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Do not despair — this, too, shall pass
Do not despair — this, too, shall pass

Wil Darcangelo is on vacation. This column was originally published in 2017.

Do not despair. You have been told. So don’t do it. But, of course, it’s easier said than done. And what is despair? It’s not merely sadness. It is deeper than sadness. It’s the persistent belief that sadness is your new permanent mailing address. It’s from the Latin prefix “de-,” meaning “down from,” and “sperare,” meaning “to hope.” As if hope is the pinnacle, and we are banished from ever again reaching it.

But despair is not about being in the depths; it’s about looking away from the light. It’s about choosing to see the depths as your new forever reality, rather than just a temporary one. It’s actually quite easy to slip into a belief that we will never be happy again when we lose someone. We can’t begin to picture what it would feel like to be happy as we process our loss.

But worse, we fear we are doing our love for them a disservice by imagining a future happiness in the midst of our present grief. We think it says we didn’t really love them unless we tear our clothes, put ashes on our heads and vow to never again think a pleasant thought. But that is not what is wanted for us. We were not made to be broken forever. We were made to become more beautiful from our brokenness. Look up the art of kintsugi.

Of course, despair comes not only from loss of a loved one, but loss in general. It’s grief that has, much as a wound left without care, become like an infection. A wound needs love and attention. It needs patience. But when we ignore our grief, or don’t notice it’s there, we delve further into the valley. Shadows of death surround us, and we forget to notice the light entirely. We then find no hope at all that it ever existed. Perhaps it was in our imagination.

I have come close to this feeling many times. I have lost the battle with it at least once. When I was 20, a series of mid-range misfortunes coalesced into a perfect storm, and I simply folded into myself for weeks. I rarely left the house for anything other than therapy. I ate instant cheesecake like it was manna. I remember distinctly what the feeling of hopelessness was allowed to do within me.

I also remember making the choice to turn from my despair. But I had to accept where I was first in order to leave it. I used my imagination to reach for a better thought. I decided the bottom of the barrel now offered the best view of the sky, but I had to give into it and just lay down to see. Now that I was there, I needed to give myself over to the experience of feeling hopeless so I could pass through it. I was resisting it.

That’s the secret to despair. The solution to its puzzle lies in the ability to allow it to pass through you with the knowledge and steadfast belief that it will pass. It will. There is an end to the bed of hot coals you are walking on. And if you can hold onto that thought while allowing yourself to feel the loss, the grief, the abandonment, you’ll find that will be the key to discovering the best version of your new self. Because we always, always change from loss.

But it is entirely your decision what change that will be.

Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster, and producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube. Email Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at

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