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Ralph's Latest Back Porch Conversation

Tribute? Respect? Love!

Dear Reader: It's about 5:00 a.m. on December 21, 2007, and I really want to talk to you. You've been on my mind but to tap on your window or phone you at this unseemly hour would be downright indecent and foolish. Hey! In the past, you've been so gracious, allowing me to invade your space with my words, that maybe I could tread on your patience a little more? As you read these words, remember that my words aren't always the words of the world.

Yes, according to the world's calendar, it's December 21, 2007. Less than a week ago, on December 16, 2007, a dear friend died. Mary Ann Murphy, R.N., public health nurse extraordinaire, couldn't survive the ravages of a destructive melanoma. In the ways of the world, with the words of the world, Mary Ann was laid to rest yesterday---no longer constrained by this world's calendar. In a beautiful and meaningful memorial service, we grieved and mourned---in a way, feeling sort of sorry for ourselves---that we won't have more time with her. In the words of the world, she is gone, and, yet, in my words, she has not left me.

In this year's Hudson TUSL (totally unsolicited seasonal letter), Peggy and I played around with the word family. We welcomed a new grandson and our first great granddaughter into the blood line and/or adoptive---family with its mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, etc. Yet, we also paid tribute to those many other families---where we join with those who share a common mission and purpose. Surely, you can recognize these families in your own life---perhaps a card club, a church group, a sports team, a profession---yea, the nursing profession.

Why have you been so much on my mind this morning? Deep down, I wish you could have been with me at Mary Ann's memorial service as The Nightingale Tribute, led by Karen Witt, R.N., was lovingly given to Mary Ann. Perhaps you might recall that, in a NursingMatters issue over a year ago, I expressed heartfelt appreciation that the Wisconsin Nurses Association adopted The Nightingale Tribute in 2005. Friends, the church's rituals may have had meaning with the tinkling of bells, sprinkling of water, and coloring of cloths, but nothing could match the love shown to Mary Ann as thirty to forty of her nursing family offered white roses to her. Kaye Lillesand, editor of NursingMatters, was present in that tribute. As I spoke briefly with her, words were cascading over me, unbeknownst to her, as I was struck with the intertwining of tribute, respect, and love.

A personal note and confession: I have never studied writing, words, sentence structure, literature, etc. other than in the public schools. As a matter of fact, I candidly profess that I'm a literary dropout, a statement which invariably brings the response, "You are not!" You see, people generally don't want you to be other than who they think you are. With little training, I yet am fascinated by words, intrigued that they often are more helpful when spontaneous, not planned, more meaningful when calming, not combustible.

In the words of the world, respect may signify having high regard for an ideal or another person. Yet, in The Nightingale Tribute, tribute and respect intertwine so easily with love. Think with me how best you can respect your profession. Does it not have something to do with concern and caring for those nurses who have preceded you, those nurses in training who will carry on for you, and those nurses with whom you now share the honor and respect of your patients? As you show this concern and caring, it seems to me that you, indeed, are respecting your profession. It naturally follows that respect for your profession may take you out of your work place---in home care, public health, hospital, clinic, wherever---and thrust you into the public/political arena, working for the optimum good of the profession and the welfare of those under your care. Be involved in your professional organizations! Never ignore the obvious, that to love and be loved by others, you must first be able to love yourself, respect yourself. Mary Ann Murphy was that nurse!

Another personal note which is helpful in working through grief, I've heard it said that physicians and nurses would do well to keep relationships professional, shying away from friendship. I have no quarrel with that except that there must be room for mutual respect and, occasionally, that love which requires absolutely nothing in return except for understanding. In that sense, Mary Ann knew who I was.

She understood my subtle humor. When I was a member of the Board of Health and the president prided himself in keeping meetings alive until after 10:30 p.m., my wife Peggy would call me at 9:30 p.m. with an "emergency." When this happened, Mary Ann's eyes twinkled---to let me know she understood.

She also understood the difficult choices. When I was president of the V.N.A. board and the V.N.A. home care agenda was supervised by Mary Ann, the V.N.A. financial picture hit the skids, largely because 70% of home care services were niggardly compensated by Medicaid. What a time of testing! Mary Ann understood my frustration, my down times. Together, we admitted that the V.N.A. home care agency had to be dissolved.

Do you have any idea how troubling it is to ask another to say or write something nice about you? That was a task imposed upon me by a publisher when I wrote a book which I primarily intended for my children and grandchildren. Again, Mary Ann understood when she wrote for me: "Dr. Hudson had a very positive working relationship with nurses--- whom he appreciated as respected colleagues. He understood nursing's contribution to the healing process and thus valued the importance of good nursing care in arriving at positive patient outcomes. There was true collaboration in working together, and this was based on mutual respect, trust, teamwork, and consideration for each other's roles."

In retirement, Mary Ann and I met for lunch whenever I needed someone to lead me out of the forest. We shared our concerns about the nation, about the direction of medicine/nursing---even as she was weathering the rigors of chemotherapy. She was resolute, smiling, and never complaining. Yet, at our last lunch, she left food on her plate....

The church speaks of eternal life which always seems to be somewhere far away. Nonsense! Mary Ann lives forever in the here and now---in the hearts, minds, and actions of those who knew her---even as I write these words.

Dear Reader: Thanks for your presence. Respect and love your profession. Be a part of all that is good for your patients. Hopefully, you've gained a glimpse of Mary Ann through my words, and, hopefully, you have your own Mary Ann, some special nurse to whom you give tribute, respect, and love. Wow! Could there be a better foundation for respecting the profession?

This back porch conversation appeared in the February, 2008, NursingMatters. If you would like to comment on this back porch conversation or send Ralph a note about it, please send it in the form below.

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