Amanda C. Brainerd and Jennifer Cooreman

Spark 21 | Amanda C. Brainerd

Response piece by Amanda C. Brainerd

Inspiration piece
What Song Will You Sing?: Moving Through Hopelessness by Jennifer Cooreman

My sister and I didn’t fight, but if we did, I don’t remember. Lisa was eight years older, and although I was often doing something little sister-ish and annoying (like spilling nail polish on her desk or eating all her Easter candy), she never stayed angry for long. She’d let me scramble right back onto her lap for a bedtime story, or patiently brush the knots from my hair before school.

I worry, though, because my memories of her are growing hazy. Why I recall the print of her flannel nightgown, but not the last time we embraced is a mystery I hope to unravel. Probably not in this lifetime, though.

She was asleep when I left one morning for school, before the sun and my mother rose for the day. But she was dead by the time I came home. That, I can never forget.

Death does not owe the living an explanation, and rarely gives one that satisfies our pain. But my sister’s death left a gaping wound because it made no sense at all. She took her own beautiful life. Without warning, justification or explanation. Though I know there was nothing I would have accepted, I sometimes wonder if she might have at least tried.

My sister is gone. She believed death was the only doorway open to her, the only viable way to escape her pain. It wasn’t. But because she bore the burden of her shame alone, the only song she could hear was one she sang to herself.

Alone, in the darkness of her shame and self hatred, she sang, “You have failed, you are alone, and the world will not mourn your loss.”

Had she taken one step, towards one of us that loved and cared for her, we could have discerned the whispers of her tortured song. Because she was so very wrong. Her past, present and future were not dirty, ugly or worthless.

It was the song she sang in the silence of her guilt that was ugly and led to hopelessness and bitter despair. My sister was a powerful, intelligent and valuable soul, the way God creates us all to be. She was never beyond hope, although her thoughts fooled her just long enough for her to make a horrible mistake.

None of us are beyond hope. Hope is ingrained in who we are. We are born into hope, and live lifted by dreams and passions until our journey in this world is complete. But the feeling of hopelessness is not a cue to end our journeys.

Our stories are complete when we have done all we can to help others. It does nothing to better the world when we leave it with a life half written, ended on a note of despair.

When we feel hopeless, we’ve allowed the song of our sadness to drown out the grace and beauty of our futures. Hopelessness is a temporary condition that feels agonizingly real. Death, however, is a permanent solution to that agony.

If my sister were alive today, she would be long past her pain, living dreams she imagined for herself, along with ones she never knew were possible.

If she were here, she would be singing others past their pain and fear because she would have conquered hers. Survivors make the best leaders and guides. They show others how to move past pain and fear because they never discount its cost, or downplay how terrifying it is to choose life over death when we are afraid our very existence does not matter.

The pain of my sister’s death made me a survivor. When she died, I thought about taking my own life many times. Suicide was like a disease, a cancer of the mind. In the 25 years she’s been gone, I have been overcome by grief and fear more times than I’d like to admit. But whenever my fear and hopelessness begin to take root, I have learned to recognize the feelings, and hear the twisted song for what it really is; a poisonous lie, an impostor presenting itself as a viable answer to pain.

Grief and fear may insist, “Life is too difficult. There is no way out of the mess you’ve made. You will never be whole or happy again.” But I have learned, over time and with help and guidance of loving mentors, friends and counselors, that fear and depression is a song that will disable me only if I allow it.

Sometimes it takes another person singing with you to guide you through your darkness. Other times, though, you’ll find yourself truly alone in the wilderness of your fears. For a matter of minutes or hours, it doesn’t matter; when you feel hopeless, time has no meaning. If you find yourself alone in a valley, have your song ready. It’s one you will sing to yourself many times throughout your life, and you’ll always recognize it as the truth.

“On the other side of this dark hill is my future. When I arrive, I’ll be stronger and more capable because I did not give in to this momentary darkness. I have dreams to nurture and people to help. My conquering soul will brighten the future. Hope is the answer to darkness and courage the answer to fear.”

Surviving and living through pain, mistakes and trials has shaped some of the world’s most influential and valuable leaders, teachers and souls. I’d rather be scarred by pain and live to tell a tale that will help others in their journey than give in to the wilds of my own doubts.

Our role in life is not to give up. It is to feel our pain, accept it, then send it on its way. We move to the top of our hills, find moments of peace, grace and enlightenment, and are propelled forward with renewed strength and power.

Thoughts of death and suicide don’t scare me. Acting on them does. I’ve had them, lived them and been shaped by the pain and desolation they leave behind when they are chosen over life.

When relationships end, children die, addictions resurface, families splinter, money dwindles and hope flies away, thoughts of death flicker to the surface like poison. But I know suicide and suicide knows me. I’ve thought of it, stared at it, questioned it and raged in its face.

Suicide is never a valid answer to the temporary condition of hopelessness. There is no hill we can not climb or valley we can’t walk through. Others who’ve lived through fires so hot their lives should never have risen from the ashes will be our guides. Their strength in rising will show us the way.

You are important. You were created to feel and love. Living can be unbearably painful. But as we conquer our pain and choose to live, we grow. That is what we are created to do; we gather strength from those around us, then return with more strength to offer those who are walking through their time of fire.

No matter what hopelessness breeds inside your silence, there is always love. People who love you are surrounding you, waiting for you to take a step towards them. Waiting to sing a new song.

What song will you sing to find hope?

What will you sing when you’ve climbed beyond your fears?

Remember the words, and teach them to others.


  1. Posted March 3, 2014 at 6:51 pm | #

    The artwork and writing are both so beautiful and strong with emotion. What a wonderful partnership.

  2. Posted March 4, 2014 at 6:28 pm | #

    I happened upon this post by accident, and I’m so happy to see the stunning artwork you created (I wrote this piece about my sister). It’s perfect, beautiful- I wonder if I could get a print somehow? Fantastic job…

  3. Posted March 8, 2014 at 12:19 pm | #

    Jennifer, I went ahead and made this available as a print on Society6 so you can pick from a variety of sizes/formats. Here’s the link.