Patricia Ketcham (left) joins Ascension Alexian Brothers Hospice Care art therapist Angela Scalisi at their art reception, Making Meaning: Celebrating Life, on January 11 at the Ascension Alexian Brothers Hospice Residence in Elk Grove Village .
After learning that her illness was terminal, Patricia Ketcham sought purpose. She sought acceptance and a way to dig deep to access complex emotions. She sought connection, a way to occupy her mind, and a way to capture joy and beauty. Over the course of the past eight months, she found all this and more in the artwork she has done as a patient in Ascension Alexian Brothers Hospice Care in collaboration with hospice art therapist, Angela Scalisi. It had been over 20 years since Patricia had picked up an art pencil or paintbrush.
“Once you have a diagnosis and once you see the path forward, things change and your purpose changes,” Patricia said. “This gave me a new purpose. It made me feel like I was doing something productive and using my time well. Rather than anticipating what was coming, I was enjoying the present and enjoying something I hadn’t done in a long time.”
Healing through “visual memoir”
Together, Patricia and Angela created an art exhibition, “Making Meaning: Celebrating Life,” displayed from January 10 through January 17 at the Ascension Alexian Brothers Hospice Residence in Elk Grove Village. Friends, family, staff, volunteers and patients attended a reception on January 11.
Described as a “visual memoir,” the exhibition invited “viewers to reflect on the beauty found in the midst of life’s complexities… capturing the resilience of the human spirit, the power of shared connections, and the profound ability to celebrate life even in the face of uncertainty.”
In one painting, titled “Determined,” a hummingbird hovers above a cluster of flowers against a background of golds and reds, a symbol of joy in difficult circumstances. Another piece, titled “Drawing the Line between Diagnosis and Acceptance,” showed a photograph of Patricia with her daughter, Karen, taken shortly after her diagnosis. They’d had friends over for lunch that day, and Patricia had wanted to enjoy their time together. Later, during their artistic collaboration, Angela challenged Patricia to record that experience in her artwork with a different slant.
“It was a new time, a demarcation line: before the diagnosis and after the diagnosis,” said Patricia. “There was still a part that was unknown, so part of the picture was known and part of the picture was unknown. You have to look at the whole thing.”
Watch the video above to see highlights from the “Making Meaning: Celebrating Life” art exhibit and reception.
“They're not alone in this journey”
So much of art therapy, and integrative therapies in general, is about processing the whole thing: laughter beside tears; life beside loss; joy beside pain; beauty beside grief. In fact, Angela said she and Patricia talked about using art as one way to positively process grief. Working together also was a meaningful way for Patricia to connect and even simply to think about something other than her diagnosis. Integrative therapies in hospice also have been shown to help reduce pain and anxiety in patients, and to help patients and their families cope with the many changes that occur with terminal illness and at the end of life.
“Through our integrative therapies, we are focused on our patients' emotional and physical comfort and coping. We work closely with our clinical team of nurses, social workers, chaplains, aides and doctors to support our patients and their family members. We remind people that they matter, that they’re supported, and they’re not alone in this journey,” said Victoria Storm, clinical program manager for Ascension Illinois' art, music and massage therapists. Philanthropy is integral to ensuring that these services can continue to be offered to patients and families at Ascension Alexian Brothers Hospice Care and Ascension Illinois Rainbow Hospice.
Connection through collaboration
At the art show, in one pair of pictures drawn and displayed side by side, Angela and Patricia used the same materials to draw the same flower arrangement on black paper. Patricia remembered she’d been especially tired that day. The bloom was short-lived, so she was working in a hurry to try to capture everything and couldn’t do the level of detail she normally tried to include.
“I had to quickly think through how I was relating to this,” Patricia said. “At first it just sort of came out. It was the reality of what I’m living through.”
Angela drew the same flower arrangement, and the outcome, though different, is complimentary to Patricia’s. She said there’s a lot of metaphor in art therapy and people often think of it as solitary. But for her, she said, so much of art is about the relationship between artist and viewer, teacher and student, patient and therapist. No matter what we’re going through, art helps remind us that none of us is ever alone.