Memories of Dr. Joyce Valborg Zerwekh | Ever Loved

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In memory of Dr. Joyce Valborg Zerwekh

Memories & condolences

I was/am sorry to hear about Joyce's passing, and send heartfelt sympathy to Joel and Gregory. Hers was clearly a life simply and beautifully lived.  As a colleague at the U of Washington School of Nursing's Community Health Dept, she was a strong influence on our work and on me.  She was an independent thinker, committed to exercising her value of social justice individuals, families and communities.  While it was hard when she moved on, by doing so she made ever stronger contributions to nursing practice in palliative care and continued to do so in nursing education from various positions.  Thank you Joyce!

Both my parents died in within a few months and when I was in that raw, grieving place I knew that Joyce was a person who would understand my deep sadness so I reached out to her. Her presence did indeed comfort me.  I remember asking her how she had moved forward, after the deep losses she herself had experienced. She thought for a bit and then said she believed that the deep, unconditional love she received from her parents as a child, and has remained a part of her, has allowed her to be whole despite losses (including the loss of her parents).  Those words were healing to me as my parents also provided that for me. I hope that the unending love Joyce had for you, Greg and Joel, will sustain you as you move forward in your life and will be with you as you face life's challenges.
A Good Night dearest Joyce - you really did do fine by me and all who knew you.  We will carry on the battle you so fiercely fought and think of you as we do so.

I was the first OB clinical instructor hired by Dr. Z (as she was affectionately addressed) into Conordia University-Portland's new nursing program  I still remember the interview to this day sitting in a room with Dr. Z and Dr. Bachand scared and nervous.  But, Dr. Zerwekh was welcoming and gentle. I knew  then that I really wanted to be involved in her vision for the best nursing school in the area.   Whle she was at Concordia, Dr. Z. did not let anything get in her way and made do with what the university provided including leaking modulars for the lab!  She was truly a pioneer and inspiration to students, staff, and faculty.  

The nursing program is still going strong.  Dr. Z's legacy is present in the newly designated College of Nursing at Concordia University-St. Paul.  This is a huge accomplishment for a program not even 2 decades old and a tribute to Dr Z.  

Greg, I have such good memories of my walks and garden plant talks with Joyce. The crocus are coming up in the pots you gave me! That speaks to me of spring and hope that love and caring can follow a hard time. Peace Cynthia Marechal
We met Joyce and became friends 52 years ago when we spent a year together at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study Center in Pennsylvania. Joyce lent us money to help buy our home in San Francisco where we still live! Thank you Joyce!! We demonstrated together at Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action saying No the the insanity of Trident submarines and nuclear war. Joyce was a loving and beloved teacher of nurses who continue sharing that love of people with their patients all over the US. Joyce will continue to live on in the lives of all of us who loved her and whom she loved. Thank your Joyce for a life well lived and for all the love you have shared. Greg and Joel, we share your sorrow and also your good fortune of having such a loving Mother. Joyce Zerwekh, Presente!
Our last visit
2021, Joyce's appartment
Our last visit
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Joyce and I met at St. Olaf College’s Nursing program. We usually went on the same train from Chicago to Minneapolis. We spent about two years on campus and the other at Minneapolis hospitals for clinical training. We had excellent nursing instructors who inspired all of us.

Joyce talked me into attending our college class reunion. We both realized if we missed this one, we might be in our eighties at the next one and we couldn’t count on our health that far in the future! We had a great time together.

On a couple of occasions, when Joyce needed help before and after surgery and just after Thanksgiving last year, I was able to come and be there to help her awhile. She was always thoughtful and planned ahead. She had a poem she wanted me to read to help calm herself before surgery.

Last year, I learned that preparing food and sitting together to eat can be such an encouraging time. On both of these occasions I got to know Joel and Greg better also.

She always wanted to introduce me to people and places she liked. These were always good people that she had found. Similarly when she came to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit certain friends with some regularity, we would walk along Lake Merritt and try a not crowded restaurant so we could talk. I really enjoyed introducing you at Trinity as my friend, Joyce, and how you loved the service, singing and fellowship afterwards. The spirit was one of your delights.

She would tell me how much she liked teaching nursing students. The graduation and pinning ceremony held a special satisfaction to her, so I am glad that the poem she wrote for the 1996 Seattle University ceremony was posted by Barbara Sullivan. It expresses her passionate personal creed in which she invited her students to try as a way to engage in life.

Yet, I want to acknowledge that we are living in a changed world where her students who are working in hospitals, nursing homes and public health are going through the hardest of times! They are often risking their health in caring for others. What a personal dilemma! Please balance your ideals and your physical health and endurance. It seems to me that ultimately we are responsible for ourselves and others as we are able. Thank you for your caring service to others.

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A Tribute to Joyce V. Zerwekh, RN, EdD

I always admired Joyce for her teaching expertise, student-centeredness, willingness to speak up and out, creativity, wit, hard work, and ability to write. Her scholarly writing provides the nursing profession and those cared for by nurses with practical wisdom about public health nursing, end-of-life care, qualitative research, and teaching.

I first met Joyce in the late 1980’s when we taught undergraduate community health nursing at the University of Washington. As both an expert nurse and teacher, Joyce shared her wisdom and inspired our teaching team and students with her passion for social justice and the empowerment of nurses and the people they work with. It was during this time that I think Joyce’s interest in public health nursing was sparked. Her dissertation research addressed the core competencies of public health nursing, a different focus than her previous work in other areas of community health, particularly hospice and palliative care.

In her professional life, Joyce linked two areas of community health nursing by developing and publishing practice models of family caregiving for both hospice nursing and public health nursing. Her scholarly writing about end-of-life care included provocative titles including “The Truth-Tellers: How Hospice Nurses Help Patients Confront Death,” “Fearing to Comfort: A Grounded Theory of Constraints to Opioid Use in Hospice Care,” and “End of life hydration - benefit or burden?” At the core of her writing, she was always an advocate for dying patients and families. She encouraged nurses to teach clients and families the pros and cons of various care decisions so they could make informed decisions. She wrote eloquently about developing mutual and trusting relationships with clients and families by partnering with them, recognizing and building on their strengths through joint participation and decision-making, helping them help themselves and believe in their own capacity.

Joyce was very well-regarded locally, statewide, and nationally for her scholarly contributions to public health nursing. She received the prestigious American Public Health Association’s Public Health Nursing Creative Achievement award in 1992. Some of her publications from this period included an impressive commentary in the American Journal of Public Health titled “Going to the people-public health nursing today and tomorrow;” “Laying the Groundwork for Family Self-Help: Locating Families, Building Trust, and Building Strength” and “Community Health Nurses-A Population at Risk” in Public Health Nursing; and “Tales from Public Health Nursing: True Detectives” in the American Journal of Nursing.

In 1992-1993, Joyce and I worked together closely with colleague Barbara Young on the Centennial Celebration of Public Health Nursing. We published two editions of Opening Doors: Stories of Public Health Nursing. We also helped create the Robert Woods Johnson funded documentary, Opening Doors: Public Health Nursing in its 100th Year. The classic video documented the legacy and contributions of nurses in rural and urban communities who are often not recognized yet who have met the public health needs of their communities. Both the video and Joyce’s Opening Doors to Public Health Nursing: A Guidebook have been used in academic and practice settings for decades.

One of Joyce’s many publications represents her compassion, true regard for human beings, passion to share her knowledge with nurses and improve nursing practice, and her creativity. She interviewed nurses who work with clients separated from society and used “the metaphor of going around the wall of fear separating clients and community.” In the 2000 publication, “Caring on the Ragged Edge: Nursing Persons Who Are Disenfranchised” in Advances in Nursing Science, Joyce’s expressed her deepest beliefs.

“…Fear and silencing keep us from "rising up" at all levels of organization and community; truth is rarely spoken to power for fear of repercussions. Although vulnerable people seldom rise up against those who oppress them, that certainly should not stop wise nurses from understanding the nature of power structures that deprive human beings from sustenance, rights, and dignity. As nurses, I believe we must challenge those oppressive structures through civic involvement at every personal and professional level. Likewise, by strengthening individual clients, we enhance the possibility of their acting as empowered communities.

We have much to learn from nurse colleagues courageously practicing on the ragged edge. We can validate, explain, teach, and replicate fearless caring with clients subject to innumerable societal injustices and fears. As the gap between rich and poor widens, a unique group of outstanding nurse colleagues persistently struggle to affirm humanity and build individual capacity of the most disadvantaged. They go around walls where others fear to tread in order to stand beside the fearful and the feared. They draw them into community where there is strength in numbers. They see human possibilities where others see no hope. Thus, power is born when caring others value another and believe in human potential.” (Page 61)

Joyce, you left an impressive legacy. Thank you.

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I have always taken pride in being a member of the Nursing Profession because we nurses often have fire in our belly to intervene in behaviors and practices that we see as harmful or less than satisfactory and have  room for improvement. There is no finer example of that trait than Joyce. She had fire and actions in her belly. I will miss her as a role model! 
I first met Joyce when I became a member of MFM having moved here from Evanston, Illinois.  Joyce and I bonded over memories of how very cold Northfield, MN, is in winter.  She was at St. Olaf the same time I was at Carleton College. Our friendship took off from there, but ended much too soon with her passing.
My sincecre condolences to Greg and Joel, who have lost a great Mother. Many others, including myself, have lost a wonderful friend. Meetings with Joyce always brought warm empathy, insights, and intellectual stimulation. The world was a better place with her in it, and she is very much missed.
Joyce was one of the first four nurses hired in 1978 at the fledgling Hospice of Seattle.  She brought her unique gifts  to our team  as we all worked to  develop this  program in the early years of the hospice movement.   She was brainy and thoughtful, creative and energetic , and sometimes hilariously funny.   She thought both inside and outside of the box.  Her article “The dehydration question” introduced the notion that perhaps hydration at the end of life was counterproductive.  This  was so typical of her originality.   I learned so much from her.  What a gift.  What a light.
Joyce was a member of our weekly prayer group at the home of Christa Spalteholz near Concordia. Appreciated her knowledge and friendship.
Joyce and I were on the same page in terms of being passionate about righting wrongs in the world and making the world a better place as Quakers. In 1979, she loaned us a significant sum of money which was one of the pieces making it possible to start a Catholic Worker house. We housed homeless families, served a free meal weekdays downtown and participated in the anti-Trident submarine nonviolent action campaign. (I was a Quaker Catholic Worker.) Joyce and I got together frequently over the years--and I was glad to have her back from Florida. I feel such a loss knowing I won't have her vibrant presence the next time I am in Portland. -Caroline Wildflower
Dr. Zerwekh was my clinical instructor for med/surg at Pacific Lutheran University back in the mid 70's.  In addition to her clinical expertise, I recall being amazed at her dedication to reading scholarly articles in her non-work time, presaging her development as a renowned nursing scholar.  Little did I know at the time that news of her death reached me on my final day as a nurse educator - a career that has been so rewarding.  Condolences to her family - she touched many lives in such a positive way.
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  • Joyce used her medical expertise to help whomever needed guidance. She gave me and my family a lot of sound advice when I was ill. She was a lovely person! ShaSha
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