My aunt Maureen died this weekend. She was a nurse. I remember when she received her nurse's hat. It was white and crisp and we were all called in to see it in its hatbox. We stood around admiring it like we would have if it were a new baby.
I was pretty young at the time, but I remember it clearly. We were proud of Aunt Maureen for being a post-college graduate. Her hat was the symbol of her achievement, determination, her courage and her devotion.
Much later, when I was nineteen, I had surgery for a kidney problem. My Aunt Maureen volunteered to be my private nurse. My parents did not have to fear that I was not well taken care of late at night, or between nursing shifts, because my Aunt Maureen sat with me every night until I was out of the woods. My hospital stay was 21 days. I don't remember exactly how long Aunt Maureen stayed with me, but I remember that her no-nonsense approach and vigilant watch made me feel loved and safe.
Nurses don't wear hats much anymore. They should. Dignity, respect, compassion are all embodied in that hard-earned symbol of achievement. I had an Aunt Maureen who wore one proudly.