James J. Peters VA Medical Center
“Hall of Heroes” & Bereavement "Honor Room"
Bronx , NY - Members of the James J. Peters VA Medical Center Bereavement Family Support Team work closely with our Veterans and their families through some of the most difficult and emotional times of their lives. Their caring and compassion comforts the grieving and promotes healing.
One of the essential and sensitive tasks performed by members of the team, is to escort family members of recently deceased Veterans to the medical center morgue, for the purposes of identifying the remains of their loved one, and to share a moment of silence and remembrance. This task is never easy, and emotions run high. Often, this is the family member’s first encounter with a medical center that was very familiar to their Veteran loved one, and obviously our Bereavement Team wants to ensure that the family and the Veterans are treated with the utmost of respect and reverence.
According to research that has been conducted by Vanezis, McGee and McLauchlan, 1996, on bereavement, families can benefit emotionally by physically seeing their deceased loved one. This physical viewing helps to bring “closure” and is an important part of the bereavement process that includes the early stages of accepting the inevitability of death. One particular study (Cooke et al, 1992) suggested that not only should bereaved relatives be allowed to see the body, but also that personal, cultural and religious items of relevance should be included.
Unfortunately, the environment of a morgue is typically very austere, and the first thing that was suggested was that a small private room be established where the family can wait for a staff member to retrieve the body from the morgue and to place it on a proper gurney, covered appropriately with a blanket. This was a significant improvement from inviting family into the morgue itself, but it was still far from being the ideal situation. Members of the Bereavement Team recognized that more could be done to transform a somewhat desolate and depressing area into a healing and therapeutic environment where families could focus on their loved one, and to begin the bereavement process.
The team embarked on developing a proposal for what this environment would include. They engaged other medical center programs in the consultative process, including the Director’s Office, facilities management, palliative care, medical media, logistics, the Chief of Pathology and the Laboratory. They came up with an outline for what would come to be known as the JJP “Hall of Heroes” and “Honor Room.”
Following are some of the key components from the approved plan, installed in the viewing room and adjoining hall:
- Fold down bench seating was added so that the family can be seated.
- A “Thank You For Your Service” poster was created as a backdrop for the Honor Room.
- Full-sized ceremonial American and VA flags were posted on either side of the poster.
- Improved lighting was added in the corridor and Honor Room.
- Attention was paid to details like installing a tissue box holder and creating a “Bereavement Box” that holds a blanket and items to prepare the body for viewing.
- Painting of the entire corridor and placement of a “Hall of Heroes” banner on the wall at the end of the corridor, was a simple upgrade.
- Ribbons and service medals from our wars throughout history, were displayed on the walls in the Hall of Heroes.
- Service Seals representing all branches of our military, and a folded flag in a shadow box are on display in the Hall of Heroes.
The combined impact of these small yet meaningful additions is one of reverence, sacrifice and honor. It gives the Veterans family a sense of history, and the recognition that their loved one’s service contributions are remembered and valued by the people who cared for him or her. It is a dignified and respectful environment for families to pay their last respects to their loved ones, and serves as an example of what can be done on a relatively small budget, to bring peace, comfort and respect to our Veteran’s family members, during their most difficult times.
For more information related to the James J. Peters VA Medical Center, please contact Jim Connell, Public Affairs Officer, at 718.584.9000, Ext. 6620.