A new view through hospice art therapy

A new view through hospice art therapy

Barb had been an active, independent and social woman who was now bedbound in the home where she raised her family.

At 94 years of age, she primarily depended on her adult son and hospice team for her care. Barb’s family was planning to move her from her home to a nursing facility, which brought on anxiety as well as feelings of sadness and hopelessness. 

Her hospice care team recommended art therapy to help elevate her mood. I was Barb’s art therapist.    

Angel wings and art in hospice

Angel wings and art in hospice

I started as an art therapy intern with JourneyCare in July. I initially felt nervous to begin working in hospice. In school, we were taught treatment planning over the course of months  ̶  but with end-of life-care, it was potentially an expedited timeline. I knew that with some patients, I might only get to see them one time. I questioned how much of an impact I could possibly make having only one session with someone. I worried about the power such limited time could have.

A Beautiful Day of Art and Makeup for Teen Hospice Patient

A Beautiful Day of Art and Makeup for Teen Hospice Patient

I received an art therapy referral for Brittany, a 19-year-old on our pediatric hospice services living with a rare cancer that affects her connective and soft tissue. Ironically, the referral specifically stated she is not interested in making any art, but loves makeup.

The word “art” can be off-putting to a lot of people and can even prevent them from accepting art therapy services, so I was looking forward to working with someone with such a unique request. I reached out to Brittany’s mother to schedule a visit. Her mother reiterated early in our conversation that Brittany did not want to make any art, only makeup. I explained how I would respect Brittany’s wishes, that makeup is a creative outlet and our ultimate goal together is to use this creative expression to help support Brittany. 

Through Art, a Final Message to Mom

Pelayia Limbos was an extraordinary artist. She was also my best friend, as well as my mother. Her paintings and photography reflect the many facets of her "core being." She was brilliant, pioneering, solid, modest, gentle, soft spoken, subtle, complex, honest and to put it simply – exceptional. 

Her style was definitely her own. She was an individual, and she was completely authentic. I found it hard to imagine, however it’s true, that my mom did not believe the masses liked or appreciated her artwork! When I reminded her that someone had commented on the absence of a newsletter issue, or that a friend had just requested to be on her newsletter list (or when the deadline was missed, due to illness or life ... or that people were inquiring/still awaiting its arrival) … or when I tried to remind her that people purchased her paintings from her original art show many years ago ... or when I reminded her, “that it is always an honor... whenever people choose to hang an artist’s work in their home”... she consistently, modestly replied, “Oh, they are just being kind.”

Knitting Memories

Knitting Memories

By engaging the creative process of art-making, patients of all ages can enhance their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Self-expression through art can help resolve conflicts and problems, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness and achieve insight. For hospice patients, art therapy can aid symptom management, provide a way to communicate about their illness and facilitate exploration of spiritual concerns. No artistic skills are needed to benefit from art therapy.

An older adult woman was referred to me for art therapy sessions to help elevate her mood. She was mourning the loss of her physical abilities after a stroke. Her life prior to her stroke included teaching Latin and always having her hands busy with knitting needles.

Remarkable Artist, Remarkable Care

The most important thing to know about my wife, Shirley Weisbrod, is that she has been a remarkable person all of her life.

By age 12 she would head out all alone each Saturday, taking two street cars from her Lawndale neighborhood in Chicago to the Field Museum in order to get lost in their exhibits.

Three years later, she had become a talented seamstress and dress designer, eventually gaining an acceptance letter from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. (Ultimately, however, she attended the University of Illinois, earning a degree in education, and later earned a fine arts degree from the University of Wisconsin.)


I used to joke that art was my therapy. Today, I no longer joke about it.

In August of 1995 I had a heart attack, cardiac arrest and near death experience. It serves as an inspiration for many of my works, making it clear that art is therapy. Art is also therapeutic to me because it is so different than the way I spend the vast majority of my time as a general internist physician. In that role, I must step outside of myself and relate to the experiences of others, even though my own inner life continues whether or not I am aware of it.

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