Misplaced Sympathy

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.

4 thoughts on “Misplaced Sympathy

  1. This is absolutely hideous, putting it mildly. How completely insensitive, but it is a digital world, one of the many mistakes the digital world makes every day. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I do hope that phone call saves others from dealing with emotions that as you said, never truly go away. We love you Dr. Burch.


  2. Blame this, too, on Covid! That’s unfortunate. Yes to taking a breath! However, with your permission, now I have an illustration to share for discussion in my GriefShare class. And I love the visual of the river stone.

    I’m sorry that you have had to say good-bye to both of your parents. I did, also, a long time ago. Still feels weird.


  3. This is a belated sympathy for your loss. Also, I am very sorry you are dealing with the Hospital “Computer Service” instead of “Customer Service.” It seems regrettable that this day and age is so linked to computers that it can be a challenge to have human contact. When you do contact a person, they are not always helpful or really knowledgeable.


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