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Hope’s road signs embolden us along our human journey

Sat., May 10, 2014, midnight

Today is the second Saturday of the month. As it happens, I’ve been convener of a Dementia Support Group in Sandpoint since September. So today is the day when adult children and spouses of loved ones living with dementia gather to find a glimmer of hope.

At every meeting, I silently wonder whether any of the participants see that hope glimmer, and if seeing it, embrace it as their own. Today, I won’t be silent. I plan to ask these loving people where their hopes lie. Their hopes certainly cannot lie in “someone” finding a way to reverse the dementia in their spouses or parents. No answers there yet!

One hope voiced before is that a different medication might control or eliminate a particular behavior in their loved ones. Yet no medication seems totally consistent in that regard.

So we will explore “hope” today.

But the people I see on the second Saturday – or any day that I visit with or work with caregivers of dementia victims – show small signs of hope that go well beyond “answers” and “fixes.” Those hope signs usually don’t lie in external answers offered by medical professionals or social workers.

Those signs reside in the simple acts of love and determined endurance shown by family and professional caregivers. Somehow, intuitively, they know their hope is more realistic – less wishful thinking – when they focus on care rather than cure.

What most of us don’t pay attention to is that hope is a human journey that we all emotionally, spiritually travel in fits and spurts. The journey happens subconsciously much of the time.

Whether we are focused on giving care to someone we love or on an attitude adjustment we need to consider for ourselves (or about someone else), we are engaged in a hope journey. Along the way, we pass some road signs and people who help us better find our way.

One sign I’ve seen on many occasions is “Turn here.” It’s an invitation to change my heart by warming up to the possibility that my attitude is taking me in the wrong direction.

Another sign is “Stay the course.” I’m reminded that simple steps of courage can keep sputtering hope alive. Meeting another person for coffee when I want to snuggle with my cat in front of the television may take all I have, but it might show great benefit to my spirit.

“Keep moving” is a welcome sign at times. Refusing to give up on ourselves, or those we love, becomes its own sign of hope.

“Go to the top of the hill” can be a sign to us that the night will become day; that our feeble, self-centered spirits can be transformed by compassion for others.

Joan Chittister, in her stimulating book “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” shares this story about hope:

“A Native American tale tells of the elder who was talking to a disciple about tragedy. The elder said, ‘I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.’

“The disciple asked, ‘But which wolf will win the fight in your heart?’ And the holy one answered, ‘It depends on which one I feed.’ ”

Through whatever experiences of despair and hope we might live, we always have a choice as to which of those experiences we feed. Feeding hope doesn’t deny that despair is within us. Feeding despair doesn’t deny that a spark of hope lives within us.

Which do you want to endure within you?

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at

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