By Christopher Cussat
Recently, the vision of a former Family Hospice and Palliative Care (Family Hospice) patient came to life as artwork on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Last month (January) it became the subject of an art exhibit at the Undercroft Gallery in Shadyside.
Dr. Richard Michaels was an infectious disease pediatrician and a member of the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He and his wife, Christine Michaels, were instrumental in establishing a peace memorial along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail on the North Shore of Pittsburgh. The memorial takes the form of a sculpture entitled, “The Unkillable Human” and was created by the artist, Frederick Franck, specifically for this site and purpose.
Family Hospice Quality of Life Program Coordinator, Paula Church, took a number of photos of the sculpture as part of a memorial tribute to Dr. Michaels after he passed away on Family Hospice’s program in February 2011. Ms. Church and Family Hospice collaborated with the First Unitarian Church of Shadyside to exhibit the photos at its Undercroft Gallery on January 6, 2013.
The exhibit was entitled, “Peace Garden—The Indestructible Spirit” and it was offered free and open to the public with refreshments during the main event. The exhibit then remained on display throughout January. “It is my privilege to document the life stories of Family Hospice patients and provide their loved ones with cherished keepsakes,” said Ms. Church. “In this case, I feel honored to have documented the memorial made possible by Dr. and Mrs. Michaels.” She added that she was very eager to share their vision with the public.
Along with displaying photos of the garden memorial, the exhibit also featured a mixed-media piece of music and photos by Ms. Church, along with a display of poems written by Christine Michaels. “In the case of the ‘Peace Garden,’ the photos and poetry evolved into an opportunity to explore feelings of loss and grief—not only for the artists, but for the audience that viewed the art,” added Ms. Church.
In addition, a video memorial tribute to the sculpture that was produced by Church as part of Family Hospice’s Quality of Life Program, can be found on Family Hospice’s YouTube channel at www.YouTube.com/user/FamilyHospice. It is entitled, “Family Hospice: The Peace Garden.”
According to Church, the creative spirit plays a vital role in healthcare and specifically at Family Hospice. “Depending on the person and the creativity that lies within them, any art form can impact the course of their disease and how they cope with symptoms. Focusing on their art, be it painting, a picture, or listening to their favorite music or sharing the stories of their life, can help alleviate stress or pain.” She added that art can offer hope and purpose to a patient, while helping them remember that they are more than a patient in a bed. “Individuals facing life-altering illness can identify with the creative arts, even if they have not done so in the past.”
Family Hospice and Palliative Care is an independent, non-profit, community-based organization accredited by The Joint Commission for meeting specific high-level performance standards and recognized nationally as a pioneer in programs such as Caregiver Training. Through a commitment to quality services, Family Hospice provides a complete continuum of care to patients and families.
A winner of the American Hospital Association’s Circle of Life award for innovative care programming, Family Hospice has been providing compassionate care to our area since 1980. As Pennsylvania’s largest hospice provider, Family Hospice serves nine counties in Western Pennsylvania, helping patients make choices about their care, supporting family and friends who are grieving, and educating both professionals and the community about end-of-life issues. Learn more at www.FamilyHospice.com and www.Facebook.com/FamilyHospicePA.
For more information about Family Hospice’s Quality of Life Program, or the former exhibit at Undercroft Gallery, please contact Paula Church at 412-651-2550..