Saturday, February 28, 2009


And there stands a smiling Susan,
Delivering alongside her brother,
A warm and passionate remembering
Of the life of Granny Smith.

And there sit I at the piano,
Momentarily disgruntled
That THE HOPE LADY inaccurately reported
A fact about Granny Smith.

Granny fashioned rich, crisp shirts
Origami-style from one-dollar bills
Rather than cute little folded men
As THE HOPE LADY erroneously reported.

And David mused as we drove away
That stories were penned in the Bible
Thousands of years after they happened
Yet still people stand to defend them
As accurate statements of fact.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Move over Obama. Last night at the movie theatre I discovered that talking about hope from the political stage had been going on before you or I had thought of it. Back in the 1970’s Harvey Milk, the first gay man elected to political office in San Francisco was making speeches that repeated the word hope over and over. Of course, like you Obama, he was using the noun in the positive context, attributing each hope to a person or a group of people. . This stands in sharp contrast to the way the noun is so often used in the medical literature, usually in a negative form, attributed to the possibility of cure from a dreaded disease, dissociated from the person or people who would hold the hope.
Milk was assassinated. I was greatly relieved to learn that his assassination was not sparked by his talk about hope.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009



Fourteen years have passed since I started work at the Hope Foundation. I remember wondering what kind of work I would really be doing. I remember thinking that it would be nearly impossible to put a positive spin on the difficult situations we had to confront. I remember wondering what sort of organizations would turn to a place like the Hope Foundation for help with program design and delivery. At the time I had no vision of the depth and breadth of the work and learning that would come my way. Most years a new and interesting proposal would be presented. One year I would be directed toward teachers on disability leave. Another year the focus would shift to family care-givers of people with Alzheimer Disease. There was a year when I worked on hope issues relevant to multiple sclerosis, another year it was ALS. 2008 directed me to a project we called Renewing Hope. It was a place I hadn’t expected to go.
The Renewing Hope program is an excellent example of the valuable work that the Hope Foundation can do. Launched in the fall of 2008, it is a collaboration between Zebra Child Protection Centre and Hope Foundation. Zebra provided the participants and the funds, we provided the hope program.
The participants were FAMILY CARE-GIVERS going through the court process that resulted when their children reported sexual abuse. The program was a 2-part, 12-session psycho-educational and peer support class to help non-offending family members connect with supportive peers, rebuild hope, deal with troubling issues and move forward. At the end of the program all participants wrote that the program had been either helpful or very helpful in meeting all four of its stated objectives.
Zebra Child Protection Centre is a program of coordinated child-focussed services that provides a safe and supported environment where the child can be interviewed by police. Zebra staff and volunteers then guide parents on an individual basis through the steps of the court process. Zebra wanted professional help to deliver a group support/counselling program for family care-givers. In this case, all were parents. Executive Director Barb spencer targeted Hope Foundation as one potential service provider because she believed that hope could be integrated in a useful way.
We were unable to find descriptions of any previous hope-focussed programs for this target group. In fact, the literature we read focussed on the negative effects of sexual abuse and the need for group support. Little attention was given to the notion that things could turn out okay despite the terrible things that had happened. With the conviction that hope had a legitimate place alongside the reality of the situation, fellow hope counsellor Rachel stege and I set out to plan a program that would be hope-focussed and supportive. We would have 8 2-hour weekly sessions followed by 4 less frequent 2-hour sessions.


While much attention has been given to the needs of child victims of sexual abuse, there has been less focus on the needs of the caregivers of these children. It has been shown, however, that non-offending parents experience distress following disclosure of child sexual abuse, whether the offense is intra-familial (Lovett, 2004; Massat & Lundy, 1998) or extra-familial child sexual abuse (Davies, 1995; Elliott & Carnes, 2001). Researchers have identified the need for clinicians to “expand their treatment focus beyond the child victims to the traumatized families” (Manion et al., 1996, p. 1105). Furthermore, literature in the area of child sexual abuse suggests that addressing the needs of non-offending parents may not only prove beneficial to the parents but could lead to improved adjustment in the child victims as well (Elliott & Carnes, 2001).
When families are forced to deal with child sexual abuse, hope for a positive future for their child and their family can be severely threatened. Group treatment has been demonstrated to be beneficial for parents of children who have been sexually abused (Deblinger, Stauffer, & Steer, 2001; Winton, 1990). In fact, when describing recovery factors for parents, Grosz, Kempe, and Kelly (2000) identified that in cases of extra-familial sexual abuse, a support group for parents “offered a lifeline during a time when many parents described feeling isolated and cut off from normal support systems” (p. 18). Studies have further indicated that therapy with a hope focus can effectively be delivered in group settings (Cheavens, Feldman, Gum, Michael & Snyder, 2006). In addition to being cost effective, groups are able to “provide a natural laboratory that demonstrates to people that they are not alone and that there is hope for creating a different life” (Corey & Corey, 2006, p. 5). In exploring distress and coping abilities of parents after disclosure of extra-familial sexual abuse, Davies (1995) provided several intervention recommendations for families, including a parent support group.
Because Rachel and I planned to make hope very explicit in our work with the parents referred by Zebra, we proposed a hope-focussed process guided by hope-focussed tools (Edey, Larsen & LeMay, 2005; Larsen, Edey & LeMay, 2007). Each 2-hour session would (a) allow time for participants to talk about their issues and (b) require them to participate in at least one hope-focussed activity. We would focus on our four stated objectives, helping participants connect with supportive peers, rebuild hope, deal with troubling issues and move forward. Once the plan was in place and funding secured, Zebra referred participants to the group. They also enrolled Janet, an experienced Zebra volunteer who expressed interest in being part of the process. We invited her to participate fully in whatever way felt comfortable for her.


Rachel and I drew on our knowledge and experience using a hope-focussed approach and hope tools with individuals and groups. We identified specific strategies we would use in each session. We communicated openly with each other during the sessions and made joint decisions about when it was time to switch from the problem discussion to the hope-focussed activity. Janet helped all of us by showing tremendous enthusiasm for the hope activities. Her full participation established an atmosphere of trust and cooperation. We kept process notes as we went along.

Connecting With Supportive Peers
We looked for ways to draw the participants together in a hopeful context. This would mean doing more than simply sharing their stories of hurt and struggle. In fact, our participants found it difficult to share their stories. It is likely that every parent whose child reports sexual abuse is filled with horror and a guilty feeling that more should have been done to prevent the abuse. Our group was small and the participants were very stressed. Each was wrapped up in an individual story. Conversation occurred in diads between participants and leaders. In the early sessions we did not take overt steps to establish communication between them. They did not seem very connected to each other by the end of the second session. Indications of true connectedness began to appear after we made hope collages in the third session.
Wherever possible the leaders participated fully in the hope-focussed activities. Hope collage is a good example of this. People in the group reflected on hope, flipped through magazines, cut out pictures and made a collage. Since the collages were not focussed on the consequences of sexual abuse, they showed people in a more natural way, their interests and passions, their hobbies, their aspirations. We learned about passions for travel, for figure skating, for jewelry making. Now people saw things to admire. They could talk together about things other than the problem.

Other activities also helped make connections between them. We mapped out the participants’ experience with helpful resources in session 6. This exercise generated a lot of information they could share with each other. We worked at making hope kits in sessions 8 and 9. Hope kits are personal collections of objects that the collector associates with hope. They act as reminders of hope, and can play the role of first-aid kits, helping you respond to a crisis. Like the hope collages, the hope kits helped the participants get to know each other in a broader context of being fully human.
For the final meeting, session 12, we planned a forthright activity that encouraged people to openly support each other. Every member in the group made tags for the other members beginning with the stem: This is what I appreciate about you.
There were clear signs that connectedness was increasing. As time went on we noticed that participants would stand chatting on the street before getting into their cars. They brought brochures and videos to lend to others. People hung back at the close of the final session. Nobody seemed to want to leave.

Rebuilding Hope
Rachel and I are experienced in talking about hope in a variety of difficult circumstances. We take the position that you can view hope alongside reality and still have both. We believe that things can turn out better than we sometimes expect, that impossible things can become possible, that people find comfort in discarding old hopes and exchanging them for new ones.
In planning the program we had made the assumption that participants’ hope would have been threatened by their circumstances. In fact, all participants found it extremely difficult to speak explicitly about hope. To make it a little easier, we began with a practical working definition from the hope research literature. Hope can be defined as “a process of anticipation that involves the interaction of thinking, acting, feeling and relating, and is directed toward a future fulfillment that is personally meaningful” (Stephenson, 1991, p. 1459). With that definition in mind, participants unanimously said they did not feel much hope. They were simply coping.

We guided them through a process of stating personal hopes. We asked, What do you hope will happen? What do you hope to do? What kind of person do you hope to be? They found this difficult. Hope, used as a verb, is an active, emotional word. Other emotions dominated their awareness. They had fears about recrimination from the accused, about their child’s mental health and sexual orientation. They had regrets about exposing their children to dangerous people. They had angry thoughts about the loyalty of family members and a desire for punishment. They had present pressing worries about the behavior of their children.

In this atmosphere of fear, regret, anger and worry we persisted in our quest for personal hopes. By the end of session 2 we had documented six personal hopes, at least 1 from each participant. I hope to have peace. I hope to have a life beyond the mother role. I hope to build safe relationships. I hope to get through the court process. I hope the accused will be punished. I hope my child will be okay.

For the first six sessions we didn’t talk much about the future. The focus remained in the realm of getting through the court process and dealing with fear. Then, in session 7 we played a time machine game, projecting ourselves into a near or distant future. Participants were able to imagine elements of good future for themselves, but we could still feel the burden of residual stress in the room. We reverted to focusing on the present.

In session 12 we asked participants to express hopes for future participants. When they seemed to have difficulty, we modeled by expressing our hopes in sentences beginning with “I hope”. Ultimately they did not focus on expressing specific hopes. They turned to words of comfort and reassurance instead.

 to feel – What you’re feeling is natural.
 Take comfort in knowing you are not alone!
 Ask the questions & Do not fear.
 I hope you grow comfortable enough to share. You are in a safe place.
 Take one day at a time. The sun will come.
 It’s not your fault!
 You’re doing the best you can.
 Share your story. You will be heard.
 Know that you are not alone. Take hold of any hand that is extended to you.

In general, the process of making hope explicit in this group was more difficult than we leaders had anticipated it would be. We were surprised when participants said the program had been helpful in renewing their hope. We contented ourselves with the knowledge that attendance was consistent, all participants said the group was valuable and all said they would recommend it to other parents.

Dealing With Troubling Issues

We began the process knowing we would be dealing with troubling issues and agreeing that we would make time to resolve issues that could be resolved. By the end of Session 3 we had identified three particular issues that could provide an educational focus for the group: understanding the steps in the court process, applying for financial assistance and writing victim impact statements. Our Zebra volunteer was very knowledgeable about these details. She played an active educational role as we focussed on these topics in sessions 4, 5 and 6. This was a time of learning for Rachel and me. We became students along with the participants.

Moving Forward

We could see the importance of support and strength after a child reports sexual abuse. The wheels of court grind very slowly. Years can elapse between the first disclosure and the final sentencing. Our program began in mid September and ended in early January. All of the participants were in the process when the group began and were still in it when the group ended. Rachel and I didn’t see anyone through the whole process.
Fear was a pervasive issue. We talked about fear in almost every session, less near the end. We fought fear with accurate information about the court process. We fought it by allowing it to be expressed openly. When we saw an opportunity, we tried to replace a stated fear with a stated hope. For example, if we were talking about the fear that the accused would retaliate upon being released from prison, we talked about the fact that he was in prison now, and the hope that he would be there for a long time.

Our main weapon against fear was strength, and we tried hard to recognize it, build it and reinforce it. In session 5 we named things they appreciated about their children. In session 6 we mapped out helpful and supportive resources. In session 10 we administered a personal strengths test (Seligman, 2002) and talked about the meaning of the results. In session 11 we reviewed the strengths and resources named in other sessions. We were happy that many of the appreciation tags written in session 12 acknowledged strength.


In summary, we were very happy with the results of this program. The participants expressed satisfaction. Janet and the Zebra staff said they noticed a change in the participants. We had the satisfaction of using a hope-focussed approach to create an environment of hope and strength with highly stressed people under circumstances that were extremely daunting. Zebra allocated funding to support future Renewing Hope programs for parents. Noting the need for a more comprehensive educational process, Janet worked with Zebra to establish an on-going timely educational program that could teach parents about the court process, victim impact statements and obtaining financial assistance.
For me there remains one important outstanding issue. Perhaps it is really a wish. I wish that we professional helpers would make more of an effort to collect evidence of recovery and wellness. We could make it available to our colleagues as an external source of hope to help them feel hopeful when they work with their clients. We could make it available to care-givers as they go through the court process.
Hopeful evidence would clearly establish the possibility of a light at the end of the tunnel.
It would have been hope-inspiring for these parents to learn that some children grow up healthy and happy after reporting sexual abuse. The resources we found did not offer this. When professionals prepare resources, they tend to focus on the problem. The hope, they imply, will come through the professional help. Professional help and group support are indeed important. But the professionals providing the help need the factual grounding of knowing that things have been okay in other circumstances.
Lacking factual material to inspire hope, Rachel and I built a program using the hope tools to bring out the hope and strength of the group. The process was effective because the hope tools are reliable and we have experience in using them. Working as a team we could ground each other. That said, the work would have been easier with external hopeful resources on childhood sexual abuse to support the hope work we were doing.


Asay, T.P., & Lambert, M.J. (1999). The empirical case for the common factors in therapy: Quantitative findings. In M. Hubble, B. Duncan, & S. Miller (Eds.). The Heart and Soul of Change: What Works in Therapy (pp. 23-55). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Cheavens, J.S., Feldman, D.B., Gum, A., Michael, S.T., & Snyder, C.R. (2006). Hope therapy in a community sample: A pilot investigation. Social Indicators Research, 77, 61-78.

Corey, M.S., & Corey, G. (2006). Process and Practice Groups. (7th Ed.). Toronto, ON: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Davies, M.G. (1995). Parental distress and ability to cope following disclosure of extra-familial sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19(4), 399-408.

Deblinger, E., Stauffer, L.B., & Steer, R.A. (2001). Comparative efficacies of supportive and cognitive behavioral group therapies for young children who have been sexually abused and their nonoffending mothers. Child Maltreatment, 6(4), 332-343.

Edey, W., Larsen, D., & LeMay, L. (2005). The counsellor’s introduction to hope tools. Unpublished paper. Hope Foundation of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.

Elliott, A.N., & Carnes, C.N. (2001). Reactions of nonoffending parents to the sexual abuse of their child: A review of the literature. Child Maltreatment, 6(4), 314-331.

Grosz, C.A., Kempe, R.S., & Kelly, M. (2000). Extrafamilial sexual abuse: Treatment for child victims and their families. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(1), 9-23.

Hubble, M.A., & Miller, S.D. (2004). The client: Psychotherapy’s missing link for promoting a positive psychology. In P.A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (pp. 335-353). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Lambert, M.J. (1992). Implications of outcome research for psychotherapy integration. In J.C. Norcross & M.R. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of Psychotherapy Integration (pp. 94-129). New York: Basic Books.

Larsen, D., Edey, W., & LeMay, L. (2007). Understanding the role of hope in counselling: Exploring the intentional uses of hope. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 20(4), 401-416.

Lopez, S.J., Snyder, C.R., Magyar-Moe, J., Edwards, L.M., Pedrotti, J.T., Janowski, K. Turner, J.L., Pressgrove, C. (2004). Strategies for accentuating hope. In P.A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 388-404). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Lovett, B.B. (2004). Child sexual abuse disclosure: Maternal response and other variables impacting the victim. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 21(4), 355- 371.

Manion, I.G., McIntyre, J., Firestone, P., Ligezinska, M., Ensom, R. & Wells, G. (1996). Secondary traumatization in parents following the disclosure of extrafamilial child sexual abuse: Initial effects. Child Abuse & Neglect, 20(11), 1095-1109.

Massat, C.R., & Lundy, M. (1998). “Reporting costs” to nonoffending parents in cases of intrafamilial child sexual abuse. Child Welfare, 77(4), 371-388.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Your Signature Strengths. In Authentic Happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment (pp. 134-161). Toronto, ON: Free Press.

Stephenson, C. (1991). The concept of hope revisited for nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 16, 1456-1461.

Winton, M.A. (1990). An evaluation of a support group for parents who have a sexually abused child. Child Abuse & Neglect, 14, 397-405.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


On the day when Granny Smith got the news that tomorrow would fine her moving from her small room in a seniors’ lodge to a shared room on the Alzheimer unit of a nursing home she said, ”I’ll take it one day at a time.” That was vintage Granny—good-humoured and willing to make a change.
I did not know Granny Smith well, I just knew her distantly for a long time, never once called her by her first name. I met her when she was the age that I am now. I thought of her as a senior then. She died the other day at the age of ninety.
Born in a large farming family at a time when few Canadians lived in cities, her life is a metaphor for our fundamental societal change. She got married young to an older farmer. They farmed, they sent their children away for the higher education that was not available near their home. They retired to a small town. He died. Alone for the first time in her life, she followed her children to the city.
The intersecting circles of marriage brought me into relationship with Granny’s daughter, and ultimately with her. Though she still lived on the farm when I first met her, and I once called in at her small house in town, the Granny Smith I knew best was a senior in the city. We sat in close proximity at large overlapping family events. Sometimes we did dishes together. She wasn’t one to talk a lot about the past, preferring to make light conversation about the present. She set up housekeeping in a small seniors’ apartment and settled into active senior social life. She traveled, and one time her luggage got lost at the beginning of a cruise and stayed lost for several months, returned finally after all her things had long been replaced. She knitted camels for nativity scenes and fashioned cute little men origami-style with folded one-dollar bills. She transformed a mop into a dance partner, named him George, and escorted him to counter-balance the gender inequities at lady-dominated dance parties. Then she downsized to a single room in a lodge, and finally to the shared nursing home accommodation.
Today, as I ponder the selection of music I ought to play at her funeral, I think of her life as a long journey with many stops and try to fix a picture in my mind. Will I think of the little girl Gladys, or the farm wife canning garden vegetables, or the active senior, or the Granny who became someone to ask about when noisy Sunday gatherings were no longer an option? And I am oddly aware that my own life is exactly at the spot where I first experienced Granny’s, and that everyone meeting me from this day forward will have only that version of me to relate to.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I was a child of the sixties—the time of demonstrating for women’s equality, the time of bra burning. I myself never demonstrated for my rights. I was focussed on growing into a bra. I suppose I was a bit of a princess, albeit a modern princess. For I was planning to marry a prince charming and also have a career.
In my princess phase I had little appreciation of the difficult sacrifices these combined ambitions had brought upon other women. I had never heard of Mary Percy, an English woman who wanted to be a lawyer and then, because women were not allowed to be lawyers in the England of the 1920’s, settled for being a doctor instead. At the end of her training she responded to a newspaper ad inviting female doctors to serve remote places in northern Alberta. Women were being recruited partly because of a shortage of male doctors, and partly because of other staff shortages. A female doctor, it was said, would not require a housekeeper. And so Mary came to Alberta, to Battle River Prairie north of Peace River, a place with no bridge across the river and no roads suitable for cars. She doctored at thirty above and forty below and sometimes she rode her horse as much as 40 miles a day in service of her patients. For this she earned $165 a month, until she married Frank Jackson and moved further north to keg River. There was no doctor at Keg River. There also was no motivation to pay Mary to be a doctor, since she now had a husband to support her. So she and Frank built a hospital and turned to service clubs. Mary was paid in butter and eggs and sometimes with a little money. This went on for 38 years until the Alberta government adopted Alberta Health Care for all Albertans. I had never heard of Mary.
Nor had I heard of Alice Walker, who trained to be an ordained minister in the united Church of Canada. But when she married the Reverend Hogman, hoping to continue her career, the church ruled that married women could not work as ordained ministers. Even when the rule was finally changed she found it hard to get employment. Churches expected free service from the minister’s wife. Finally she got a job at a northerly charge where it was hard to find a minister. Later, near the end of her career, she and her prince charming were able to find a charge that would hire and pay both of them.
Women were facing significant barriers, but I was oblivious to all of this at the time when I was not demonstrating. I like to think that if I had known what was happening to the likes of Mary and Alice I’d have started several small fires with my training bras. I was born lucky, I’d say, lucky to be born at a time when it was going to be possible to have both a prince charming and a career.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Hard times for THE HOPE LADY! The radio is one of her great pleasures, but no sooner does she turn it on, than somebody says, “These tough economic times.” Tough times are even tougher at 6:00 AM. Could be anybody saying it, the weatherman, the traffic reporter, the man-on-the-street interviewer. And it’s not just all the bad news, but all the good news as well. News of visiting art galleries, making snow sculptures, buying vegetables—all of it is framed now in the context of “these tough economic times.” People who sang for pleasure last year are singing this year too bring comfort in “these tough economic times.” People who worked last year are working in “these tough economic times.” If it’s really true, as some hope theorists contend, that hope can only really be appreciated in the context of suffering, then I’d say THE HOPE LADY is in for a period of great demand, albeit for services provided free of charge, given “these tough economic times.”
Every morning THE HOPE LADY wakes up to the radio, generally the morning news. She has other choices but even in “these tough economic times” it is gentler to wake up and doze off with the radio than to start a day after an arm-wrestle with the incessantly throbbing alarm.
Every morning I brush the teeth of the groggy woman who is still deciding whether to be THE HOPE LADY today. The radio’s cautionary tales are ringing in my ears. Still, I let her use as much toothpaste as she wants. I have a feeling that, were I to squeeze a small amount to fend off the possibility of future rations she’d say, “That is ridiculous! We can absolutely afford toothpaste, and if ever we can’t, we’ll do without it. If you’re going to be rationing my toothpaste we will have to stop listening to the radio!”
So I don’t mention the toothpaste. I really hate that alarm! And she’s probably right. If ever we can’t afford toothpaste, we’ll figure out another way.

Friday, February 20, 2009


What I would like to know today is this: Who ever thought of separating eggs and then beating the whites until stiff peaks form? Was it a farmer with a lot of extra eggs, or a really bored chemistry student? Was it a precocious five-year-old doing something his mother told him not to do—playing with eggs?
Whoever it was, I’d like to find that person. Without that person one of my favourite pies would still be searching for a topping. Without that person angel food cakes would be a lot flatter. Without that person, I would be serving an omelette for lunch instead of a cheese soufflĂ©.
So, whoever you are, I just want to say thanks for lemon meringue pie, and fluffy angel food cake, and cheese soufflĂ©. We couldn’t have made them without you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Obama is coming to Canada this week. Mixed feelings are what I’ve got. Yes, I have noticed that Obamamania is waning a bit. But then, we expected that, and still it seems he and I ought to be scheduled for a meeting, seeing as how I am likely his biggest fan, and we both spend so much time talking about audacious hope.
I’ve checked the calendar. The Family Day Monday has thrown things off a bit, crowded Monday’s duties into the days after. A former hope scholar now living in Saskatchewan is coming by to chat about helping us with program evaluation. Tonight I’m having a hope discussion with parents of blind children. Tomorrow night we’re going to the Telus World of Science. Choir practice is on Thursday. Leslie is coming to lunch on Friday, and I really do need to set aside time to practice the story I am telling at Saturday night’s concert.
This is the bottom line. I haven’t time to fit in a visit with Obama. I just hope he won’t take it personally.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Here I am, wondering how to go about making a hope presentation to a group of workers in palliative care, and thinking about my hope roots. It was Cheryl Nekolaichuk who invited me to make the presentation, and that, perhaps is the root of the perplexing issue. Cheryl was a hope scholar before I was, and through the years she has retained a focussed and abiding interest in hope. She has written some impressive articles about hope in palliative care, articles I frequently quote. So what could Cheryl possibly want to hear from me? What would she want me to say to her colleagues, so that, when I have left the building, they would turn to her and say, “That was certainly a good idea, Cheryl!”

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when my head is churning out possibilities while my common sense begs me to go to sleep, I find myself wishing I were the kind of person who could make a hope presentation without wondering what the audience wants to hear. It would save me hours of prep time—an efficiency in business language. And then I realize that this is simply a wish, a wouldn’t-it-be-nice pie-in-the-sky musing. It is not a hope. If it were a hope, I would eventually get around to giving it serious attention and commitment. So that while I might wish I could give hope presentations without wondering what the audience wants to hear, I don’t hope to be one and most definitely have no intention of taking large or small steps toward being one. I don’t even like those kind of presenters.

Theoretically, palliative care workers are an easy target for a hope talk. If they have any hope at all, and my experience is that they are generally a hopeful lot, they have already learned to differentiate between hope and cure. Their work begins when cure is no longer a primary objective—a wish still, but not much of a hope. Their job is not to prevent death, but rather to make it as pleasant as possible. That would be easy if everyone involved could simultaneously agree that cure is not a primary objective, and if it really were possible to use our modern technologies to make death a pleasant experience. But alas, patients, families and friends don’t always come on board with the simultaneous acceptance, and the idea that drugs make people comfortable in the presence of enormous pain is a bit of a myth. The drugs reduce the pain, but as for promoting comfort, well you just have to ask a cancer patient,”Are you comfortable?” And you’ll likely get an answer your hoping self didn’t want to hear.

I think it was Cheryl who first introduced me to the concept of the hoping self. It was back in the days when she was undertaking a thorough and comprehensive study of hope, back in the days before she worked in palliative care. The hoping self is the part of you that hopes or has hope. It may, or may not be your whole self. When we talk about fostering hope, or enhancing hope, or instilling hope, we are really talking about increasing the size and working capacity of the hoping self. My own hoping self, I have discovered over the years, is a porous and permeable thing, sensitive to its surroundings, susceptible to bouts of growth and shrinkage.

THE HOPE LADY Blog is the public face of my hoping self. On the days when I am hopeful, the blog has free reign to be about anything it chooses. But on days when my hoping self is small, out-sized by the discouraging events in the world around it, the blog becomes a disciplined embodiment of the hope work I lecture about. ”Do the hope work,” my friend and fellow hope scholar Christy Simpson once said to me at a time when my hoping self had shrunk to Lilliputian scale, ”and the hope work will work on you.” Some days THE HOPE LADY Blog is the hope work.

What, I wonder, is strengthening my hoping self these days? Well, there’s my old hero Barack, and the things I am learning while teaching the hope class, and the new stories in incubation that are getting themselves ready for storytelling. My family loves me, the amaryllis bulbs are budding and the good old orchid is about to have more blossoms than it’s ever had. There’s a book chapter in a nursing text on the meaning of hope in the dying. There are my hope buddies who take it for granted that I can speak to a group of palliative care workers without having to duck thrown tomatoes. Put all that down on paper and my hoping self seems a little more vital than I had thought.

And what is it that threatens my hoping self when I think of making this presentation? Well, quite frankly, it’s fear: fear of being boring; of being insensitive; of being irrelevant; of being condescending. It’s the fear of discussing matters of the heart with professionals trained in science.

This blog has been going for about two-and-a-half years, long enough that sometimes I think of myself as THE HOPE LADY. Other times I’m just Wendy. On the best days, the two are interchangeable. On the bad days, not so much. On this day Wendy says, “Be sure you know exactly what you intend to say at the palliative care presentation. The paper they sent you says you must have clearly defined objectives.” And I know this is true, that I should have clearly defined objectives.

Then THE HOPE LADY says,”Could it be that you are distracting yourself by worrying about objectives? The paper they sent you also instructs you to spend at least 25 percent of the time interactively, and you know they don’t actually mean what the paper says because they put you in a classroom set up theatre style, hardly a friendly environment for interaction. So, rather than setting clear objectives, why don’t you plan to listen to your audience and go with your instincts? You are speaking to a group of people with hoping selves. These hoping selves are challenged on a daily basis by the frustration of working in groups who are struggling with elusive things--the wish for a cure and the need for comfort. Think of your hope tools. A presentation that seems impossible today can be possible on Friday. This is probably one of those times when you are okay, only you don’t know it yet.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


There is something that’s been arousing my curiosity lately. How long, I have wondered, will I feel comfortable defending Barack Obama? It’s an issue relevant to my future credibility. If you are planning to be around for a while it’s a big risk to openly and unapologetically support an audacious hoper. Such is the nature of audacious hope that audacious hopers don’t tend to get the things they hope for with a simple command or snap of the fingers, and political observers don’t tend to give leaders the benefit of the doubt, or time to make changes before they start in with their criticism. . So it was only a matter of time before Obama’s image would tarnish, and mine also, perhaps, by association with a loser.

Today’s radio news brought the first big test. Barack was on the radio saying he hadn’t got the cooperation he’d hoped for. Well, as you can imagine, I jumped right up and cheered, because he framed the disappointment in the context of hope. It’s a strategy I use in hope-focussed counselling almost every day. It keeps the hope in the picture alongside the disappointment. Obama was still my hero.

Today’s newspaper brought the second big test. The Edmonton Journal editorial page observed that the American politicians had not agreed to Obama’s bill. The Democrats added things, which gave the Republicans something to complain about, and the finished product will be different from the product he originally proposed. The editorial went on to observe that the Canadian budget was passed more collaboratively. I will admit that I am kind of proud that our Canadians settled down and got the job done. That said, I am not giving up on my hero. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m giving him some of the credit.

Hope theory tells us that there are many ways to get to any given end. Canadian politicians cooperated on the budget. Could it be that they noticed how uninspired we all were with the politics we saw during December. Could it be that they noticed how Canadians didn’t seem to want to vote, or even to talk about Canadian politics? They wanted to talk about American politics, the politics of collaboration and hope. To fail to collaborate was to force another election.

The U.S. situation was a different matter. Having just been elected, politicians over there felt quite secure in doing what they had always done. Collaboration hadn’t been their platform after all. It was Obama’s—Obama’s audacious hope. He was hoping they would change, and it was he who would get the negative attention if they didn’t.

As for me, I’m still hoping for political collaboration, and I’m not going to blame Obama if his own countrymen don’t share that hope. I’m going to thank him for showing a path to our Canadian politicians, and then I am going to hope they’ll see the success of it. Then maybe they too will start hoping for collaboration. If they do, they’ll be joining Obama, me, and a few million American voters. Regardless of his success in the short term, I hope Obama will still be audaciously hoping for collaboration when the next election comes around.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


What I remember about the dining hall at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind is how we couldn’t get to it without walking a block down the hill in the drenching Vancouver rain.
What I remember about the dining hall at the Jericho Hill school for the Blind is how, having ascended its rickety wooden steps, we would open the heavy door to a swish of steam that carried upon it the remnant odour of every cabbage boiled, every sausage fried, every turnip mashed, every fish battered, every drop of milk soured over all the decades of meal manipulation in its cavernous kitchen.
What I remember about the dining hall at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind is how, during those first few days, I would cover my mouth and gulp in deep breaths to steady the nerves and squelch the imperative to wretch as the door closed behind me.
What I remember about the dining hall at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind is how they tried to make us swallow down the dried-out eggs cooked too long ago and the runny cream cheese on tepid toast by threatening us with no dessert.
What I remember about the dining hall at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind is my amazement that even an adult would ever imagine that a child could be bribed to eat such slop by threatening to withhold a generous wedge of cardboard-crusted pie, or a medium-sized bowl of lumpy, scum-covered tapioca pudding.

What I don’t remember about the dining hall at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind is how it came to pass that I got used to the thrice-daily trudge, and the odour within, and the taste of the stuff on my plate.
But I must have got used to it. For I stayed there three years with no money for snacks, and no place to buy any.
What I don’t remember are the details of how I ate there so often, yet did not starve.

But then, in a roll back of shutter in memory, I find silky hot chocolate steaming in pitchers alongside our breakfast prunes, dreamy rice pudding with wipped cream and pineapple, ice cream on Wednesdays and French fries on Fridays.
Then the hardy hot soups and soft fragrant sandwiches, replacements for cream cheese and aging omelets, new on the menu and welcomed with cheering when the old Scottish matron retired.

And one cup of tea, brewed especially for me, in true sympathy on a terrible day when my plane could not leave for Alberta.

Friday, February 06, 2009


A dog named Pirate scratches gently but firmly on my leg whenever I play the piano. This behaviour perplexes me because Pirate is normally a calm and accepting dog. What’s more, other dogs named Benji and Spuds have cuddled on the floor near my pedal foot, or chosen to listen to the music from the warm spot at the piano end of the couch.

But Pirate scratches at my leg, the way he might scratch if he needed to go to the bathroom when I was talking on the phone. I try to ignore it, knowing from experience that he will opt to stay inside if I interrupt the song to open the door. Yes, I try to ignore him. Sometimes I make it all the way to the end of the song. But generally I stop and give him a pat on the head. That’s what he wants, a pat on the head. And could it be that this is my first dog with musical taste? It is, after all, impossible to pat and play at the same time.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Sometimes I wonder just how a person is supposed to notice all the interesting things there are to notice in this short life we have been given. There are all these things around us, things we know a little about, things that contain whole worlds of facts and associations we simply haven’t noticed. The enormity of it boggles the mind. But I do love it.
Take turtles, for example. Now I know turtles a little, turtles with shells, turtles with soft underbellies, turtles in basement cages, turtles in pet shops, sea turtles defended by environmental activists against threat of extinction, mass turtle migrations that block highways in certain areas, chocolate turtles with sticky nutty fillings. Yes, I know turtles a little. So when I meet someone who hopes to have a turtle in future I think, Turtle!’ That’s nice. But I wouldn’t want one.
I once had a turtle, he tells me. ‘’I didn’t know much about turtles then. We didn’t have the Internet, you know. But anyway, I’d come home in the evening and let Turtle out of his cage. He’d wander around my room, and he’d nuzzle my feet. Turtle was afraid of other people, but not of me. ‘
And there am I, taken suddenly aback by the realization that in all my turtle awareness, no turtle has ever before entered my frame of reference as a loyal, loving companion. A little more turtle knowledge. A stirring of curiosity. Would I ever want a turtle?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Hope is a topic that always springs to mind when we think of housing homeless people, so it is particularly appropriate that today’s Rooph Awards will be
presented during Hope Week.  Our guest speaker is an award-winning hope specialist. Wendy Edey is a university lecturer, and a counsellor at our local
centre for hope studies, the Hope Foundation of Alberta.  She is known for her ability to make hope practical.  

What a marvellous time it is to be talking about hope. I’ve been studying and talking about hope for years, and sometimes it’s hard. But following in Obama’s wake is like riding your bike in the suction of a speeding greyhound bus. Phew! How Obama engaged the imagination of the world is the summary of whole libraries of hope research. It has been such fun to watch him create hope by talking about hope, revisit history to collect the hope, gather the people around hope in bigger and bigger circles, and then reap the rewards as they start to do things differently. They would even vote for an African-American president. You see, people always do more things and do them differently when they have hope. You can have hope and reality at the same time. You can talk about them together and still have both. Obama did it the easy way, he talked about the hope first. He knew reality would be there anyway. What is it that we can learn from Obama?
I’ve been a hope psychologist for years, creating hope in a counselling office by talking about hope, having hope to give. And then, in 2007, people began coming in to my office—poor people, desperate people with no place to live. And I knew I should write to the government, I knew I ought to give them hope, but I had little hope to give them.
When we have a shortage of hope at hope house we eventually start asking questions. What is sucking out all the hope? What are the hope suckers?
The media was a hope-sucker. Every morning at breakfast my husband would read me another article, another ad. Houses were selling for a million dollars, people were rushing in at the last minute and bidding them up another ten thousand! I had a house, and it was going up, but the only thing I felt was fear. I couldn’t go to work that scared. “Stop reading this stuff to me,” I said. “I know this is happening and I don’t need to hear it every morning. If there’s something I need to know, I’m pretty sure the information will get to me somehow.” One hope-sucker was a little smaller.
Helplessness is a hope-sucker. Even without the newspaper the fear persisted. People were coming in for counselling, people whose dingy apartments were being sold as condos. And sure, the owners had a right to make a profit? But what about my clients? I felt utterly helpless! I couldn’t go to work every day feeling like that. And then one day I saw something I had overlooked. We were actually subsidizing market rent down to an affordable level for three people. I just hadn’t noticed it because they are my relatives. And then when I looked around I saw that others were doing it too, some for friends as well as relatives. We weren’t helpless. It’s easier to be leaders when you start out as people who are doing something. “Some property owners are helping,” I said to my clients, and I knew it was true. Another hope-sucker had just got a little bit smaller.
My neighbourhood was a hope-sucker. We recently moved to the river valley, but my neighbour lived there in the 1940’s. He loved Dawson Park back when it was a garbage dump. Now that it is a beautiful park, he walks in it every day with a garbage bag and picks up garbage. He marks bush trails in little symbols to delight all of us. No wonder he got upset in 2008 when tent after tent was set up along the trails, when people in the tents told him to get off their place, when he could hear stuff every night outside his open bedroom window, when so much garbage and filth appeared that a dumpster couldn’t even make a dint in it, let alone a garbage bag. No wonder he got upset when he called to say that the tent city hadn’t closed after all, that it had simply moved into his backyard, and the people on the end of the line said, “We know. We’ll come and give them notice to move, but they’ll just move a few feet.” Fear gripped us. Hope-suckers in action. We needed to make a bigger circle.
A group of neighbours asked the parks people to join us on a tour of the park. The parks people graciously agreed to come. There were about a dozen of us. We didn’t walk the whole park, only a tiny section. Nobody knew exactly what to do, but it felt better, being together. Together we saw a lot of tents and a lot of filth. But some of the most prominent tents were missing on that morning. Where had they gone? Well, my neighbour, the one most distressed, the one who loves the park, had paid them a visit, to warn them. “They’re nice people,” he said. “I didn’t want them to lose their belongings. They don’t cause any trouble.” The parks people brought in many dumpsters. They worked weekends and cleaned up unimaginable filth. They said the Mayor’s ten-year plan for housing first would be coming out soon. They said the committee had a really broad range of representation. The circle of people doing something had just got bigger. “My neighbours are helping,” I said to my clients, for I knew it was true. Another hope-sucker had just got smaller.
Housing first, says the Mayor’s ten-year-plan. It’s such a sound idea that nobody can argue with it. And yet, A billion dollars needed screamed the media! In a single word the community was split down the middle, caring do-gooders against victimized taxpayers. The hope was sucking out so fast you’d think they were testing a new Hoover vacuum cleaner. Already a paralyzing fear was taking root. The man on the street was saying, A billion dollars. Yeah right! The good story about Charles Guick got second billing. He got a house first and turned his life around, but it takes a lot more than one story on one day to offset the hope-sucking effect of a billion dollars.
Now this is hope week and today we are presenting four awards to celebrate the excellent work in the housing circle. What would we be doing differently if we put a hope first theory into practice? Could we ask the media to print a great story about an award-winner each day for four days? That would be reality. That isn’t Pollyanna! It’s news, news with hope first. Could we change our working approach a little, resist all efforts to categorize us as either do-gooders or taxpayers? Many of us are already helping. We are helping in very concrete ways. A hope-first approach would put that message out there every single day until just about everybody wants to get on the bandwagon just because it’s the thing to do, the way the food bank does it at Christmas! Could we advertise hope-first homeless tours of the streets and parks, showing the reality and the vision of how those same streets will look in ten years? Can we keep telling the taxpayers about the things that are happening and the difference it is making until they want to help too? That is reality. That is putting the hope first. Can we engage the imagination? Can we make the hope-suckers a little smaller, the hope a lot bigger? This is what we can learn from decades of hope research. All of us, community leaders and even the media can put hope first. Obama’s shining example of a relentless focus on hope first, and the food bank at Christmas have proven that. We can do it. Yes we can! Happy hope week! Thank you.