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  • Writer's pictureThe Charity Knowledge Hub

Heaven’s Loss by Mark Preston

‘Reports convey information, Stories create experience.

Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader, crossing boundaries of time, space and imagination. The report points us there. The story puts us there’ -  Roy Peter Clark


Whether we are watching a movie, reading a novel or listening to a friend tell a yarn at the pub, stories capture our attention in a unique way. Stories drag us onto the set of the movie and embed us in the pages of the book.


Stories create empathy in a way that other forms of communication simply cannot.


So why is it that when organisations communicate, they so often fail to articulate the story of their mission? Even the most heart-warming causes often fail to stir the hearts of their audience.


Let’s imagine for a moment that you and I are responsible for an organisation that seeks to help hurting or vulnerable people. And because we want to help them, part of what we do is to help the public understand that behind every broken person and situation, there most likely exists some trauma and suffering about which we are ignorant.


So we could say something trite and preachy and encourage people to be more patient and understanding. Or maybe we would cite some statistics that are relevant to our particular area of interest.


Alternatively, we could tell a story.

Let me give you an example from an experience that is fresh in my mind.


Just a few days ago, a warm June Saturday afternoon, my wife Zoe and I decided to walk along the promenade at Plymouth Hoe. We knew if we walked for a mile or so we would arrive at Bertie’s – purveyor of sticky desserts and ice cream. We talked and thought about the sweet treat awaiting us at the mid-point of our walk.


We commented on the half a dozen ice cream vans that we passed on our way. And as tempted as we were, we agreed it was worth waiting for Bertie’s.


As we gently walked and enjoyed the views of Plymouth sound, we came across some pedestrian congestion on the path in front of us. We quickly realised that the busyness was caused by the passing crowds having to swerve to avoid someone who was laid out on the floor.

As we got closer, we could see that a lady younger than us was reeling on the floor – she was screaming and in considerable distress. Closer still and it was clear that she was covered in vomit. She continued to roll and scream, her face buried in a dark and stained hoody that only slightly muffled her distraught cries.


Some people tutted, most quietly moved out of the way and continued on the path. I must confess that while I felt uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do, Zoe quickly began to ask this distressed young lady if she was ok and if we could help. She was still not able to speak and her behaviour was erratic. Zoe persisted.


‘My name is Zoe, what’s your name?’

‘Heaven’ came back as the eventual reply from this lost young lady in a rare moment of coherence. Heaven could not be further from the reality of her life at that moment.


So concerning was Heaven’s state, I called an ambulance and awkwardly stood in an adjacent vacant parking spot – partly to hold the space for the ambulance and partly because I didn’t know what else to do. While I updated the emergency services about Heaven’s condition and our location, I could hear Zoe talking to her.


At one point, Heaven, who was now seated in a slouched position on the floor with her back against the wall, looked up at Zoe and with momentarily clear eyes and voice asked, ‘do you have a daughter?’


Suddenly Heaven’s loss became obvious. As she became more alert, we both realised how much pain she must have experienced.  We didn’t pry further but we felt her sense of loss and hurt.

As the effects of whatever it was that she had taken to temporarily numb her heartache subsided, Heaven insisted on getting up and wondering away. We would have much rather she had stayed to wait for the ambulance but Heaven just wanted to be elsewhere now.

She picked up the remains of an unpleasant looking energy drink and wondered off. I told the call operative what was happening and he said they would drive by to see if she could be helped, but that we should not try to stop her from leaving.


We never made it to Bertie’s. And there is not great saviour story here.

But we did realise that all of the screaming and pain was one expression of Heaven’s great loss. The grief-stricken, lost and most hurt among us, are not as different from us as we might think. We’ve thought about Heaven every day since then. Heaven’s loss touched our hearts and we hope and pray that she finds peace and hope.


This story is not manufactured or unreal – it was simply one of millions of such instances that happen every single day all over the world. If only we had eyes to see them.


Let’s not throw more stats or expect our clever mission statements to move people’s hearts. We need to learn how to experience and tell stories if we want people to really listen.  

Mark Preston will be delivering our "Start with Your Story" workshop - delegate places available


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