Growing up in the Philippines, Luz Florencio saw a lot of sick people. “I thought to myself, ‘I need to do something to help them.’ I saw nurses wearing white and it inspired me,” Florencio said. She went on to become a school nurse, then worked in surgery and recovery care. When she came to the United States in 1992, she worked as a medical, surgical, and oncology nurse.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Florencio explained. “Medical and surgical nursing, with the incorporation of oncology, is difficult. I had patients die in my arms.” When the USN transferred her husband to Japan in 2005, Florencio thought it would be a good opportunity to try something new.
In Yokosuka she became a visiting nurse for the Society. It was tough, she recalled, just to find her clients. “I was in a foreign country and I was driving all over,” she said. “There was no GPS!” Florencio primarily worked with moms and babies and retirees.
“When I was in Japan, one of my clients, a retired Navy man and his Japanese wife had a house at the top of a mountain,” Florencio recalled. “I had to climb all the way up the mountainside. He was 85 years old. I would always go there and visit him. To see the smile on their faces when they saw me made my day. It’s important to show your respect to elders, especially when you’re in another country and they don’t have any family there. I knew my visit made them happy.”
When her husband was transferred to San Diego, California, Florencio’s focus shifted to combat casualty assistance clients. “When you first go to their homes, you don’t know what’s going on, so you have to work with them and talk to them,” she explained. “You are entering their private space, and you have to let them get comfortable with you. You’re just there to listen and support them. The challenging part is sometimes there are questions you can’t answer, but you can still listen. Those invisible wounds are challenging. You don’t know what’s going on in their minds.”
Her own experience as a military spouse provides Florencio with an important point of connection when she first meets her clients. “I ask them why they chose to be in the military and why they wanted to serve. When I sit down with them, I understand what they went through, especially the spouse. Being a military wife is challenging already, before someone gets hurt. I advise them to have more patience, which is always a continuous process in life.”
Any time of day or night, Florencio is willing to stop and listen. “One time a service member called me in the middle of the night. I asked, ‘where are you?’ and he said he was outside and felt sad. I said ‘ok, let’s talk about it.’ Even in the middle of the night, you can still help. I talked to him and asked what was bothering him. I told him I was just there to listen and not to judge. After we talked he said, ‘thank you for listening to me.’ I said, ‘go home now. Your family is waiting for you.’”
“Another client I called said ‘you’re the only one who keeps in touch with us and keeps reaching out to us since we left the Navy.’ That makes me proud. We are here for them. We’re filling the gap. If you need anything, we can help.”