UP Nurses Honor Guard pays final tribute to colleagues

The inaugural Upper Peninsula Nurses Honor Guard: from left are Joanne Dufour, Sue Wanic, Barb Van Rooy, Deb LaPorte and Katie Derouin. (Photo courtesy of Barb Van Rooy)

NOTE: National Nurses Week is celebrated annually from May 6 — also known as National Nurses Day — through May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Some Upper Peninsula nurses are providing a final tribute to nurses who are gone.

MARQUETTE — Barb Van Rooy and Deb LaPorte had different paths in their nursing careers, but they agree — nursing is more than a profession.

“Nursing really is a calling,” LaPorte said. “There is a kind of a bond among nurses that’s special.”

To pay a final tribute to other nurses, the two have started the Upper Peninsula Nurses Honor Guard, fashioned along the lines of similar programs in other parts of the country. The guard, if asked by the family, will attend a nurse’s funeral to offer recognition to that person for dedication to that chosen field.

A nurse at the Order of St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba for many years, Van Rooy –also known to many U.P. residents as the founder of Upper Peninsula Honor Flight, which brings veterans to Washington, D.C., at no cost to them — said her daughter sparked the idea to start this special project.

A Florence Nightingale Lamp the Upper Peninsula Nurses Honor Guard present to loved ones when paying tribute at the nurse’s funeral. (Photo courtesy of Barb Van Rooy)

“My daughter is an oncology nurse in Milwaukee and she had been to a funeral that had a nurses honor guard,” Van Rooy said. “She told me about it. I contacted the next family scheduled to have the honor guard at the funeral and, with their permission, watched what the guard did. I was impressed.

“So next I talked to funeral homes in my area to see if they would be interested,” Van Rooy said. “And then I called Deb.”

LaPorte, who worked as a nurse for Bay Area Medical in Marinette, Wis., and for Marquette General Hospital’s home health care division, immediately was on board.

“If we could help families suffering from loss, I was in,” LaPorte said.

The two started a Facebook page and recruited a core group of other nurses to be part of this first Upper Peninsula Nurses Honor Guard. A nurse can be active or retired to volunteer to be part of the guard. Usually four to six people make up the guard for a funeral appearance.

“A student nurse in Iron Mountain heard about our group and threw a fundraiser for us so we could get the hats, capes and lanterns that we need for the ceremony we present,” Van Rooy said. “That was wonderful.”

The two also made brochures for funeral homes to give to families who are planning a service for a current or retired licensed practical nurse or registered nurse.

“The main idea of the nurses honor guard’s presence at a funeral is to help shine a light on a nurse’s dedication … and to help ease mourners’ grief,” LaPorte said.

The guard can provide a variety of services, all at no charge to the family, Van Rooy explained.

The guard will stand silently at the nurse’s casket, urn or picture to give their last respects. If the family wants, they will read “The Nightingale Tribute” or another poem, and then offer a special light as a memento for the family to keep.

“We will light a Nightingale Lamp in the nurse’s honor. We call the nurse’s name with a request to report for duty,” Van Rooy said. “With no response, the lamp’s flame is extinguished and the lamp is presented to the family.”

Any of these and other services can be offered at the grave site if the family prefers.

For more information on the Upper Peninsula Nurses Honor Guard, call 906-280-1471; email UpperPeninsulaHonorGuard@gmail.com; go to UpperPeninsulaHonorGuard.org; or find the page of that name on Facebook.

The founders hope to find volunteers to be part of the honor guard for at funerals throughout the U.P., along with collecting contributions to help the organization grow.

‘The Nightingale Tribute’

Other nurses present at the funeral are invited to join in this special reading:

Nursing is a calling, a lifestyle, a way of living. Nurses here today honor X and her/his life as a nurse. X is not remembered by her years as a nurse, but by the difference she made during those years by stepping into people’s lives … by special moments:

X Was There

When a calming, quiet presence was all that was needed, X was there.

In the excitement and miracle of birth or in the mystery and loss of life, X was there.

When a silent glance could uplift a patient, family member or friend, X was there.

At those times when the unexplainable needed to be explained, X was there.

When the situation demanded a swift foot and a sharp mind, X was there.

When a gentle touch, a firm push, or an encouraging word was needed, X was there.

In choosing the best one from a family’s “thank you” box of chocolates, X was there.

To witness humanity, its beauty, in good times and bad, without judgment, X was there.

To embrace the woes of the world, willingly, and offer hope, X was there.

And now that it is time to be at the Greater One’s side, X is there.

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