Thursday, March 31, 2011


What can bring on hopelessness more quickly than the experience of trying to help someone who has an addiction? Says Harold, a man with firsthand knowledge of how it feels, ”Because of the nature of addictions I can become hopeless. A lot of people in my world have been through the process many times. In a sense, they know what they need to do. It is extremely frustrating to see them not do it.”

Are there powerful stories that can keep us hoping when the situation appears to be beyond repair? For Harold, and myself, and all the others who need to hear hopeful stories WHEN their hope is threatened by addictions, I recommend two books:

Playing With Fire, The Highs And Lows of Theo Fleury by Theo Fleury, and

When All You Have Is Hope by Frank O’Dea

What do Theo Fleury and Frank O’dea have in common? Plenty, it seems. Both had have highly successful careers. Fleury is a hockey star. O’Dea is the co-founder of Second Cup, the coffee chain that claims to have begun our transition to the life of buying good coffee at coffee shops. Both felt distant from their parents in childhood. Both were sexually molested as teen-agers. Both were beset by addictions. Both sank to a very low low. Both reached out for the love and support of generous, patient people. Both found a life beyond addiction and both have something to say about hope.
Beyond their similarities lie their differences. Each has his own story. Fleury had his addiction and his career success at the same time. O’Dea had to come in off the streets of Toronto before he could embark on a career. Fleury’s drinking lasted much longer than O’Dea’s.
There are differences in the way things were reconciled for each of them. In later life, Fleury asked for and received an apology from his parents. O’Dea’s mother said on her deathbed that she would never forgive him for the hurt he had caused his family.
Both books are implicitly hopeful though there is not much direct mention of hope in either. That said, each of these remarkable men has a hope gem to offer us. Fleury says: “It is important for me to share my experiences in order to create strength and hope for others. No matter how far down you go, it is never too late to
come back.” O’Dea says, “When you wallow in remorse over yesterday, or quake in fear about tomorrow, then you lose hope.”
I believe the world has many people who, like Fleury and O’Dea, have gone forward into a life governed by forces other than addiction. It is hard to find them because we don’t hear much about them. We hear about these two, not because they are doing well, but because they are famous for other things. Using that fame to command our attention, they are able to share with us their addiction experience and triumph. For this we must thank them because we need hopeful stories.
And, by the way, they both have a few more things in common. How do these men carry themselves toward a hopeful future? Both of them reach out to loved-ones and cherished friends, and both work hard to support charities.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


An Article To Make You Hope To Vote
But you’ll have to ignore the headline if you want to get the hope out of it. Headline writers often hold the theory that we’d prefer to read discouraging articles. Thanks to Ruth Haley in Guelph for sending it along with a new title that would attract my hope focused attention.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Yea though July find me standing on the snowbank astride the front fence
I shall fear no winter
But eagerly anticipate the summer of 2012.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


My hope word of the day is coalition. What, I ask, could ultimately be more hopeful, more progressive, more useful, than a group of people or factions coming together around a common purpose, whatever that purpose might be? Coalition speaks of cooperation, of negotiation. It smacks of combination, of listening and hearing what would interest other parties. Coalitions are forged in living rooms, around kitchen tables, in board rooms, during phone calls. Coalitions lead to changes of mind, modifications of behavior. Coalitions lead to problem-solving.
Of course, coalitions are not essential. Any time we don’t agree, is there not the popular alternative of annihilating the enemy, screaming louder at townhall events, meeting in secret to plan the assault, stocking arms depots? Like I said, coalition is my hope word of the day.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


The taxi driver is hoping—hoping that the recent movements in the Arab world will free the people from their autocratic leaders. He came to Canada from Eritrea. Is his hope audacious? Well, maybe.
Our own prime minister has just called an election. And while the news reports the sadness of it all, an election called merely because parliamentarians couldn’t get along. Should we Canadians take up the media’s sad lament, OR MIGHT WE take to the streets and kiss the ground in gratitude that such a dispute leads to an election and not the dropping of a bomb, or 40 years of bloody tyranny?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

hope, end of life, and a musical memory

As so often happens, the lines between my work and my other life and converging this week. I’m reading about hope in the context of palliative care, and learning to play the theme music from On Golden Pond
My thoughts turn to an article called Hope in palliative care: an integrative review and then they stray back to the music.
The authors of the article, Kylme et al, observe two over-arching themes in the literature that documents patients’ experience of hope in the palliative context. These themes are: living with hope, and hoping for something.
As for the theme music from On Golden Pond, well, I started learning that from my piano teacher, Linda Borty, on Saturday mornings one spring, back in the 90’s. I loved it from the very first note. On linda’s grand piano the low notes were as mellow as a sleepy afternoon at the beach. Alas, I’m still learning it.
I would most certainly have finished learning that music had Linda not suddenly become ill. The prognosis was poor, but Linda was absolutely determined to be well again. Unable to do everything she wanted to do, she made some compromises. Through it all, she steadfastly insisted on living with hope.
“I’m planning a big dinner and dance in June for all our friends and family,” she said. ”We’ll be putting together the old rock band that used to play in the 60’s. We’ll stop lessons for a while to give me more time for that project.”
And so it was that hope abided as the spring melted into summer. May blossoms flowered. In June we ate the dinner. We danced the dances. Summer gave way to autumn but not to the resumption of our lessons.
One Saturday morning we went to Linda’s house—just for a visit. Her husband helped her make it down the stairs to the kitchen. He served coffee.
Linda said, ”I’ve been awfully tired lately. But I’m hoping to have more energy soon. Let’s set the date for our next lesson. That way we’ll know we’ll be having it.”
So we set the date. Three weeks hence. Linda’s funeral had already happened before that day arrived.
Whenever I am called upon to talk about hope in the context of palliative care, I feel the pressure to say that hope keeps people alive. This, in a limited way, I believe to be true. But, like so many other things, it is both true and not true at the same time. If hope alone could keep people alive forever, then Linda would certainly be with us today, and I would long ago have finished learning to play the theme from On Golden Pond. For Linda knew all the best hope strategies. Plan things to look forward to. Immerse yourself in new and fascinating projects. Keep in touch with friends. Follow medical advice. She did the best she could on all fronts.
If hope, in the end, can only do its work when it gets cooperation from the body, then surely it owes us no apology. It can still be thanked for the work it does. And I, in gratitude to Linda, am at last getting around to learning the rest of that song.

Monday, March 21, 2011


To live by, to laugh with, to come home ready to work. Can you ask more of that from a vacation?

Advice For Italian Boys
By Anne Giardini (HarperCollins Canada 2009)

Beyond Belfast, A 560 Mile Journey Across Northern Ireland On Sore Feet
By Will Ferguson (Penguin Canada 2010)

Eden's outcasts: the story of Louisa May Alcott and her father
By John Matteson (Norton 2007)

Anne Giardini gave me a glimpse of the love of a grandmother in a tale of family life as warm as the Palm Springs sun.
Will Ferguson hauled me over barbed wire fences and into Irish pubs whilst giving me a few dozen hearty laughs on shady balconies and sunny poolside deck chairs.
John Matteson introduced me to the extraordinary life of the author of Little Women, and gave me the quote I needed to set a direction for myself as I prepare to make a hope presentation at palliative care rounds later this week. Describing Alcott’s state of mind as she contemplated her father’s impending death and her own likely death soon to follow, Matteson writes: “Louisa both hoped and did not hope. (page 423)”

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Wendy Edey and Rachel Stege
(reprinted from the Grey Nuns Women's Welness Newsletter, Spring 2011)
We at the Hope Foundation put a lot of emphasis on hope, strengths and resources in our work with groups of people who have chronic pain. We ask people to share their wisdom with each other. Getting attention and help from professionals is one of the MOST common issues raised by participants in our hope and strengths groups for people with chronic pain. We collect a lot of knowledge from the group members in our process of developing hope by drawing attention to personal strengths and resources. The main issue with chronic pain, from a hope perspective, is that it doesn’t go away. This tests the courage of the sufferers, but also of the people who use their professional skills to relieve the pain. That said, our group members have a lot of good ideas about how to build good relationships with doctors, physiotherapists and other helpers. Here are some of the ideas they have shared with us.
Respect the fact that people are busy and make the most of the time you have. Anticipate common questions and have answers prepared. Focus on the problems you want to address. You may have many needs, but limit yourself to asking for those things that fit the work of this professional. Go in with a list of questions you want answered. Keep a diary of incidents or changes related to your condition and take it in with you.
Help professionals work efficiently as a team. You will benefit if they know what others are doing for you. Make it easy for them to communicate by gathering up business cards and giving them to other team members. Ask for copies of test results from one place and take them with you to appointments at other places.
Appeal to the human side. We all need encouragement. Express appreciation for what has been done, even if you feel that more should be done. Talk about what you have been doing for yourself. Learn the professional jargon and speak in a language that fits the situation.
Finally, don’t give up after the first few tries. Network to find helpful professionals. Ask others what has helped them. Do research to learn all you can about your condition.
Your motivation will help motivate others, and their motivation to help you will keep you moving forward.


You may have read about the exaltation of peak experiences, but I ask you, how often do you meet somebody who just had one? I don’t think I ever had, not until yesterday.
He came in, carrying the fatigue of a ten-hour workday, but you wouldn’t have known it. In fact, I was glad that the room had a ceiling for it seemed we might need a barrier to keep him with us if he simply floated upwards on a current of joy.
Here was a man who had driven a Cadillac. Never mind that it was not his own Cadillac. That wasn’t the point. He sat inside it. He breathed it in. He and the Cadillac bonded. He started it. He actually drove it.
A marvelous car it was, shiny, black and new, with every possible convenience. The seats were equipped with massage capability, and the temperature could be set precisely for the driver and separately for the passenger. You could reach across and feel upon your arm the change from 18 degrees to 22, as if a wall were there to mark the space. What person in his place would not have paused to savour the moment? And yet, when he dallied among the luxuries, reluctant to end the experience one second earlier than necessary, his colleagues came to ask if he needed help getting started, and then stopped to join in his celebration. They had, they said, just witnessed a vision of true ecstasy. So compelling was the story of it all that I had to drop everything just to hear it.
It was Abraham Maslow who first wrote of peak experience. "Peak experiences are sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, possibly the awareness of an "ultimate
truth" and the unity of all things ... the experience fills the individual with wonder and awe....he feels at one with the world, and is pleased with
it ...."
So here am I, yesterday’s onlooker, wondering which is better--to have a peak experience, or to witness one?