Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard in Searcy

Ashley Ball, Elsie Collins and Tracy Waymack (from left), members of the recently formed Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard, held their first ceremony at Roller-Daniel Funeral Home in Searcy on Feb. 5 for a former Unity Health nurse who died of complications from COVID-19.

A chapter of the Nurses Honors Guard has been started in Searcy and held its first ceremony last week, according to Tracy Waymack, a registered nurse at Unity Health-White County Medical Center.

“I actually read a post about it [a Nurses Honor Guard] two or three years ago and discussed it with more than one nurse at the hospital, and people showed interest but nobody ever really got a chapter started,” Waymack said. “One of the nurses that had showed interest in it [Teresa Buchanan] recently passed away from COVID-19 complications, so in her honor we did the first Nurses Honor Guard ceremony at her funeral service. It was at Roller-Daniel [Funeral Home] on Friday [Feb. 5].

“So I am starting a chapter here in Searcy and there’s a nurse who went to school with this nurse that died and she is starting a chapter in northeastern Arkansas, so we will have two chapters in Arkansas.”

Waymack said the honor guard ceremony is “kind of similar to a military honor guard without shooting guns.”

“Typically, it’s four nurses, but at this service we only had three because we literally kind of threw this together last minute after she [her nursing friend] died,” she said. “We dress in all white, including white nursing caps, white shoes, white hose, the whole nine yards like throw-it-back-to-old-school nursing. Then we have capes that are similar like to what Florence Nightingale [would wear] --- you think of that image. So we have capes we wear over our white scrubs and we light a lamp, which all nurses get at graduation, just another symbol of nursing. ... We proceed to the front of the service, we recite the Nightingale Tribute in honor of the nurse and there is a short poem that we say. And then we call out the nurse’s name three times and then we ring a triangle to release her of her nursing duties, kind of like they do with the military, police, that kind of thing at the end of their work duties if somebody passes.”

Ideally, the Nurses Honor Guard ceremony is done at the end of the funeral, but Waymack said it is really up to the family. “We did ours in the middle but typically it would be done at the end. “We extinguish the flame on the lamp, [and] we present it to the family with condolences. We present a white rose to the person who has passed, whether it goes on their casket or urn or whatever. It’s just kind of a tribute to their life as a nurse.”

Nightingale died at the age of 90 in August 1910 in Mayfair, London, England, and is known for pioneering modern nursing. “She’s looked at as the first nurse, the first one to establish nursing,” Waymack said. “She set the bar. Whenever there is a nursing ceremony or graduation, you are always going to have the Florence Nightingale name because she is ‘the nurse.’”

Over the weekend, Waymack said the Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard Facebook page was opened and the group is trying to get volunteers. She said the honor guard would like to get a core group of nurses to participate since most of their schedules vary. “You want to have a core group so if a service comes up, hopefully you have three or four nurses who are not working that day and can volunteer to go to that service.”

Regarding being a part of this effort to honor nurses in a special way at their funerals, Waymack said “it is just something that is dear to our hearts and it was dear to the heart of the nurse that passed away.”

Buchanan, who was 46 years old, was a former Unity Health nurse who had recently left to be a full-time hospice nurse in Searcy, which was her dream, Waymack said.“She was fulfilling her dream.”

Elsie Collins, who went through the licensed practical nurse program with Buchanan, is the one “who got the ball rolling on the Facebook page,” Waymack said, and will be over the northeast Arkansas chapter. (Buchanan graduated from the LPN program in 2016.)

“I think it was great that I was able to get Tracy and everybody started on this,” said Collins, who is from Imboden. “Teresa is actually where I found out about it [the Nurses Honor Guard] and when she passed away, I had decided we were going to do this one way or another and that’s the best way to honor her. She wanted to get it started and she didn’t have a chance, and I thought it was great that we were able to pull together and make sure the first Nightingale Tribute was for her and I am so grateful I was able to find Tracy and Ashley [Ball]. Ashley works at UACCB [University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville] and is actually one of our former nursing instructors for me and Teresa.”

Collins said Buchanan “was an amazing nurse and colleague.”

Collins pointed out that the Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard is being started after the Year of the Nurse in 2020. “Florence Nightingale back in 1920 said that it would take 100 years for the nursing profession to be perfected and really get out there. There’s a whole quote of how it would take 100 years, so it was the Year of the Nurse.”

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