‘To Profess’ – A Poem on the Passing of Donna Diers, PhD, RN, FAAN

Diers_DonnaDonna Diers, 1938–2013

I’ve seen several notices about the February 23rd death of this true “living legend” of nursing. The terms used to describe her or her contributions to nursing include “champion of nursing research,” “advocate,” “captivating storyteller,” “caring mentor,” and “inspirational figurehead.” I’d add unpretentious, wise, warm, and witty. I can’t say I was a friend—our dealings were because she was on AJN’s editorial board and its journal oversight committee. But I felt her warmth and support and appreciated her encouragement and suggestions, always given in a straight-talking, to-the-point fashion. I’ve saved one particularly encouraging e-mail she sent—she always had the right words.

There will undoubtedly be many tributes to Donna—and deservedly so. We will have one in our April issue, which is already at the printer. And here’s a tribute from the Yale School of Nursing, where she was the former dean and still teaching until just before her death; it lists her many accomplishments.

The following poem by Jeanne LeVasseur, a nursing professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, will appear in our May issue, but we were so taken with it that we want to share it with you now.—Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

To Profess

By Jeanne LeVasseur, PhD, MFA, APRN, RN

—In memoriam, Donna Diers

On the day she died, most of us didn’t yet know,
like Icarus falling from his century
the wax wings disappearing in the green water,
just Daedalus weeping, it took time for that great circle to ripple out.
And we, who learned to practice the art,
the dignity of washing the body, the privilege of peering
into the hidden psyche,
all the terrible beauty of our responsibility wrung whole from her writing.
Weren’t we all, always, her students?
Her words so fresh, I would say she was Aphrodite,
newborn in her frothy dress, except she was, so clearly and always, Athena,
splitting the head of Zeus, the mother of all migraines,
a serious gadfly stinging the giant horse of Athens,
goading the body politic, so we could tend the other body,
and prove her point: profess ourselves professionals.
In those early days, who else believed in us?
Not our radical sisters who had all become lawyers overnight,
and left us in our mustard-spotted party gowns
like gawky debutantes on the wet lawns of learning.
We who understood the nature of permeable membranes
and the ebb and flow of gases in the body,
the triumph of cells and synapses, we who knew all the uses of tenderness,
could sometimes be paralyzed, our forks halfway to our lips,
when asked, “Is there really such a thing as nursing knowledge?”
And the wag who asked, quite serious but tipping his head, winking,
as if we were a group of blowsy dames, mere pretenders
to the great tradition of diagnosis. Oh, it was never just angels
we needed but Titans who could, like Prometheus,
steal fire from the gods.

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

One Comment

  1. Grif Alspach, RN EdD FAAN March 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you, Jeanne, for helping to so eloquently articulate how profound our loss is with Donna’s death. Many thanks for sharing Jeanne’s literary art with us, Shawn.

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