S4E17: Nurse Honor Guard – How to Celebrate a Nurse’s Life with a Memorable Tribute

One of the most respected professions deserves a sendoff with fanfare…learn how in this episode as we also celebrate nurses and their selfless service to society.

When a gentle touch, a firm push, or an encouraging word was needed, our nurses were there. To witness humanity, its beauty, in good times and bad, without judgment, our nurses were there. To embrace the woes of the world willingly, and offer hope, our nurses were there. And so, too, are nurses who volunteer for the Honor Guard for nurses’ funerals.

What is a Nurse Honor Guard?

The Nurses Honor Guard is a group of nurses that volunteer to pay tribute to nurses at the time of their death. The 5-minute ceremony follows the format of the Nightingale Tribute at the funeral or memorial service. This service is similar to a military tribute and honors the nurse’s career and service to his/her community.

The Nurses Honor Guard dresses in the traditional white uniform complete with cap and cape. The ceremony is brief; it takes about 5 minutes, and consists of reciting the Nightingale Tribute and laying of a white rose on the casket or next to the urn, symbolizing the nurse’s dedication to the profession. After the Nightingale Tribute is recited, a triangle is rung after a roll call for the nurse. The nurse’s name is called three times and the triangle is rung after each call of the name. After the roll call the words are spoken that the nurse is officially released from their nursing duties. A lit Nightingale lamp is carried up at the beginning of the ceremony and is then extinguished and presented to the family with personal condolences made. 

These Nebraska volunteers demonstrate Nurse Honor Guard attire and ceremony that is used to give the final tribute to a fallen nurse.

Tributes are encouraged to be personalized from the standard format. Some of the most meaningful tributes our team has witness involved the nurses in the audience to help recite the Nightingale Tribute and to lay white roses on the casket. The lamp is often given to the family, much like a folded flag is given to military families.

The lamp is an important symbol in nursing, honoring Florence Nightingale, who was seen in the dark alleys with a lamp while caring for the injured soldiers of the Crimean War. The lamp symbolizes the light that a nurse becomes to her patients and as a symbol of hope and comfort to those who are suffering.

“She Was There”

This poem is recited as part of the Nightingale Tribute.

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—its 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 is there. 

©2004 Duane Jaeger, RN, MSN
A white nightingale lamp with candle, used in nursing ceremonies such as the nurse honor guard tribute at the end of a nurse's life.

How do I get a nurse honor guard for my funeral (or for a loved one)?

The first place would be to ask the funeral directors if there is an area Honor Guard. There is also a Facebook group: National Nurses Honor Guard Coalition that may also be a resource in finding a local guard. Be sure to specify your wishes in an advance directive!

I love this idea! How do I start a nurse honor guard in my community?

First, you can connect with the National Nurses Honor Guard Coalition for guidance. All that is needed is the Nightingale Tribute script, lamp, caps and capes. The capes are hand made with a pattern. Then it is just a matter of getting enough nurse volunteers to rotate duties, and let local funeral directors know what the service is and what you can offer.

If anyone would like assistance starting a Nurses Honor Guard, they can contact Julie Murray at jmury581@gmail.comThis PDF is also a great resource (also linked below).

Nurses in white uniform and blue capes with red lining, as part of a nurse honor guard.
Active and retired nurses who volunteer with the The Nurses Honor Guard of South Carolina



Celebrating Nurses

We celebrate the selfless work of the many nurses in our community, opening with a short story titled “Nurse” written by Roddy Doyle an author from Ireland. It was published in 2020 during the COVID pandemic.

The second reading was an essay by Martin Schiavenato, as a new nurse talked about “The Night I Learned What It Meant to Be ‘The Nurse.'” He is now an associate professor at Gonzaga University College of Nursing.

Recipe of the Week

Nurses are busy – and often a meal is an afterthought on shift. Why not treat your favorite nurse with this wonderful combination two fan-favorite treats: pizza and dip! You can get the recipe and images from Adventures of a Nurse.

We are also selected as one of the Top 50 Grief Blogs on the Web!
Calling All Songwriters!!!

As a songwriter, ‘Everyone Dies’ is inviting you to showcase your original work on an upcoming podcast.

There are many wonderful songs that could be played at a funeral. We also know there are songs that could be played, but are cringeworthy (e.g. Ding Dong the Witch is Dead; Another One Bites the Dust; Ring of Fire, etc.).

We are inviting you to send us a recording of two of your original songs (i.e. that could be played at a funeral, one that is appropriate, one that is likely not) to be included in the third half of the ‘Everyone Dies’ podcast. We will include as many artists over the next year (maybe longer if we are enjoying the segment) as possible.

What we need:
Go to this link, fill out the form and submit it along with your two original songs in .wav or .mp3 format (i.e. two original songs that could be played at a funeral, one that is appropriate, one that is likely not). We will screen them and let you know what week your work will be included. We will include all your information in our show notes so people can purchase your recordings.

Cowboy playing his guitar by a coffin, and a dog howling. Coffin is vibrating... Learn about songs to wake the dead. Learn about funeral music at Every1dies.org

From Everyone Dies:

Everyone Dies: and yes, it is normal!

Everyone Dies (and yes, it is normal) is a story about a young boy named Jax who finds something special on the beach where he and his grandpa Pops are enjoying a wonderful day. Pops helps Jax understand that death is a normal part of life. This book provides an age appropriate, non-scary, comfortable way to introduce the important topic of mortality to a preschool child. Its simple explanation will last a lifetime. Autographed copies for sale at: www.everyonediesthebook.com. Also available at Amazon

Mourning Jewelry
mourning jewelry earings

We offer a way to memorialize your loved one or treasured pet with a piece of handmade jewelry.  When people comment on it and the wearer can say for example “I received this when my mother died” which opens the conversation about this loss. All our jewelry is made with semi-precious stones and beads, vintage beads, and pearls. You can choose between earrings or bracelets and the color family. Learn More

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