The Murder of Hope

The Murder of Hope

by Kayla Rees
Relatively new to her career as a psychotherapist, Kayla Rees mourns the loss of a young client to suicide.
Filed Under: Children, Suicidality
In This Article…

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Hope

During my short time as a mental health therapist, I have become aware that when a client enters my office for the first time, they are not alone. I am no longer surprised to find that they bring with them a crowd. Sometimes the client is young, as April was, not quite a teenager but perhaps not quite a child anymore either. She brought with her a myriad of people—family members, friends, classmates, crushes, and her abuser. I saw some of them immediately as our eyes first met, and I instantly recognized the power that they held over her, in her consciousness, daydreams and nightmares. They sat down with her and I could feel their grip, I could feel the fear in my own chest over what they had done.

There was another being that I had only recently become acquainted with. Her presence was not quite as potent but was steady from the start. She entered the room as soon as April did and invited me into a dance of both creativity and pain.

It was not until this presence was murdered that I came to know her as Hope
It was not until this presence was murdered that I came to know her as Hope. In the weeks that passed after April chose to end her life, I got to know the heavy stone of grief that had settled in my stomach. I spent hours resting my hand on chest, on my belly, breathing in this pain that felt more complex than just the loss of April. I turned it over in my hand, wondered what was there, in my grief with her. In the weeks that followed, I realized that this rock was not just holding April, but another being: Hope.

When I look back on my time with April, I can distinctly remember the first time that Hope made herself known. April had come into my office as if it was her own and flung my blanket onto the ground, spreading it flat with the tips of her fingers. She pressed her cheek onto it and traced the shapes below her. “We can lay on it as long as we don’t put our feet on it,” she told me. I laid next to her and she spoke of her dreams. So easily, she named her abuser as he was and told me about her body. As she did, I could feel the terrified child in me reach toward the terrified child in her, and then she was there. Hope made her entrance in this easy connection, breathing into me what could be. I began to feel, in this tangled mess of articulate children, the beginnings of an older woman.

Even before Hope was murdered, I spoke to her. It began in my car, after we met. I left each session and imagined what Hope was like—a bold, creative, quirky teenager who loved her friends ferociously and spoke to her pain with tenderness when it arose. She dressed in ways that made her feel empowered and felt safe to express her creativity, her passion, her fears. I imagined an adult woman who lived her days with gentle passion, unafraid of her desires and longings. A woman who wrapped others in her own sense of embodiment, who believed that healing was possible, who advocated for herself as fiercely as she did for others. It was easy to see the ways that this energetic, playful, imaginative child could become a wildly creative and embodied woman.

I must admit that in many ways Hope was not only made of the girl. She was made of the girl that I once was, who was much more withdrawn and fearful. She was made of some of my creativity, my passion, my wildness. She was made of some of the woman I am and some of the woman that I also long to become. Hope was free and tender in ways that I sometimes am not, and she was made of the sort of reckless dreams that I held around this beautifully courageous child.

Pain

Therapy with children is a wonderfully playful mess composed of hours of Jenga, making houses out of shoeboxes, outbursts, laughter, and moments of stunning articulation. Some children enter therapy tentatively, but for April it was not the case. With April, every activity involved a story, involved imagination and intricate webs spun between characters, both fictional and real. Amidst these stories, she’d tell me her own: about the abuse, and the terror that gripped her at night, and the maddening ways that one tries to make sense of such harm. She wondered about her fear, her desire, and how these things become intertwined. She asked questions that my child-self would have been far too scared to ask: “Am I still loved?” “Do I still belong?” “Is there something wrong with me?” In these questions there was no escaping my own fear, my own history with assault, my own terror that something is wrong with me. Questions I’d asked and supposedly answered as an adult, and yet.

therapy with children is a wonderfully playful mess
And so, in these ways she began to ask me into her pain and demanded that I also acknowledge my own. As my own therapist put it so clearly, “there are some clients who invite you into more of your own healing.” I felt Hope here, too. As we stood in the lobby and said goodbye, April easily rested her hand in mine. I could feel two children speaking to each other, holding their own pain, holding each other’s pain. I could feel my own, adult hand, and I could feel Hope. I could feel the beginning of an exhale I longed so much for April to have. A type of exhale that is kind and purposeful and full of her own hopes and dreams—what a feeling it would be to witness. I knew, and Hope knew, it would not be easy to get to this exhale. And yet we believed that she was capable of it—perhaps not of entire days or weeks or years of settling into her own breath, but moments. Moments where joy and freedom were allowed.

And perhaps this is where the ache of death was felt the strongest. That when April decided she could not live any longer, she took with her two beings that I had grown to love fiercely. I have spent so much time thinking of the girl who sat in my office, the girl who played and laughed and bellowed at the top of her lungs in the lobby, completely unashamed. I have thought about the girl who spoke with astonishing clarity about those who harmed her, who bravely revealed her fears and her pain without looking away from me. I have thought about her hand in mine and her loudness and her lovely oddities. And I have missed these things fiercely.

As I have sat with my grief, as I’ve held the ache and numbness, I have been angry. I’ve been angry that when she killed herself she also murdered Hope, a being who I needed for April, but who I also needed for myself. As I’ve continued since April’s death, I’ve often wondered about Hope. I’ve wondered if she matters, now that she’s dead. I feel angry that I did not get a say in her departure—perhaps this is unwell of me, to have tangled myself up in April’s Hope so much that now it feels as if a part of me has died, too.

I’m furious because this is not what I signed up for. I signed up for pain, and for a long, difficult battle towards some sort of wellness, but I did not sign up for this. I did not sign up for creating this beautiful being with another person who gets to decide if they want to die and take Hope with them. The tangle of grief becomes nearly unbearable as I think of Hope. The girl and I,
we made her together, we crafted her from laughter and tears and imagination
we made her together, we crafted her from laughter and tears and imagination. She was formed from a goodness I can still feel sitting at the base of my throat, a goodness that I have yet to let go of. As I live and know that she is dead, I want to cling to Hope and ask her to stay somehow, without half of her being. Without the girl, Hope is dead. And with her, the goodness.

It’s been nearly impossible for me to grasp that perhaps the heartbreaking truth is that Hope, for her, is dead. As much as I have taken this rock of grief in my stomach and wanted to smash it into the ground and say, “No! You cannot take Hope with you, too!” it must be true that Hope has also been killed, and there is so much grief in that. Letting go of April and her Hope will perhaps forever be molded into the being of my own Hope; the woman who I am and who I hope to become. Letting go of the girl means that Hope lives in me as an ache. She continues to grieve and rage and long for the goodness that once was. She sits and cries with those who also grieve the loss of the girl, and she keeps going, still holding the ache. In some ways it feels easier to stay in the anger, to argue with the girl, with Hope, to hold them here with my grief. Settling into the despair is harder, is a continuous reminder that yes, she is gone. They are gone.

Risk

Shortly after April’s death, I read these words in a blog by Jerusha Dressel: “Hope is a choice to stay.” The months after her death marked a death for me—in my personal life, and in my work as a therapist. I struggled to believe that I would ever feel connected to another client again. I sat in this feeling of death and wondered, where is Hope? Months after she would begin to make an appearance, for just a moment. I would see her after a productive session, and I would hiss at her: “get out of here.” Connection with my current clients brought a newfound sense of risk and dread: if I care about them, if I love them, they could die. And if they do, a part of me will die again. I wanted to do everything in my power to keep this from happening again. Perhaps if I don’t allow myself to love, to feel deeply connected and hopeful, then therapy will not hurt so much. I will not risk losing a piece of my soul again.

there is an excruciating beauty in the invitation to enter these spaces of pain and betrayal
In the same breath that I hated Hope, that I wished I would never see her again, I also longed for her to return. I longed to feel connected again but feared so much the consequence that most of my being would not allow it. When I could not find her in myself I thought back to those words: “Hope is a choice to stay.” In this way therapy feels like a constant entering into the terror of Hope: afraid of the death and the grief that connection might bring, and yet. Hope is a choice. To keep listening, to keep feeling, to keep holding the trauma of our lives and each other’s lives. There is an excruciating beauty in the invitation to enter these spaces of pain and betrayal, and I began to center myself again in that truth. We are wired for connection. Amidst tremendous suffering, we are not required to see the ending—to see Hope of recovery or health or happiness. Somehow, in the despair, we can choose again just to stay. To behold each other’s stories. To feel the pain deeply and fully and remain with each other in it.

Hope and I will continue to be on hiatus. As I grieve and rage, I do not want to see her. And yet I know that every day as I choose to re-enter all that is therapy, she is around. A part of her has died. A part of me has died. And still, we stay.
 

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Bios
Kayla Rees Kayla Rees, LMHCA, is a Seattle-based mental health therapist working in community mental health. Her clinical areas of interest include working with sexual trauma, anxiety, body image, and sexual identity development, particularly in adolescents and young adults.