Honoring our fallen heroes

Stopping to honor the lives of Doug Brant, Jerald Lee Gordon, and all of our lost heroes should also be a reminder to recommit to advancing the honor and respect that all nurses deserve.

This story was published in the Winter 2023 issue of The Washington Nurse.

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This issue of The Washington Nurse includes obituaries for two WSNA members who recently died: Doug Brant and Jerald Lee Gordon. I didn’t have the honor of knowing either of them personally. I am struck by some of their similarities. Both were men. Both worked in Spokane. Both were long-time, expert nurses (Jerald an ER nurse and Doug a home-health nurse). Both were passionate about their work and committed to their patients and colleagues. Both were beloved by co-workers (as testimonials from colleagues amply demonstrate). Both were musically inclined — Jerald sang and Doug played guitar.

Both also died tragically. However, each died under very different circumstances: Jerald died in a motorcycle accident; Doug was shot and killed by a patient’s family member during a home visit.

The fact that the lives of these two exemplary nurses were needlessly cut short is more than sad. Jerald and Doug are just two examples of the millions of nurses who have touched the lives of countless patients, family members, and co-workers across the nation and the world.

And of course, we have lost too many other nurses too soon — whether to accidents, illness, violence, or other causes. Among those losses are the many nurses who died of COVID-19. Worldwide, the International Council of Nurses estimates that 115,000 nurses and other healthcare workers have been claimed by the pandemic.

I attended and spoke at a memorial vigil for Doug. This was an intensely moving experience. In my remarks, I noted that the workplace killing of a nurse touches on broad issues of policy and practice. Whether or not this particular tragedy was preventable, we need to do all we can to stem the epidemic of workplace violence and other threats to nurses’ safety. But, as I said in my remarks, the vigil was about focusing on Doug and his myriad contributions. I observed that addressing the broader issues only has meaning if we take the time to reflect and honor our fallen colleagues and heroes. Doug is certainly one of those heroes. So is Jerald. And so are the many other nurses we have lost.

We have a variety of ways to honor our fallen heroes. Some may be through large events such as Doug’s vigil; others may be through smaller memorials; some may be through obituaries in this publication or others. Some may be through quiet reflection or prayer by individuals. And some will be through taking action for safer workplaces and safer lives.

But our starting point has to be truly appreciating the incredible work that all nurses are doing every day under increasingly difficult circumstances. When we honor our dead, we are really honoring their lives.

Labor Leader Mother Jones once advised: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” I think that’s good advice.

Stopping to honor the lives of Doug, Jerald, and all of our lost heroes should also be a reminder to recommit to advancing the honor and respect that all nurses deserve.