When a beloved colleague died last spring, Michelle Smith and Julia Benfield wanted to do something to recognize their friend’s unwavering dedication to the field of nursing.
Smith, who recalled hearing about nursing honor guards while attending nursing school in Pennsylvania, sought out a local chapter.“There was nothing around this area, but it was really important to us that we honored her,” Smith said.
Benfield and Smith, both of whom are nurses in The University of Toledo Medical Center Emergency Department, rounded up a few co-workers and launched the Nurses Honor Guard of Northwest Ohio.
“It’s similar to honoring police or military members when they pass away. Nursing is another public service that deserves recognition,” Smith said.
The Nurses Honor Guard of Northwest Ohio is actively recruiting new members so it can participate in more services. Each requires at least four individuals and it can be difficult to match up schedules from a small group of volunteers. Smith hopes they’ll soon have the personnel to offer their services more widely through the community.
“Once we have a big enough group of people who are committed to being available, I would like to go to the funeral homes and let them know we have this,” Smith said. “It’s an honor for us to be able to do this for nurses and their families, but we need to have more volunteers in order to get this out in the community.”
As part of the solemn show of respect, members of the Nurses Honor Guard of Northwest Ohio wear traditional all-white uniforms along with a cap and blue cape. The ceremony is heavy with imagery of Florence Nightingale, the British woman who is widely credited as the pioneer of modern nursing.
After a poem is read, the deceased’s name is called out three times, signaling their final roll call. The honor guard then extinguishes the flame from a Nightingale-style lamp, which is presented to the family, and lays a single white rose on the casket.
“When we show up at a funeral in all white with the cape, it’s pretty striking,” Benfield said. “People come up and hug us, ask questions, and they’re very appreciative we’re celebrating that portion of their loved one’s life.”
Members have performed three services in the last 10 months, two of which were for fellow UTMC employees.
Benfield acknowledged the job can be demanding — there are long hours, holiday and weekend shifts, and high-stress situations — but she also said the career is something that brings a great deal of pride and becomes a huge part of most nurses’ lives.
“We’re all very proud of all the time and effort we’ve put into being a nurse and all the years we’ve spent taking care of patients.” Benfield said. “It just seems right that we do something to honor our colleagues when they pass.”