This month I received a letter from the hospital system that treated my father. The first paragraph said, “We are truly sorry to hear about your loss. We extend our deepest sympathies to you and your family during this difficult time.”
The note expressed a touching sentiment; but my father passed away in November 2020. I assumed the hospital system knew since he died in its hospice. I received the letter on the twenty-month anniversary of his death.
The second paragraph pushed me over the edge with this generous offer, “Please allow us to assist you by making it a little easier as we pause sending a patient statement for 30 days to allow you additional time to manage associated affairs and deal with your loss.”
The statement revealed the sympathy letter actually served as a collection notice. Following a whole month to manage business affairs and address human grief, the hospital expected the deceased’s estate to pay any balance immediately.
I paid the hospital bill weeks after my father’s death, and the last statement noted a small credit in my favor. I’m still waiting on the refund.
Some computer no doubt sent the notice erroneously, but I cannot describe the mélange of emotions the letter evoked. It stirred up all the feelings of the past year-and-a-half. In response to the letter, I’ve alternated between anger, surprise, anger, grief, anger, loss, and anger!
Someone shared that grief is like a large rock in a fast-moving stream. Time slowly smooths the sharp edges, but the reality remains beneath the water. The smallest things can bring sorrow to the surface again.
After a long pause and a deep breath, I plan to call the hospital’s Customer Service Team. (Sorry, I snickered at the phrase “Customer Service” while typing it!) I will remember that the person on the other end of the line is a person with griefs of his or her own. Maybe my response will save some other family this particular sorrow; but based on past experiences with this particular hospital system, I doubt it.