I can’t always hope. But I can be open to it.

When people are in mourning, those who care about them often search for some way to help them feel better. It’s awful to see someone you love feeling such pain. You want to take away the suffering, fix the problem, bring your loved one to a place of happiness and positive thinking.

I’ve been that person, caring deeply for a grieving friend or family member, wanting to take them by the hand and pull them to a happier place. I’ve even tried to do it, in the most nonjudgmental, low-key way possible – and, to be honest, it didn’t work. So it’s no surprise that now, when I’m the one grieving, it doesn’t work on me either.

Grief is like quicksand – the more intensely you struggle to pull someone out or climb out yourself, the deeper you sink. Consult instructions for freeing yourself from quicksand, and you will see valuable advice for working through grief: Don’t ask others to pull you out, you have to do it yourself. Breathe. Take your time. Move slowly. Be patient.

Since my brother died suddenly in June of 2014, I’ve spent a lot of time in the quicksand, and I’ve felt some gentle tugs from friends and family. Many of them fall into what I like to call the “gotta” group. “You gotta stay strong…” “You gotta think positive…” “You gotta be grateful for (fill in the blank)…” These well-intentioned, hopeful, and kind calls to action are usually derailed by the “gotta” aspect. I hear “gotta” as an imperative, however loving, and I find that I resist imperatives now more than I ever have before. I have so little control over my state of mind as it is, and someone outside of me has even less of a chance of exerting influence. Whatever I am able to do has to take place organically, not because I or anyone else thinks that I “gotta.”

I wouldn’t have bothered to click on a site called “You Gotta Have Hope.” No I don’t gotta, I would have thought to myself. I don’t gotta anything, and I don’t want anyone telling me I do.

But when someone recommended this site, those three words – open to hope – compelled me to investigate. To me, they convey an enormously important message:

“No one can tell you that you must have hope. You may feel lacking in hope or utterly hopeless. You may feel that hope is pointless or unreliable. You may believe that you won’t ever hope again the way you used to before your loss. We will never judge what you feel at any moment. But we have an invitation for you. We invite you to be open to hope. This invitation asks only that you leave the door open a crack and see what happens. That you accept the possibility of hope making its way to you. That you be willing to acknowledge hope if you see it peeking in at the door, and consider asking it to come in.”

I have found out that I cannot consistently feel hopeful, anymore, no matter how positive a person I have been for most of my life. But I have also discovered that even in my blackest moods, I can accept that hope is possible. If and when it does come my way, I am willing to see where it takes me. I am open to hope.

Sarah Kravits

Sarah Kravits is a writer and teacher who for over 20 years has co-authored the Keys to Success textbook series on college success, published by Pearson Education. In June of 2014, her only sibling and beloved brother was killed in an auto accident when his vehicle was hit head-on by a severely impaired driver. In navigating this loss through self-exploration and writing, she has come to understand judgment -- specifically negative judgment, of one's self as well as of others -- as a paralyzing force that prevents the full realization of who we are and what we are capable of doing. Her website is at www.lifewithoutjudgment.com where she blogs regularly on coping with crisis.

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