Tending the Spirit

Tending the Spirit

Unlike most people, Susan d’Olive Mozena, MHSA ’84, likes being in the hospital—so much so that after 31 years as a hospital administrator and health care executive, 12 of them at Detroit Receiving and nearly two as COO of a community hospital in Kentucky, she became a hospital chaplain. The 66-year-old Presbyterian minister, who was ordained in 2009, says, tongue-in-cheek, that the best part of her job at Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Michigan, is that for the first time in three decades she doesn’t have to do a budget. The toughest part is coping with the days “that are full of way too much sad drama. But it’s one of the reasons I wanted to be a hospital chaplain—I know how hard it is to work in a hospital.” Mozena finds that her extensive understanding of the way hospitals work informs her spiritual-care work, and her spiritual-care work in turn sheds light on the way hospitals work. Some observations:

On the hospital chaplain’s role:
Being a chaplain is not about religion, by any means. It should not be. It must not be. It is about helping people achieve on their own a more spiritual wholeness—in the midst of whatever disaster they’re dealing with. In my tradition, I know that my being there is a witness to my faith, but I don’t go in selling religion. I just lightly touch a person on the shoulder and say, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Is it all right if I spend some time with you?” We can go the entire time, and they don’t know I’m an ordained minister.

On the human need for connection:
We live in a highly individualistic, highly rational society. Religion and spirituality fly in the face of that. There’s nothing wrong with being a rational human being, but trying to go it alone is really not a smart thing to do. We all need community. Some of us find it within our families, some within our church or mosque or synagogue, some find it within a sewing group or a group of people who have coffee once a week. We need to be connected to each other. We need to take care of each other. Most of that taking care is listening.

On hospitals and compassion:
I spent 12 years in the administration of Detroit Receiving. We were a private hospital, but we took in everyone. We never lost sight of the dignity of each patient—whether they were washed or unwashed, whether they had great insurance because they were in a car accident or had no insurance and were a gunshot victim from the streets of Detroit. Everyone was treated with respect. It all comes down to compassion. The word “passion” in Latin has to do with suffering. “Com” is “suffering with.” If we forget compassion—if hospital administrators, clinic managers, HMO executives, anybody who’s part of this whole fabric of what we lovingly call a “system”—if we forget compassion, then we should not be in the business.

And those in positions of authority should never lose sight of the fact that the people who work in the system, at every level of the chain of command, are whole people who bring not only heads and bodies but their hearts to the job. And they need to be treated that way.

On suffering:
The whole book of Job is the “why” question, and God doesn’t really answer it. When people who are suffering say to me, “Why did this happen?” I say, “I’m truly sorry. I know you’re looking for an answer, but I don’t have one for you.” I think what’s important is what we do next, and that is for the community to gather around—for people to allow their story to be told, for all the rest of us to hear it from them. We’re not meant to think we’re so strong as individuals that we can handle all this ourselves. Because guess what? We can’t.

Photo by Peter Smith