May 20, 2016

Women hope seminar spurs interest to start local Nursing Honor Guard

The Nurse’s Prayer is often read when the Nursing Honor Guard pays tribute to a fellow nurse who has died.

The Nurse’s Prayer is often read when the Nursing Honor Guard pays tribute to a fellow nurse who has died.

By John Shaughnessy

Kathy Helleck stood in the packed auditorium, paying her respects to a woman she had never met—a woman she believed she knew so well.

The setting was a recent memorial service at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for a nurse who had died. While family, friends and colleagues tried to cope with their loss, Helleck and Jan Bronnenberg formed a Nursing Honor Guard as a tribute to the woman.

The two nurses lit a candle inside a Florence Nightingale lamp, a symbol of the founder of modern nursing who was known for her comfort, compassion and courage. They also announced a last roll call for the deceased nurse, relieving her of her duties in caring for the sick and the dying. Then they extinguished the candle and presented it to the woman’s family. And they closed the tribute by reciting “A Nurse’s Prayer,” which ends:

Give me gentle healing hands,
For those left in my care;
A blessing to those who need me,
This is a nurse’s prayer.

“I didn’t know the person at all, but it was very emotional to do,” says Helleck, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. “The family was thrilled we could do this. Through her family talking about her, we learned she had struggled in life, and she became an exceptional nurse. Even by her picture, you could tell she was a person who could reach out to people and touch their hearts.”

That recent tribute of a Nursing Honor Guard for a deceased nurse was a rare one in Indianapolis, but Helleck is hoping it will become more prevalent in the near future.

Building upon the foundation of programs already in place in the Indiana communities of Anderson and Kokomo, Helleck and Bronnenberg will be among the hosts of a seminar for retired and working nurses who are interested in starting a Nursing Honor Guard in the Indianapolis area. The seminar will be from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on June 29 at St. Vincent Indianapolis hospital.

Helleck views the honor guard as a ministry to salute women and men who have lived the ministry of nursing.

“We feel it’s an honor to recognize these nurses for their lives and the lives they have touched,” says Helleck, who worked for 32 years as a nurse before retiring in 2005.

“Nursing is more than a job. It’s a ministry, a passion. I feel that nurses do what Jesus would do—heal the sick and reach out to the vulnerable. Because of how Jesus reached out to people, I always felt I could do the same. Just being there for them in their moment of need, you can be that extra comfort and support.”

Helleck became involved with the honor guard through her connections at St. Vincent Anderson Regional hospital, where she previously worked in the surgical unit before moving to Indianapolis. Since that group started in 2014, it has honored 34 nurses.

Similar to what police officers do for fellow officers who have died, the nurses stand guard at the casket during the wake, Helleck says. The honor guard members also wear the white uniforms, shoes and caps that were once the tradition of the nursing profession.

Families can also request a tribute service similar to the one that honored the Methodist Hospital nurse.

“Families are just overwhelmed with appreciation,” Helleck says. “They realize how much nursing has meant to that person. The families are usually crying, and it’s hard for me to not cry with them. They know how much of a passion nursing was for their loved one.”

(Anyone interested in attending the Nursing Honor Guard seminar should contact Kathy Helleck by June 1 by phone at 765-621-7281 or by e-mail at Or contact Jan Bronnenberg by phone at 765-610-0434 or by e-mail at

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