A nurses honor guard has formed in the Twin Ports to recognize nurses when they die.
“Like a military honor guard, it pays respect to the person who has passed away and their family, and pays homage to the profession of nursing,” said Jan Stevens, of Maple, a member of the local nurses honor guard committee. “When you’re a nurse, that’s a big part of your life. It never leaves you.”
Volunteers provide a brief Nightingale Tribute involving a candle, a white rose and readings to honor the fallen nurse’s work.
The roughly eight minute service takes place indoors prior to a funeral. At the end, the nurse’s name is called three times, and they are officially relieved of their duties. The ceremony offers families a degree of closure, as well as respect.
“That’s just a powerful conclusion. The whole thing is a powerful thing,” Stevens said.
The honor guard is sponsored by Northern Waters Parish Nurse Ministry and Arrowhead Parish Nurse Association. Stevens brought the idea for the program to the nonprofits.
“I had attended a funeral of a nurse colleague of mine in Minneapolis in the fall of 2019, and there the Nurses Honor Guard did a tribute. I was just hooked on it. It was such a touching, moving ceremony, I thought ‘We can do this up here.’” Stevens said.
Volunteers were excited to launch the program.
"I'd say it's about time, because nurses have been around a very, very long time," said Catherine Anderson, a registered nurse for 34 years. "And I think their praises ..."
"They haven't been sung yet," said Beverly Pederson, who retired after 42 years of nursing.
In January, a committee of five began to build the Nurses Honor Guard of the Twin Ports. One arm, sponsored by Northern Waters Parish Nurse Ministry, covers Douglas County and the town of Iron River. The other, sponsored by Arrowhead Parish Nurse Association, covers St. Louis County.
Brochures have been sent to local funeral homes and churches to let families know the tribute is available. If they request it, the church or funeral home would reach out to the honor guard and Stevens would set up a group of volunteers for the service. The tribute is provided free of charge.
Members of the Douglas County group have given one tribute to date.
“It was emotional when we were reading this pledge. I think all of us had tears in our eyes,” said Jean Riedasch, of Superior, a member of the honor guard who was a registered nurse for 35 years.
Nursing is a calling that requires kindness, love, compassion and gentleness, said honor guard members. The new program is just an extension of that calling.
“I think it’s natural that we want to reach out to grieving families and comfort them, just like we would comfort our patients. It’s in our DNA to be comforting. We’re a serving profession,” Stevens said.
The group is seeking volunteers to join the honor guard ranks. Volunteers must be a current or retired registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. They do not have to be a member of the parish nurse ministry to be in the honor guard.
More members would make it easier to meet the need and allow them to expand the service to other counties in the future.
Although the Nightingale Tribute is free, donations are being accepted for the nurses honor guard program. Donations can be sent to Northern Waters Parish Nurse Ministry, 3500 Tower Ave., Superior, WI, 54880 or the Arrowhead Parish Nurse Association, PO Box 16328, Duluth, MN, 55816.
This story originally contained an incorrect address for Jan Stevens. It was updated at 8:10 a.m. Sept. 7, 2021, with the proper address. The Telegram regrets the error.