Remembering Harriette

On Saturday night, August 24, 1985, at 11:30 p.m., Harriette “Hat” Anderson slipped quietly and peacefully from her earthly body just as she had desired … her prayer was answered … she died with dignity. 

Those of us who were at her bedside as she slipped away that night will never be the same again.  I know that I was touched and impressed with a calmness that prevailed during the last 24 hours I spent with Hat, her family members, nurses and friends prior to her death.  She truly instilled strength into us at a time when weakness would appear to be our easiest way to cope.

When Hat died on the 3-East Unit, Riverside Hospital, at 11:30 p.m., in August 1985, I felt that our lives had come full circle.  Hat and I met for the first time in exactly the same place, on the 3-East Unit, Riverside Hospital, on February 9, 1971, when the roles were reversed.  I was the patient and Hat was my nurse. 

I had major surgery on February 9th and was feeling rather out of touch with no concept of time.  A nurse entered my room, stood by my bed, held my hand and introduced herself as Harriette Anderson, my night nurse.  I remember being so surprised that it was night.  I must have wondered out loud how I’d make it through the night because Hat assured me in a quiet, gentle way that I’d be just fine because she would help me. 

I saw an immaculately groomed nurse with blonde hair, teased very high, with a small pillbox nurses’ cap sitting on top of her head.  She spoke very softly as she quickly went about her work.  Before leaving me she reassured me that she’d be close by if I needed her again.  Indeed I did need her again that night and for the next seven nights.  Hat always gave a back rub and straightened the bed covers when she gave me medication for pain.  She truly exceeded my expectations and ministered to me in a very special way.  I felt she cared!

Shortly after the encounter of Hat being my nurse, our paths crossed more often.  During this period I was Head Nurse of Labor and Delivery, and Hat became the 11-7 shift nursing supervisor.  We would consult occasionally concerning departmental business.

In 1977 our paths were truly aligned.  I was at that time Director of OB/GYN Nursing and Hat was appointed Director of Surgical Nursing.  We had so much in common … same generation (3 years difference) … very similar values … same number of children (2) … both the youngest member of our family … I could go on and on but the most important thing we had in common was WE LIKED EACH OTHER!

After Hat became Director of Surgical Nursing, I watched as a wonderful transformation took place:  she retired the pillbox nurses’ cap, the blonde teased hair became a very soft hairstyle darker in color, but the immaculate grooming, white uniform and the nurses shoes that still got polished every night became her trademark. 

She was totally amazed after working nights for so long that she could so easily adjust to being a “day person.”  Hat took great pleasure in her work and was like a gentle mother to the head nurses and employees on her units.  She affectionately called the Surgical Complex head nurses “her girls.”  She loved and respected them tremendously.

Hat was an excellent clinician, an outstanding role model for other nurses.   She was liked and respected by physicians, peers, and employees.  Since Hat died, many have expressed feelings about her, and the thought, which was voiced most often was that “she was fair.”  What wonderful memories we all have!

Beginning in February 1985, when Hat’s disease was diagnosed and treatment began, time moved very quickly and before we knew it she was gone.  Ironically, the last week seemed like an eternity to me.  Why?  Because the course was set, the fight had been fought with great courage but the final giving up was hard. 

The last 24 hours were the toughest, yet the most peaceful for those of us there at the end.  I know that many of you were right there with us in your thoughts and prayers as the end for Hat – she knew that and appreciated it.

The hours at Hat’s bedside those last six weeks became a time of reflection for me, and I’ve shared a few of those thoughts with you.  During the years 1977-1985 few days passed when Hat and I didn’t spend time together or at least talk on the phone.  We worked together, played together, laughed together and yes, we even cried together.

What have we learned?  I’ve pondered this question many times during Hat’s illness and since her death.  The best answer that I know was written in my journal on a Saturday one month prior to Hat’s death and it’s a conversation we had regarding love.  On this particular day when I went to visit Hat, I took along one of my very best friends, 16 month old Katie Price, whom Hat always enjoyed seeing. 

Katie was a beautiful child, a real charmer, as she sat on Hat’s bed playing and napping.  That day Hat and I talked of unconditional love so freely given by our young ones.  We wondered why we sometimes tend to lose sight of how important love is to all of us.  We talked without drawing any profound conclusions.  I can now draw a conclusion regarding unconditional love.  That conclusion is that all of us who knew and loved Harriette Anderson are richer from that experience.  Be happy … My Friends … You Are Loved!

Thoughts from a friend,

Mary M. Thompson, RN

Coordinator, Maternal-Child Health Program, Riverside Regional Medical Center


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Click here to view story pg. 2 in book.