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Rosalie's Art of Healing

In April 2020, Care Dimensions hospice patient Rosalie Marie Cardoza Cioffi, 85, picked up some art pastels and paint markers to help her cope with some of the stress and depression she was feeling through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her grandson helped her take a Zoom art course about painting flowers, which inspired her, and now she’s producing two to four pieces of art every day. And not just flowers.

Her positive frame of mind brought on through this new-found artistic expression, she says, has made all the difference in her life.

“I got a difficult diagnosis a few years ago and I didn’t know what the future would bring. I have an illness that isn’t curable but it’s not a quick path,” she said. “The night I was told the dire prognosis, a calm came over me, one of an acceptance of life, not death. I know I can live the best life if I stay calm and accept things as they come.”

Rosalie, mother of 11, grandmother of 23 and great-grandmother of 13 (and counting), lives with her son, Paul, and daughter-in-law, Fran. The close-knit and loving family – four generations live together – is very protective of her, more so during the COVID pandemic.

“When Rosalie came onto hospice services in January 2019, she was quite sick,” says Karen MacKenzie, RN, and Rosalie’s hospice nurse. “She had health issues and poor sleep, which have been managed with medication. She still gets tired quickly and must rest between activities. Shortness of breath and fatigue are her biggest issues now, although we are managing them quite well.”

MacKenzie and Rosalie have developed a special bond since Rosalie came onto hospice care. “We’re in love, me and Karen,” Rosalie says with an enigmatic smile. But, once COVID-19 hit the area, to protect Rosalie as much as possible and limit her exposure, her family requested that all hospice visits be conducted through secure video connections rather than in person.

“Rosalie and I used to do our video calls twice a week, but since she has started her drawings, her anxiety and stress have lessened and we often only do weekly video calls,” Karen says. “Rosalie and I both miss the actual physical visits, but we are happy we are able to see each other through the video calls. Like many of my patients, Rosalie became a little depressed after COVID-19, but once she began to draw, her mood improved. It gave her a new purpose that has been very healing and positive for her.”

Rosalie posts her work on Facebook, where her art has gained attention. She also published her work in Stoneham’s senior center newsletter, with the help of daughter-in-law Fran, who works there. Rosalie’s art and engagement inspired the center to start a program to involve more seniors in a creative project, so they started a knitting group: the Winter Warmers, who knit hats, gloves and scarves for charities.

“I challenge myself to learn something new,” Rosalie says simply. “For me it’s a gift. You can always learn and learn something new every day. The lessons I learned about gardening are the same about drawing: Just move this over here to make it better.”

Many have come to recognize Rosalie’s art – abstract, silhouette, portrait, still life – by the single rose she draws on each piece as her signature. “That rose makes me feel good,” she says.

“I maintain my calm and peace; that’s what I’m responsible for,” Rosalie says. “I train myself not to miss what I had and to enjoy what I do have: my family, the deer, the bunnies, a garden, birds and four chickens in the yard. Life is good; just keep your eyes open. I’m a rich, rich lady.”

Ideas for Interaction

Social isolation and lack of interaction with other people has had a huge impact on so many of my patients. I often suggest several activities to help families interact more – whether it’s in person or via phone or video conferencing. Here are a few of my top tips:

  • Help them remember a happy time in their lives so they can talk about it with their families and friends.
  • Listen to music and even sing together. Introduce younger family members to the music they enjoyed when they were young.
  • Set up game night to play board games and cards.
  • Watch TV together and talk about it afterwards.
  • Get involved with small tasks or jobs around the house, such as watching the dog or helping to plan a meal.

These activities and engagement with family members or friends gives the patient a sense of purpose and creates positivity – they need to feel needed.

Karen MacKenzie, RN

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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore,  has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.

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