26 November 2014

The Lady in the Cape

I was recently asked by a colleague, “Why do you direct almost all of your philanthropic efforts toward nursing?” I asked in return, “Have you heard of the Lady of the Lamp?” Her reply was, “Of course!” So I asked, “Well, have you ever heard of the Lady in the Cape?” When she responded “No,” I told her about the Lady in the Cape.

I first met the Lady in the Cape when I was about 4 years old. I remember her standing on the steps of a brownstone. She was pressed and dressed in white, her cap, with its design and ribbon identifying Bayonne Nursing School, perfectly placed on her head. The only thing from her head to her toes not spotlessly white was the long, flowing, navy blue cape she wore over her uniform. She explained to me that she was going to participate in a disaster drill. At my age, I could not get my mind around the concept of a disaster drill. I just heard the word “disaster” and pictured the Lady in the Cape walking straight into danger. I just could not understand how someone would leave family and put his or her life in danger for others because “it is the right thing to do.”

The Lady in the Cape
As I grew a little older, I sometimes saw less of the Lady in the Cape. To put me in a school where I would receive the best education, she often worked nights or double-shifts. What little time I saw her was further decreased by the fact that she was working to attain her first college degree. I told her I would gladly go to public school if it meant we could spend more time together. She explained to me that life is hard and, if we wanted a good life, it required sacrifice by both of us. She also reinforced the fact that the important things in life—the things that really make a difference—come from hard work and not cutting corners, that we were making the sacrifice together.

I grew into what must have been a challenging teenager for the Lady in the Cape who, by now, you probably realize is my mother. I was bright, but lacked focus. I never got into big trouble, except for the ‘67 Chevy and the telephone pole, but will save that story for another day. Meanwhile, I was discovering, that, in the world as it was, there were many things with which I was not happy. So, every morning on the way to school, I would BMW (bitch, moan, and whine) about the latest burr under my saddle, whatever it happened to be. One day, the Lady in the Cape turned to me and said, “If you don’t like something, don’t just whine about it, get out there and change it!” Coming from anyone else, this would have sounded ridiculous to a 15-year-old, but this was coming from a woman who had a child, house, mortgage and no husband, and she had recently lost her job because of standing up for her patients. I bought in, and that one statement changed my life!

The Lady in the Cape went on to obtain advanced degrees. When I asked her why, she said, if you are going to get a seat at the table to try and make a difference in the world, you have to have the credentials to be there. I did not realize it at the time but the Lady in the Cape was modeling lifelong learning. She has continued this practice and instilled it in me.

The Lady in the Cape has still not stopped learning or trying to make a difference in the world. After several successful careers within the nursing profession—staff nurse, nursing executive, and legal nurse consultant—the Lady in the Cape, now in her ‘70s, recently embarked on a new journey. With the support of several colleagues, she has established the Nightingale Society in Naples, Florida, USA. Wearing their uniforms, this group of retired and working nurses conduct ceremonies to recognize and honor nurses for their service to society, either before they part this life—so they can appreciate the recognition—or, after their passing, at the graveside on the day of the funeral. The Lady in the Cape never stops doing the work of her profession!

The act of nursing embodies everything that is good and decent in this world. These values were instilled in me and have been reinforced throughout my life. When I am asked why I chose nursing as my profession, the answer is simple, “The Lady in the Cape taught me many things, among them: Physicians treat diseases. Nurses provide care for patients and their families.” And when asked why nursing is the primary recipient of my personal philanthropy, the answer is also simple, “The Lady in the Cape.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Comments are moderated. Those that promote products or services will not be posted.

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