my own and so much life behind their shining eyes that were the only way they could communicate.

Maybe it comforted me to think that Sara’s spirit was somehow inside Astrid, a part of her still there with me. I guess that is what gives me hope.

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