Published on May 11, 2012

Genesis Nursing Honor Guard To Pay Last Respects

Genesis Health System is establishing a Nursing Honor Guard to recognize men and women who have dedicated their professional lives to nursing. The honor guard will pay tribute to any retired or active Genesis nurse at the time of their death.

Current and retired nurses can volunteer to be part of the honor guard. The service will begin June 1.

“The members of the Genesis Nursing Honor Guard will consider it a privilege to recognize and pay their respects to nurses who have passed away,” says Jackie Anhalt, MS, MSN, RN, CRRN, who is Director of Nursing Operations and has lead the initiative. “I know the presence of honor guard members will mean so much to families who will appreciate this remembrance to their loved ones.”

Anhalt and nursing colleague Peggy Schaefer heard about the nursing honor guard a year ago at an Iowa Organization of Nurse Leaders meeting in Cedar Rapids.

“I was so touched by this and thought, ‘What a tribute to the profession of nursing.’ I decided we needed to do this at Genesis,” Anhalt says.

Appropriately, the Nursing Honor Guard was unveiled Tuesday during National Nurses Week -- at the annual Distinguished Nurse Lecture at Genesis.

Dressed in traditional white uniforms and shoes, starched white caps and wearing the nursing capes of old were: Anhalt; Schaefer, MSN, RN, Manager of the Regional Referral Center; Ann Garton, MSN, RN, ONC, Magnet Program Coordinator; and, Karli-Rae Kerrschneider, BSN, RN, Illini BirthCenter.

The four also carried Florence Nightingale lanterns, considered a symbol of comfort, courage and devotion to duty and of lighting the way to modern, professional nursing.

Eight nursing capes were handmade by Peggy Freeman, an executive assistant at Genesis, who has sewn theater costumes for 40 years. She used Garton’s mother’s cape from Ireland, worn in the 1960s, as a reference model. That cape and Freeman’s creation are similar to capes worn in W.W. I, with stand-up collars and two button plackets.

Carrying on a tradition

Peggy Schaefer grew up watching her father, a W.W. II veteran, attend the funeral services of fellow veterans as a representative of the American Legion. She considers it an honor to carry on a similar tradition in the nursing profession in which she has practiced for 30 years.

“I feel a real personal connection to the Nursing Honor Guard,” Schaefer says. “My whole life, I watched my Dad dress in his military uniform and go to military funerals. At 95, he’s still very active in doing this.”

She added, “I think this is such a great way to give back to nurses who have given their service. Every family also will be given a Florence Nightingale lantern as a memento, similar to how every veteran receives a U.S. flag. We think this will be a great service.”

At the family’s request, the Genesis Honor Guard will pay tribute to the nurse in many ways, Anhalt says.

The members will stand guard at the nurses’ casket during visitation and recite “A Nurse’s Prayer” at the gravesite or during a special service.

They will carry the Florence Nightingale nursing lamp at the service. Florence Nightingale was known as the “Lady With the Lamp,” the nurse in the 1850s who saved many wounded soldiers during the Crimean War with her pioneering nursing work. In many ways, she laid the foundation for professional nursing.

The Honor Guard also will place a carnation at the end of the service to signify the nurse’s devotion to the profession.

“I’m hoping the Nursing Honor Guard will instill a renewed pride and unity in nursing,” Anhalt concludes. “Often, we lose sight of what an honorable profession this is. We touch lives every day.”

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