Inspire Me: Comfort for the holidays

It has been a difficult year for the staff on the fourth floor at Palmetto Health Baptist.

In the past 12 months, 30 of the floor's 300 workers lost a husband, mother, father, brother, sister or another family member.

With the holidays approaching, Vanetta White wanted to reach out to her friends on the floor.

It was that compassion that led to a floor-wide memorial service in the hospital's chapel Thanksgiving week, giving workers an opportunity to honor their loved ones together.

"It probably hit me around the end of October," said White, a registered nurse who has worked 26 years at the hospital, the past 20 in women and children's services.

White said within a three-week period in October, one co-worker lost both parents, and shortly afterward another's husband died unexpectedly.

"Their losses just really touched me," White said "I just got to thinking about how difficult the holidays are if they have experienced a loss, and thought it would be nice if we could do a little something to let them know that we share in their loss and that we are thinking of them during the holidays."

White took the idea of a memorial service to her supervisor, Alice Renfrow, and the floor's nurse managers, who all agreed it was a good idea.

She also contacted the hospital chaplains, who agreed to help with a service.

"I just started getting all of these names of staff members who had lost family members throughout the year," she said.

In all, the 30 staffers directly affected had lost 40 family members during the year.

The service included prayers and a roll call of each loved one. Family members also placed a white carnation into a cross honoring each person being remembered.

"I don't think it really hit me, the significance of it, until we had a memorial service," White said. "I guess just seeing everybody's faces. You could see what a difference it made to them."

Vicki Langford's was one of those faces.

Langford, who had lost her husband in recent months, said she was reluctant about going to the service, fearing the timing was too soon.

But she came away from it happy that she had gone, after drawing support from others who had shared similar losses.

"It was sad, but it was also comforting in a way to know that you were not alone," Langford said. "I thought it was an excellent idea to reach out to people at work who had lost someone. It recognized what they were going through."

White said the floor plans to hold a similar service every year, adding she was moved by the comfort the gathering had offered her friends.

"I guess I just didn't realize the magnitude of that comfort," she said.