While hospitals can be a place of birth, healing and life, they can also be a place where people with advanced illnesses pass on. But at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, staff members help ensure the family’s final memories of their loved one is one of tribute and honor to their Veteran.
“We wanted to give the Veteran the respect he [or she] deserves, and his family the chance to mourn,” said Dr. Leslie Landrum, -palliative care physician at Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks.
“We ask for a moment of silence in respect for the Veteran,” a VA police officer announced as deceased U.S. Army Veteran Mitchell Waters’ body was escorted through the entryway of the hospital.
As Waters’ quilt-draped body slowly approached the main entrance, staff lined the halls and Veterans in the nearby waiting area stood and saluted their fallen comrade.
Waters left surrounded by family and staff members in a somber procession, a reflection of respect for the Veteran’s service and dedication to the nation.
It’s that respect that created the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks’ “Honor Walk,” a ritual that allows family and staff members to mourn their Veterans with respect and compassion. This involves saying goodbye, paying respects, making arrangements and providing the escort from the care facility..
When a patient dies, the chaplain service is called to serve the family and help with the details that follow the passing of a loved one. Family members can privately spend time with the deceased for as long as they need to say their goodbyes, and then the funeral home is called.
After the funeral home representative arrives, the deceased is escorted from the room to the entrance of the hospital where the funeral home transport awaits. The Veteran’s body is covered in a patriotic quilt, and hospital staff members line the hallway from the room to the elevator … and continue to line the hallway to the entryway lobby.
As the Veteran’s body, family and staff members approach the lobby, a VA police officer requests a moment of silence as a show of respect. When other Veterans are present and they stand to salute their fallen comrade, the moment becomes even more meaningful.
This is the Veteran’s Honor Walk.
Originally, the patriotic-themed quilt used to drape the body was donated by the wife of palliative care psychologist Michael Moravits. Since then, other volunteers have donated quilts for use in the Honor Walk.
Veteran Mitchell Waters passed away earlier this year at the VA medical center in Fayetteville, Ark. His wife, Wilma, said that even though his passing happened after 10 p.m., it was very nice to see all of the staff who were there to pay their respects, including two nurses who were already off-duty for the day.
Cindy Roberts, a social worker at the Bay Pines, Fla., VA Health Care System recalled a similar experience when her father died at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks medical center.
“My dad passed in the middle of the night,” Roberts said. “I wasn’t expecting as much because it was 2 in the morning.”
But the staff did come to pay their respects as her father’s body made his Honor Walk.
“I have never in my life had an experience like that,” she said, noting many of the caregivers have their own mourning to do as well. “Having talked to some of the nurses afterward, it brings closure to them because they become involved with the Veteran and his family.”
Although this is not a formal flag-folding ceremony, it does allow for reflection and mourning for all involved.
“I wish there were words to describe it; I wish every VA medical center in the country did that,” Roberts said. “My father was a three-war Veteran and served for over 20 years and I think he is amazing, but they do it for everyone – doesn’t matter what they did except they served their country.”
Sarah recently finished her Pathways Internship with VHSO in January 2013, where she is now the public affairs specialist. With three generations of Veterans in her family, she is proud to be working with -VA, and enjoys sharing what VHSO is doing for its Veterans.