Celebrating an Incredible Everyday Leader

If you think about your own leadership — the passion you have for something important — I wonder if you might find this line from author and minister Michael Beckwith rings true:  “Pain pushes until vision pulls.”  I know from my own life that my pains, discomforts and losses became fuel — knowingly and sometimes unwittingly – to spur me to make things better.  But no one in my life has taught me this lesson better than Oralya Garza.

Oralya came to us when my wife took office as Governor of Michigan in 2003.  On March 31, of that same year, without notice, Oralya’s husband was found dead of a massive heart attack. Vincent, who found his dad was 10 at the time; his sister London 6.  We really couldn’t imagine her pain. It didn’t go away easily. But somehow, she used it as fuel for three different vehicles. First, she was Mom and dad for her two spirited kids. Second, she wrote prolifically — poetry, stories, and original plays, with depth, pathos, and a dry searing wit.

The third vehicle fueled by her pain?  She was my scheduler. She kept me on time and well used in my volunteer role, but she put the pedal to the metal at weekly scheduling meetings. There, when the schedulers pressed to send the Governor to one “must” meeting, ribbon-cutting, legislative mixer, fundraiser or another, Oralya would with ferocity put her foot down, “It’s date night, and we’re not canceling it.”  Those nights were infrequent, but Oralya who had lost her husband fought for our marriage and for our kids. She was amazing.  THIS was everyday leadership: principled, courageous, and compassionate — where pain pushed until her vision pulled. 

On Sunday, I attended her son Vince’s funeral. At 22 years old, a heart attack, a pacemaker, and pneumonia came in rapid succession. He passed away last week.

I hope, with her permission, to post the eulogy/reflection she wrote for her son’s funeral. But for now, I offer a Facebook post of hers from this week. She’s turning her pain into vision. I write it knowing — I suppose hoping — that it will pain you, enough that you might convert it to fuel for your vision, to help you

lead with your best self.

Through the Window – by Oralya Garza

I was watching through the window as they tried to pump the life back into my son.  All evening there had been a huge family presence for another patient, invading the hallways, filling the waiting room – but it was only Vince and me because they promised me, he was in no danger.  They were there because their family member was dying, and they knew that.  Somebody brought me a chair.  There was a clock to my right, and I marked the minutes – how many more compressions?  When would his heart machine kick in?  How long could he stay under.  

I heard soft singing of a Muslim prayer coming from the next room, and I wished she would sing for my son too.  I wished I could ask her to sing for my son.

But I sat there and watched through the window, waiting for Vince to wake up, listening to the debate of the staff on who would go into the room, wondering why there didn’t seem to be more haste.  She exited the room.  She was dressed in a reddish purple dress, head covered as her faith requires.  She walked slowly as she passed in front of the window, temporarily blocking my son from my view.  She stopped and we looked into each others eyes.  Very softly she said, my son will die tonight too.  I will pray to Allah for your son, please pray for mine.  I thanked her and said that I would pray for him.  He was only a few years older than my own.  I remember the promise the doctor made, that Vincent was in no danger of death, that there were many things they could do before it would ever reach that point; and that was a lie.

So I pray, since they were wrong about my son, that they were also wrong about hers, and he lived.  I pray that her son lived.

  • I am moved by her writing in her moment of hope yet loneliness. The fact that life loss caused her fire is not uncommon. Neither is mistakes and mishaps in medicine. As I physican, I tried to inform the doctors caring for my mother the most likely diagnosis. I pushed and yelled until heard a day later when it was to late. The vascular surgeon told me I was right and why they weren’t called. I could have been devastated. The profession I love so well seemingly betrayed me. But the lesion I learned from it has fueled me to listen to family, expand my diagnosis, and pray with my patients if the answer of Unknown. Often gladiators are around us and there story is worthy to be told. I am glad to hear her story and lift her up in prayer that God continue to allow her to speak her voice in action and poetic voice.

    • Eric,
      What a powerful tale YOU tell. How fortunate your patients and their families are to have you as their doctor. In the end, we are spiritual beings, something we too often forget.
      Wishing you well.

  • This is so touching and it illustrates that despite our cultural, racial, religious or other differences, we are all connected by our humanness and our emotions. I pray for Oralya and her family as wellas the other mother as they grieve the loss of their loved ones.

  • I was so touched by this post. You see, Oralya was my secretary in the previous administration before she became your scheduler. She was always a dedicated professional and wonderful human being. Please convey my condolences about her husband and now her son. So tragic! Life certainly is not fair, as I had to tell my wife today on her birthday just after our autistic teenage daughter had a meltdown. We struggle, too. Thanks to Oralya for reminding us of the great compassion that is possible to help others get through the day.

  • Oralya’s note is amazingly complex. It sounds exactly like the experience of being in a confusing and yet simple hospital event. These things happen so often in hospitals, but most of us see it only when it is part of us, which sets us apart from those who are caring for us and those we know. These stories need to be shared more often.

  • Powerful! Oralya’s note is so plaintive and raw, yet also so full of humanness. I cannot help but juxtapose her experience with something almost 180 degrees different in my own life – my 17 year old daughter receiving her acceptance to the University of Michigan over the weekend (and with other prospects, including Cal-Berkeley still to come). My prayers to Oralya and her family.

    We live in an era of increasing fear and intolerance, particularly towards Muslims. It is a stain on our country. But, Oralya’s experience with the (Muslim) mother in the hospital shows the human connection we share with everyone regardless of where we come from.

  • Dan,
    Just when I think I’m alone and demand (yes, DEMAND) that my pain have a reason and purpose, you step in and know my space. I’m blessed by you.

  • It’s Christmas eve and I’m catching up on messages. How sad I am to read about Oralya’s son. How blessed to read her writing and telling us her story. Sad and blessed. Blessed and sad.
    Please add my condolences and heartfelt thoughts to her.

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