As members of honor guard, CHRISTUS Health nurses pay tribute to nurses who have died

April 2024
Members of the Northeast Texas Nurse Honor Guard conduct a tribute ceremony for nurse Amanda Turley, who had worked in the nursery at CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana, Texas. The honor guard members are, from left, Cassidy Cameron, Sarah Mills, Kari Froneberger and Anitha Sanderson. The ceremony took place in January at St. Michael.



Some nurses have found a unique way of honoring the legacy of their nurse colleagues who have died. They've established honor guard units that perform ceremonies at the funerals or memorial services of nurses who have died. Nurses at three CHRISTUS Health hospitals have established or are in the process of establishing such units.



"It is very emotional for the families and nurses who attend the service," says Anitha Sanderson, chief nursing officer at CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital — Sulphur Springs in Texas, and one of the "founding mothers" who helped establish the Northeast Texas Nurse Honor Guard in February 2023. "To get to know these nurses and their experiences and contributions to the profession has been amazing — and an honor."

Sanderson and five other CHRISTUS Health Mother Frances nurses started the unit after learning of the concept from CHRISTUS Southeast Texas — St. Elizabeth in Beaumont. CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System in Texarkana, Texas, is developing its program now. The three CHRISTUS facilities are sharing information and resources about how to establish and maintain an honor guard.

A lamp, a rose, a card
The honor guard can pay tribute to any deceased nurse, not just those who had worked at CHRISTUS.

When the honor guard is enlisted to hold a ceremony at a nurse's funeral, three or more members participate. One member carries a lit lamp, another carries a white rose and sympathy card and a third carries a triangle musical instrument. The nurse with the lamp leads the procession. Then all honor guard members read the Florence Nightingale tribute, which is a poem titled "She Was There." Nightingale is regarded as the founder of modern nursing.

CHRISTUS Southeast Texas — St. Elizabeth in Beaumont, Texas, set up this display of items related to the legacy of nursing and to the ceremony that the honor guard performs, to build awareness of the honor guard among nurses.


After the recitation, a unit member reads aloud a description of the nursing career of the deceased. Afterward, one nurse extinguishes the lamp and another gives the card to one of the deceased's loved ones and places the rose atop the deceased's coffin or by the person's urn. Then another honor guard member rings the triangle and says the name of the deceased nurse three times.

Sanderson says this final roll call "is similar to the final roll call done at a military service and does not leave a dry eye in the house."

She says the unit has conducted more than a half dozen ceremonies. Loved ones of the honored nurses have expressed much gratitude and given donations to the honor guard so that other nurses can be celebrated.

Growing presence
The CHRISTUS honor guard units are among the 250-plus groups nationwide that have launched with the help of the National Nurse Honor Guard. That group was inspired by the efforts of an honor guard established by the Kansas State Nurses Association as well as by honor guard ceremonies conducted by nurses in Detroit. The National Nurse Honor Guard began in 2011. Some nurses have set up state bodies. The three CHRISTUS-initiated honor guards are part of the Texas State Nurse Honor Guard.

To set up and recruit members for the Northeast Texas unit, the six Mother Frances Hospital nurses who volunteered to be founding mothers used resources from St. Elizabeth to create a private Facebook group. Then they spread the word to nurses throughout Northeast Texas.

So far, the founding mothers have welcomed nearly three dozen nurses into the Northeast Texas unit. Active and retired nurses can be members. They do not have to be employed by CHRISTUS to join the honor guard. Those who join do so on a voluntary and unpaid basis.

The unit provides resources to the members so that they may learn how to perform the ceremony. Members purchase their own all-white nursing uniforms, which include scrubs, caps, shoes and socks. The state honor guard supplies blue capes for each ceremony. Mother Frances provides the other supplies used in the ceremony.

Sacrificial service
The Northeast Texas group's founding mothers have built awareness of their group with funeral homes and nursing homes and similar providers in an 11-county area in northeast Texas. When those providers become aware that a nurse has died, they tell the surviving family members about the honor guard and the ceremonial services they can provide. They connect interested families with the unit.

The unit members meet periodically to practice the ceremonies, and then once they are called upon to perform a tribute at a nurse's funeral, they meet just before the service to establish their roles and prepare.

Sanderson says as participants in these memorial services, the unit's members have learned about the legacies of those they are honoring. One of the nurses they celebrated had to temporarily abandon her dream to be nurse and instead build planes in California during World War II. After the war, she was able to resume her education and then pursue her nursing career. Another nurse the unit honored had been head nurse at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was brought in after being shot.



Kari Froneberger is director of quality/infection prevention, risk management, safety and accreditation for Mother Frances in Sulphur Springs and for CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital — Winnsboro. She is an honor guard founding mother. She says even though she and the other guard members may never have met the nurses they honor during the ceremonies, they are able to connect with them.

"These nurses have spent their entire life devoted to the service of others — to making others comfortable, happy and healthy," she says. "It's very meaningful for us … and touching to be able to honor their selflessness and sacrifice."


She Was There

When a calming, quiet presence was all that was needed,

She was there.

In the excitement and miracle of birth or in the mystery and loss of life,

She was there.

When a silent glance could uplift a patient, family member or friend,

She was there.

At those times when the unexplainable needed to be explained,

She was there.

When the situation demanded a swift foot and sharp mind,

She was there.

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

She was there.

In choosing the best one from a family’s thank-you box of chocolates,

She was there.

To witness humanity’s beauty, in good times and bad, without judgment,

She was there.

To embrace the woes of the world, willingly, and offer hope,

She was there.

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

She was there.

Copyright © 2024 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.