Child Life Specialist: As a New Year Approaches, Embrace Hope Now
Hope – the beauty that is to be had – doesn’t have to be next year. Hope is here, now. You can be hope to someone, and you can find hope in the simple.
Child Life Specialist Series: We're diving deeper into children’s expression of emotions, the validation of children’s emotions and experiences (including tears), and what it looks like to advocate for our children in all settings.
By Ashley Pagenkopf, MS, CCLS, Child Life Specialist at Cook Children's
The last few years have been filled with collective challenges. The pandemic seemed to touch every single person in some way. It was the first experience of my lifetime that seemed to affect every single person I know.
We seem to be coming out of the grief and fog, but some lasting changes and effects will forever remind us of this time. Yet, in the middle of a pandemic, life continued to happen. Babies were born. Family members received new diagnoses. Some of us said goodbye to those closest to us. Joy and sadness shared space just like they always have and always will.
When 2022 began, I filled out my yearly “dream guide” and walked into this year with joy and excitement to leave the intensity of the past two years behind. I wanted a break from the hard and literal constant changes. For our family, this year was a mile-marker year. My husband and I celebrated 15 years of marriage, and I entered my fourth decade of life. I was ready – ready to celebrate at every turn and really enjoy this year.
Grief and Grace
At the end of March, our world changed yet again. My middle daughter had a seizure and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Time stood very, very still. Only a week after her first seizure, my grandfather (who I truly believed would live forever), died unexpectedly. We found out about her tumor two days before my grandfather’s funeral.
I’ve never really known grief like I knew that weekend. It was physically painful. I remember wondering if the pain would ever subside or if it was going to be my new normal. There were many moments I could not breathe. My girls were devastated over the death of their great-grandfather, and we still had to tell them about a tumor. I just thought that pandemic was hard. This was a new level.
For the next several months, my daughter endured tests and imaging, and we talked to countless doctors to decide our next steps. We spent the summer in many, many consults and trying to make huge decisions.
At the beginning of August on our way to our summer vacation, I found myself completely void of any hope. I was shutting down. The moment I realized I was not okay was in the security line at the airport with the unkindest person that ever existed.
After several very difficult shifts in the ER where many families lost their precious babies coupled with the intense decisions we were making for my daughter, the one lady working security caused me to completely fall apart. I wondered if she had recently lost someone or watched someone else grieve their child or if her child had a new diagnosis… I had to ask myself this so maybe I could give her some grace. I really had nothing left, though.
I sobbed as I put my shoes on. My kids stared as I didn’t even try to hold it together. My husband was angrier than ever. I made my way to Starbucks, barely able to catch my breath and not even attempting to hide my hot, alligator tears. Once on the airplane, I proceeded to sit on my coffee that I had set down to put a bag away. Things felt completely hopeless. Life felt unraveled.
Have you looked at this past year and wished it would just end? Have you had one too many phone calls from the school with your kid as the subject? Has your kiddo been diagnosed with a new illness? Did you think that you were done with treatment, only to find yourself back in hard? Has your job felt like it is robbing you of all your energy and sanity? Have you lost someone dear to you this year? Has your world felt like it was ending, and you couldn’t see a way to stop it? Have you had a moment like mine in the airport where you had nothing left for the mean person and then you sat on your coffee?
Embrace Hope Now
I’ve heard a lot of people say recently that they are ready to have 2022 in their rearview mirror. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel the same way. But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I am the first to embrace new beginnings. I love the New Year – new goals, new resolutions, new starts. But I have been reminded often that hope is here, now. It is at this very moment. In my desperate desire to leave this year behind and start over, I may miss the very moment where hope meets me now.
Literally, in every hard moment of this year, something beautiful has shared space with it. That something beautiful has often reminded me that hope is here. Hope is defined as “confident expectation” or “forward-looking faith.” Hope reminds us that there is good coming and beauty to be had.
Yet, this year, what I’ve always hoped for has met me in every hard moment. The hope for people who would support me, the hope for strength to shine in my kids in the face of adversity, the hope that I would be able to be present for my family when we faced pain and the hope that I could still find comfort and peace amid grief… All those hopes have been real this year. Thank goodness for those few sips of Starbucks before I sat on it. (Starbucks has provided a great deal of hope in the middle of hard this year.)
While on the said vacation, a wonderful photographer captured our family on the beach of Lake Tahoe. Hope that we could still smile and laugh and find joy met me in those moments. When tears streamed down people’s faces as they shared their prayers and hopes for our family, hope met me there. When my Cook Children’s family extravagantly showered our family with gifts and love, hope was tangible. When my very best friends drove seven hours for my daughter’s surgery and surprised me, hope met me. With every letter and encouragement and tear, I met hope.
What would happen if we could embrace hope now? Hope – the beauty that is to be had – doesn’t have to be next year. Hope is here, now.
You can be hope to someone, and you can find hope in the simple. You can hand that bag of essentials out the window to the next man or woman you see on the corner and offer them hope. You can pay for the car behind you in the drive-thru and be hope for them. You can smile and ask your cashier how their day is and be hope for them at that moment.
You can offer the beauty that is to be had – the hope – to those around you. And you can find hope in your next cup of coffee that warms you up. You can see hope in your kiddo that chooses kindness towards their sibling. You can experience hope in the next phone call or text message or next hug that comes your way. You can experience hope the next time your kiddo is brave like you never knew. You can see hope in the way that one tiny candle lights up the darkest room. Hope is here, now.
Get to know Ashley Pagenkopf
Ashley Pagenkopf is a Child Life Specialist in the Emergency Department at Cook Children's Medical Center. The Child Life program at Cook Children's offers a variety of services, all designed to make your experience at Cook Children's the best it can be. Our services include educating, preparing and supporting your child through tests and procedures, as well as coping with any life challenges you and your child may face. Child Life specialists work with kids and families to make their visit to the medical center easier and more comfortable. We offer your child and your family an opportunity to express and work through any fears and concerns you may have. We'll also provide an explanation about what's going to happen during your visit and work with parents, brothers and sisters and other family members who may be involved in your child's daily care.