In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

November 21, 2017

‘Stay With Me Awhile:’ Retired Chaplain Pens Play About Keeping Vigil With Patients

By In the Loop

During her 31 years as a hospital chaplain for Mayo Clinic, Mary Johnson was a part of many vigils kept for patients near the end of their lives. She’s now turned some of those experiences and memories into a new play that will debut at the Rochester Civic Theatre later this winter.

Mary Johnson spent more than 30 years as a hospital chaplain. The experience inspired a creative endeavor in her retirement: writing a play about what it's like to keep vigil.

Mary Johnson served as a hospital chaplain at Mayo Clinic for 31 years. During that time, she often had a front-row seat to the difficult circumstances that brought people to the hospital. "One of the things chaplains commonly do is attend vigils that families are keeping with their dying loved ones," she tells us. "A typical example is being called to the emergency room at 2 a.m. because someone had been brought in after suffering a serious heart attack … or perhaps it was a car accident. I would go to the emergency room and sit with the family."

She'd often do the same in the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center and the labor and delivery area at Mayo Clinic Hospital — ­Rochester. "Most of my work there was also loss-related," Chaplain Johnson tells us.

As heartbreaking as these events were to witness, she tells us it was "a privilege" to share that time with families. "I had some very memorable experiences."

The most memorable, Chaplain Johnson tells us, were the vigils that lasted through the night. "That's when the stories would come out," she says. "You start asking questions, and you learn a lot about who they were as a person and how they'll be missed by their families and community. And I mean, who gets to have those kinds of conversations? It's pretty rare."

It was with that in mind that a year before her retirement from Mayo Clinic, Chaplain Johnson started thinking about sharing those moments — using them as the foundation for her first play. "Once I did retire, I just started interviewing people who I knew had a vigil experience," she says. "Over time, as people found out I was doing this, they started coming to me to share their stories."

The result was roughly 100 stories that she and playwright (and longtime friend) Barbara Means Fraser have crafted into a new play called "Stay With Me Awhile." Thanks to the support of Seasons Hospice and the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation, the play will debut at the Rochester Civic Theatre in February 2018. "The play is constructed around themes, and its rhythm is like a wave," Chaplain Johnson tells us. "It goes from being intensely sad to happy to tragic. It's a play with a lot of strong emotions in it that are all part of the human experience."

She tells us that is what she hopes theatergoers will take away from the play. "I hope people see themselves and their experiences reflected on stage, and I hope that will help them to know they're not alone and that others have had these same experiences."

Grab your tickets and then make your next act sharing your comments below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.



Tags: Chaplain Services, Community, Employee Stories, Mayo Clinic in Rochester

Dear Mary I think of you often. 14 years ago you sat with my family and blessed my dear babies as one left went to heaven & one fought furiously now a strong 14. I often look at the shells you gave me that you used for the blessing. Those things mean so much to those after we lose someone. Thank you Mary.

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