Opening Windows to Let the Soul Out

The informant worked as a nurse in South Carolina and in Southern California for almost two decades. Here she recounts a cross-cultural tradition that nurses perform after a patient has passed.

T: As far as nursing goes, we would have nurses who would, uh, come in the room. We would have nurses come in, and even nurses here in California I would have some, and um, I don’t know if it was regional or not, cause I would have a lot of nurses that were travelers and a lot of nurses that were from all over the country. You know, cause we have– cause California has so many nurses from so many different places. And you know, how you say, there’s no Californian born in California. But, um, we would have nurses once the patient had died and the family seen the patient, and sometimes even before that, they would open, if they could, they would open the windows in the room.

L: Oh! So their soul could get out?

T: Yeah. So that was another superstition as far as nursing goes. Nurses would, uh, tend to do when they weren’t superstitious in any other way. Nurses tend to be very scientific and clinical–that kinda stuff. But that was a nursing thing that nurses would do, not just the nursing assistants. 

L: Do you remember if that was from any specific nationality or culture? Or did it sort of catch on with everyone? 

T: It crossed a lot of barriers, I think. I know they did it in the South a lot. When I was in the South, I mean, it was very a Southern thing. But when I came here (To Los Angeles) I noticed that a lot of different– cause there are a lot of different cultures here– I noticed a lot of cultures did that. It wasn’t just a Southern thing. Yeah, a lot of different cultures did that. And a lot of different religious cultures seemed to do it. Like, letting the soul be free and not trapped. That kind of thing. 


It’s interesting how the informant says that this tradition is not only seen on opposite sides of the United States, but is also crosses ethnic boundaries as well. This leads me to wonder if the origins of opening the window for someone’s soul to leave may be polygenetic, or if it is a tradition that is passed down from nurse to nurse in the United States and has slowly worked its way across the country.