I am approaching a month since my mother died. I have been absorbed in feeling my loss and doing the work of grief—writing thank you notes, calling my newly widowed father, crying, giving renewed thanks for the blessing of my mother’s life, getting on with my own life. But there was one task that I knew that I needed to do and was dreading. I needed to tell the story of her death in a letter.
Specifically, I needed to write the president of the hospital in which she died to let him know of the disconnection between the mission of his institution and my experience. The hospital offered fabulous nursing care to my mother, but in her last 24 hours, an economically driven administrative decision almost undercut the holiness of her death. To save money, the administration wanted to close the palliative unit and move my actively dying mother across the street to another unit.
My mother had worked in this same Catholic hospital for 28 years and she believed passionately in their mission of healing and serving the poor and underserved with compassion, excellence, justice, and respect for human dignity. At her end, they were going to ignore their calling. Fortunately, I was able to question their policy and the decision to close the unit was reversed.
I wrote the president because I needed him to be aware of the gap between mission and actual ministry. There was power for me in my writing the story of her death, whether or not any change in policy comes from the telling. I realize I have no power, but to witness.
I think that’s true about our stories in other avenues of our lives as well. If we don’t tell the stories of our loves, losses, work, faith, hopes—all of our experience, the spiritual power of our lives is diminished. Spiritual power comes from the telling of the story—God’s and our own.
As a priest, I appreciate it when others share the truth of their lives with me. I also value people sharing their stories of mission and experience. My hope is that our community can be a place where we learn to tell our stories and that by doing so we unleash the power of God in us to heal the world and each other.