Family, friends and parish nurses help St. Joe widow cope

Ruth Smith with the women in her Bible study groupIt’s not unusual for Ruth Smith (pictured center in blue jacket) to surround herself with warm and wonderful people—her family, her friends, other nurses. When her husband of 58 years passed away in the spring, those people and her church community surrounded her.

Peggy Swisher, a retired Carle nurse, and Carle nurse Carol Rinehart are parish nurses at St. Joseph Church of Christ. Their annual memorial event, A Night to Remember, means so much to Ruth, other parishioners and people in the community who have lost loved ones.

"Parish nurses partake of a unique and special ministry. They are healers who care about people and want to see them made well,” said St. Joseph Church of Christ Senior Minister Vinny Santanelli. “Parish nurses exemplify the very essence of Jesus in his healing ministry and, therefore, stand as beacons of God's restorative and healing love in communities of faith."

Parish nurses serve a variety of faith communities in a host of ways based on a need, including blood pressure screenings, fitness classes, support groups and more. Registered nurses interested in becoming parish nurses must sign up online or call (217) 326-2583 by February 10. Classes are scheduled for February 24-25 and March 10-11 in Champaign-Urbana.

Simply put, Ruth’s faith is essential.

“If I didn’t know the Lord, I don’t know how I’d get through,” Ruth said.

Ruth, now retired, married Luke a week after she completed nursing school. They have three grown children and an ever-expanding family that rallied in every way possible when Luke, a carpenter, received the diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer.

the late Luke Smith, who had pancreatic cancer, with his namesake“He was a good guy, a good father,” Ruth said, adding Luke was a big fan of both the Chicago Bears and vintage trucks like his prized 1962 Ford Unibody.

“It was tough when Luke was sick, but we consider it a blessing he was only in hospice care for three days. It was time.”

The family’s celebration of life a couple months later included a ceremony by one of the Smiths’ sons and plenty of photos, including one of Ruth’s favorites—Luke with his namesake great-grandson.

While she’s not a parish nurse, Ruth now talks with and supports other widows who have lost loved ones.

“I can truly say I know what they’re going through,” she said. “It helps me to help others.”

Parish nurse class organizers hope other registered nurses feel the same.

“We’re always looking to welcome more parish nurses, especially as we all begin to face the added healthcare needs of aging baby boomers,” said Faith Roberts, RN, MSN, Carle’s director of parish nursing, professional practice and Magnet.

“I’m sure the next generation of parish nurses will step forward and continue this strong tradition.”

Please contact Roberts at faith.roberts@carle.com if you have questions about the upcoming classes. The Community Parish Nurse Program is made possible by generous donations to Carle Center for Philanthropy.