The atmosphere is solemn.
The room is quiet.
Then you hear “Nurse (Jane Doe), report to duty” — three times. A few minutes later, you hear “Nurse (Jane Doe) has completed her nursing duties.”
This is just a small part of the final service that members of The Nightingales Farewell provide to nurses, active or retired, who pass away in Wayne County.
“This is an honor and a way for us to give back to our fallen colleague, to honor his or her service in this profession,” said Nightingales member Jennifer Sugg, who is an active nurse and a nurse educator.
“I do think it honors the family as well because it lets them know we realize how much their mother or father gave to the profession of nursing.”
The Nightingales Farewell was formed in 2011 in Wayne County with a core group of eight nurses. The only requirement for membership is that you be a nurse; active or retired, male or female, it doesn’t matter. Currently, active RN Edwin Cutler is the group’s only male member.
The group has expanded to 24 members, with four members of the core group still active.
“Our first service was June 2012,” said Lena Jones, RN, who retired from Wayne Memorial Hospital after 42 years. “When it started, it was just for the graveside. As the years went by, families desired for us sometimes to do it at memorials, mausoleums and the funeral home.”
Although the service is available for any nurse who passes away, it must be requested by the family. The Nightingales Farewell has had 56 requests for the service since it formed. Members have not been able to attend every one of those funerals, but when they can’t, they make sure to get their signature lamp to the funeral home for the family.
The lamp is a very special part of the service. It’s a Florence Nightingale lamp, symbolic of the one that the famous nurse carried during the Crimean War when she treated injured soldiers.
“When the family comes into the service, the light in the lamp is burning,” Jones said. “The lampholder presents the lamp to the family member, who is usually the closest contact with the deceased. The lamp does not cost the family anything. In fact, our service does not cost the family anything. And the family gets to keep the lamp.”
Bettie Brinson, who retired as an LPN from the hospital after 34 years, said the lamp has a special meaning.
“When the light is on, it means the memories are still fresh with the loved one,” she said. “When you turn it off, that lets you know they’re at rest. We ask them to put the lamp on a shelf somewhere where they can go and turn it on sometimes and have happy memories of their loved one. We are letting the family know that we as nurses who are still here remember them and the work that they did. I think giving the lamp to the family helps them to deal with the death of their loved one.”
Another part of the service is one of The Nightingales Farewell members sharing memories of the deceased nurse.
The group’s members perform the service in full dress uniform, which consists of a white dress or white pants and white top, white hose, white shoes and a blue cape that’s red on the inside. It is like the one Florence Nightingale wore during the Crimean War.
“When we first come out during the service, we have the right shoulder of our cape open,” Jones said. “After the ceremony, one by one, we close the right side. When the cape is open, this is prior to us completing the person’s nursing duties. When we close it, that signifies the completion of the nursing duties.”
Sugg said one of the most difficult services for her was when a nurse that she had taught passed away.
The group has performed the service for three of its members who passed.
The families have told The Nightingales Farewell members just how much they appreciated the service.
“The family comes to us and tells us how much that meant to them, that it was such a beautiful service and that their loved one would have really appreciated it,” Jones said. “I even get mail from families about how much it meant to them, telling me they are forever grateful.”
Alice Adams, retired LPN, who has been a member almost since its inception, said the service gives closure to the nurse’s duties and her life. She said the family likes that service to be the final tribute to its loved one.
“It really makes you appreciate the job that we do and that we’re so honored to tell a fellow nurse’s family how much we appreciated her and honor her by doing this little ceremony. It’s a really great feeling,” she said.
“These nurses have been taking care of others and now they’re at rest and at peace,” new member Karen Yarbrough, active RN, said.
Lynetta Howard, active nurse, said that being affiliated with The Nightingales Farewell makes her sit with her shoulders a little higher. She considers it a great legacy to have as part of a nursing career.
“It’s an honor to honor other nurses, and you pray that you’ll be honored likewise,” Brinson said.
Sugg said she would be honored for the group to send her off with this service.