How to change anxious waiting into expectant waiting

DECEMBER 24, 2023 7:00 AM

It was Christmas Eve 1993 and my husband, John, and I were spending the holidays at my parent’s house in Austin, Texas. I was doing my daily meditation when these words came into my mind: “Love. Help. Hope. You will have babies.” These words were encouraging to me as John and I had been through several years of fertility issues and the loss of our first six pregnancies. Multiple years with darkness in our lives. In my journal I wrote, “To me (these words) meant: Love – that is what life is all about and what we all need; Help – it’s OK that we get help from the medical profession; Hope – Hope is so important, and as long as we keep it, everything will be OK; and You will have babies – I will have more than one baby.”

I often returned to these words as John and I began an in vitro fertilization process three months later in March. On April 22, 1994 we found out we were pregnant. These same words helped me through that pregnancy and the birth of our daughter in December 1994. Six years later, they buoyed me as we became pregnant with our son who was born in November 2000. Love. Help. Hope. We had babies!

These special words came to me when we had been doing a lot of waiting on a baby, and at a time of year that has a lot to do with waiting. Religious and cultural holidays encourage patient waiting during December — and nature does as well. The winter solstice marks the movement to longer days as we wait for spring and more light.

In our world, we seem to value the light more than the dark. And waiting in darkness can feel like a double whammy. Not only are we waiting but we’re doing it in darkness, which brings lack of vision and elements of fear.

But sometimes waiting in darkness can be meaningful and powerful. It was for me. What I’ve learned is there are two types of waiting. Anxious waiting and expectant waiting. Anxious waiting is based on fear and worry. Today many of us try to fill this time with activities, technology, etc. Expectant waiting is full of hope — in my case, love, help and hope. This waiting can be quiet and still; it doesn’t need to be filled. The message I felt on that 1993 Christmas Eve turned my waiting from being anxious to being expectant and that made my life very different.

In terms of waiting in darkness, a lot can happen during that time. Consider the darkness in winter that leads to new life in spring. Or the caterpillar in a chrysalis that emerges as a butterfly. Or in my case, pregnancies that lead to births of babies. Those are all times of expectant waiting in darkness.

When we’ve experienced a loss, grief is a time of waiting in darkness. A challenge can be to turn that waiting from being anxious to being expectant. One way to begin to do that is to spend time in grief education and support gatherings where you can see that you’re not alone and experience how others have moved forward in their grief. A second way to do turn anxious waiting into expectant waiting is to set an intention. What would you like to gain from the grief journey? Some examples might be, more compassion, peace, and/or transformation.

I recently sat with a group of bereaved individuals as they shared the transformations they’ve noticed in themselves since the deaths of their loved ones. Some felt they were finding their true identities for the first time in their lives. Others felt they were understanding how to be individuals as opposed to roles in relationship with others. All of these thoughts came about after expectant waiting in the darkness of their grief.

A third way to begin to turn your grief waiting from being anxious to expectant is to practice gratitude. Looking for things that make us feel grateful each day naturally leads to expectant waiting.

Over New Year’s Eve, there are many opportunities to practice gratitude and start 2024 with expectant waiting. One way is to honor lives lost, share comforting memories, and remember how those gone still live on in this world. This can be done by visiting the luminaria display on the grounds of Koch Funeral Home at 2401 S. Atherton St. starting at sundown on Dec. 31, until sunrise New Year’s Day. And by creating and hanging your own memorial ornament on the Remembrance Tree in the Borough Building during First Night. Please visit for more information.

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant, and end-of-life doula who facilitates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College. This column is coordinated by, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

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