On October 22, 2017, Matt sent an email to a few of his closest college and high school. The subject line was “I’m baaaaaack.” He filled the email with jokes about being stuck home with his wife and kids (and wondered whether that was preferable to being stuck in the hospital–#lamedadjoke) and made some comments about fantasy football. When I read the email, I can hear Matt’s voice. The email feels like Matt. And if I didn’t know the effort Matt put into that email, I would believe he was truly and completely back.
I remember how he sat on the couch, his phone in his hand, as he composed emails and personal text messages to each person who had reached out to him over the last month. I remember how he wrote and deleted and re-wrote every joke and corrected every typo in an effort to make sure that no one worried about him anymore than they already had. He didn’t share the truth of those days at Columbia or the hard work he’d put in at Kessler in his email. He didn’t mention that we had no plan or next phase of attack against the very merciless tumor in his brain. Instead, he shared his hope and his positive attitude in an attempt to protect his friends and family from the worst days. That tangle of faith and love and determination I wrote about on June 15. He’d lost so much of himself over the last months, but he hadn’t lost that.
I haven’t written much about Post Hope lately. Because the story of our Year In Hope has been busy—October was a month of ups and downs, lost faith and gained hoped. But also because Post Hope has been feeling somewhat, completely, hopeless, which is not the message I want to share. The grief wave that hit over the last few days and weeks has been relentless and brutal, marked by the anger stage I thought I’d missed and also by the heartache that comes with taking a chance and failing. Over the summer I entered a writing contest and recently learned that I wasn’t chosen. Not a surprise—the odds are minuscule—but, nevertheless, the loss felt like a blow from which I might not recover, amplified as it was by a Post Hope grief wave and widowhood and the feeling that, without Matt, I didn’t have the energy to scrape my pride from the floor. I canceled plans and forgot to return text messages and generally let my thoughts spiral into those very worst places.
But then, yesterday, in Post Hope, I ran my first half-marathon. I beat my projected time by twenty minutes (and then could barely walk the rest of the day). Throughout the race I knew that if not for widowhood, this Post Hope life that I never wanted, I wouldn’t be at that race, showing G and H that I could do this thing I had always said I would never be able to do. Hours before that, I opened the manuscript that had not made it into the contest and started a revision that feels, even this morning, like a step in the right direction.
I realized that though this grief wave had made Post Hope feel hopeless, it really never was. It was there, hidden and almost unrecognizable within the cracks of those hopeless days. The hope was there in the choice to run one more mile when it would have been easier to quit. Or to open up a new file when it would be easier to believe I simply couldn’t. Or the friends who reached out despite the canceled plans and unreturned messages.
One year ago today, Matt wrote an email and didn’t share the hardest parts. Today, I’m doing the exact opposite. And maybe that’s okay. About one hundred days (104 to be exact) remain until February 3rd. Many of those days will look hopeless, many more will feel hopeless and a few will truly be hopeless–after all, this story does not have a happy ending. The challenge will be to find the hope hidden within the cracks of those hopeless days, to remember that hope doesn’t always look like a shiny glimmer in the sky. The challenge will be not to stop believing in hope when it all feels too hopeless.