Ceremony honors departed nurses at their graveside
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 23, 2013 1:46 PM
Edwin Weeks looks at the white ceramic lamp given to him by "A Nightingales Farewell," a group of local nurses who provide a short memorial service at a nurse's funeral.
Virginia Price Weeks was a nurse devoted to her patients, her husband said.
An LPN, licensed practical nurse, in Mount Olive for 23 years, she was forced to retire in 2005 because of failing health.
"She had a chance to become an RN (registered nurse), go to school for an RN, but she didn't want to have to do the paperwork," said Edwin Weeks, recalling her words at the time. "'I like dealing with the elderly people,' one-on-one, you know. She had become so attached to her patients.
"Her patients, all of them, loved her to death. She did things for them. She was very dedicated."
His wife's recent passing still fresh -- she died Jan. 6 -- Weeks said they were just two months shy of being married 46 years.
While at Shumate-Faulk Funeral Home making arrangements, he said someone handed him a pamphlet with information about a service provided by a group of local nurses. "A Nightingales Farewell" is a final tribute performed at the funeral of a nurse, whether active duty or retired.
When asked if the family would be interested in it, Weeks said, "By all means."
"So on the day of the funeral, when we got to the cemetery, there was a group of nurses, probably about eight or 10, in their uniforms standing at the graveside," he said. "At one point in the ceremony, the Nightingales did their program. They called her to duty right there at the end, they told her (that) her duty was over. They presented us the lamp."
There is no charge for the service -- the local nursing group operates on donations and monthly dues -- and the white ceramic lamp with a battery-operated candle commemorates the occasion.
"We were giving the lamp (to signify) they were a nurse, but it seems that it's become almost like a part of the person," said Peggy Ballance, chairwoman of the group.
"You just don't know how much it means," Weeks said. "It means the same thing to my children as it does to me. It's a memory that you won't forget. With that sitting on my mantelpiece, it's a daily reminder."
Before his own loss, he says he was unaware of the local group of current and retired nurses who introduced "A Nightingales Farewell" in the community nearly a year ago.
Mrs. Ballance, who works at Wayne Memorial Hospital, said the idea originated after reading a story in RN Magazine about the final farewell to those who dedicate their lives to taking care of others. The local group, which meets once a month, has grown to 38 members.
"A lot of times it's a funeral home that will contact us," she said. "We have a brochure that the funeral home hands out. Other times it's family members that call us."
The service is not something that can be scheduled in advance. They may only have a three-day notice about a nurse's funeral, she said, so are very reliant on retired nurses to respond.
Carolyn Sherard almost missed out on the opportunity to have the tribute paid to her sister, Peggy Height Best, a nurse at O'Berry Center who died in June 2012.
"I was at the funeral home making her funeral arrangements and the funeral director handed me a card," she said. "At the time, I was so heartbroken, I handed it to another family member.
"But after, I think it was the next day, one of them got our number and called me and actually explained it to me."
The gesture to recognize her sister's years of service and honor her passing moved the family to accept.
"It's very touching, but it's also very sweet," Ms. Sherard said of the ceremony. "If the person that was deceased could have any views of what was going on, they'd be very honored. They're retiring them from duty and it's so nice.
"They're all dressed in their uniforms. At the end, they present the family members with the Nightingale lamp. It symbolizes that the flame was no longer lit. They call her name three times and of course, she doesn't answer. Then they say she's retired."
Rick Pridgen, funeral director at Shumate-Faulk, has witnessed several services where the Nightingales have been present.
"It was quite an honor, I felt, to the nursing profession," he said. "It's been a very impressive tribute to offer to a person that's given their service to other people."
Weeks said he received many comments from people moved by that part of the service.
"I would encourage any family that has someone in the nursing field that was passing away to have this service performed at the graveside," he said.
For more information on "A Nightingales Farewell" services, call 919-920-0277, 738-3406 or 580-4670.