GREENFIELD — They know theirs is sometimes a thankless job, caring for the sick and the weak, providing comfort to people at their lowest point.
But being a nurse is something special, something to be honored in life and in death, says a group of medical professionals that has banded together to provide funeral services for those who shared their calling.
Five current and retired nurses from Hancock Health are poised to provide a nurse honor service for those celebrating the lives of loved ones who served in that profession. The nurse honor team will conduct a short ceremony free of charge at memorial services for nurses who lived in Hancock County or surrounding counties, said founding member Linda Garrity.
In the ceremony, the volunteers read “The Nurse’s Prayer,” light a candle in a Florence Nightingale lamp, announce the last roll call for the nurse being honored, extinguish the flame and present the lamp to the nurse’s family, Garrity said.
The symbolic lamp alludes to a nickname British nurse Florence Nightingale earned as a nurse during the Crimean War, “The Lady With the Lamp.” Nightingale, who improved the sanitation at the hospital near Constantinople where she worked, set the standards for modern nursing, according to the British National Army Museum website. She was often seen walking among the injured at night, holding a light as she checked on them.
Garrity has been working to set the nurse honor guard in motion for about a year, she said. She learned about the idea when a group from St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital demonstrated a ceremony to a clinical nurse program at Hancock Health, she said.
She recently visited with county funeral homes to share information about the program so coordinators could inform local families.
The idea of paying her respects to those who shared her profession during their lives felt important, Garrity said.
“A lot of nurses, we read the obituaries,” she said. “Every time over the years I would read one, and it was a nurse, I felt like I needed to do something, send a card or say something to the family.”
Retired nurse Carol Seng has carried a copy of “The Nurse’s Prayer” in her purse since she graduated from nursing school in Illinois years ago, she said.
She was honored when Garrity asked her to be a part of the honor group and to share the prayer with the loved ones of nurses who have died.
“It’s a wonderful way to say, ‘Thank you for a job well done,’ to my wonderful nurse colleagues,” she said.
The ceremony pays a touching tribute to the sisterhood between nurses, who so often have a lifelong passion for serving others, she said.
Michele McGill, who has worked as a registered nurse for 34 years this May, is one of the five women currently making up the honor guard.
She said the all-white uniforms they don to conduct the ceremony are nostalgic and remind her of the origins of the profession.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to do it too often, but it is a cool thing,” she said. “It’s bittersweet, but it’s such an honor.”
Those who wish to have their loved one honored with a special nurse’s ceremony should ask their funeral home director to contact the honor team’s representative at 317-468-4383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.