​ Art therapy can have a profound impact on a patient’s well-being, while also creating a legacy for loved ones. Art Therapist Holly Queen’s work with Michele Tripi and her family epitomizes this dual role.  Under Holly’s guidance, Michele’s life was enhanced through regular art therapy visits.

Michele, a former Hospice of the Western Reserve home care patient, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 55. One by one, ALS takes capabilities away. The ability to walk and to sit upright. To use one’s hands.  And eventually, even to speak and to breathe.

Michele+Tripi+Video.jpgHowever, ALS never gained the power to define Michele or to break her faith, which was the foundation of her life. The disease was never able to rob her of her dignity, diminish her creative spirit or take away the joy she felt collaborating with others.  The projects Michele completed under Holly’s guidance focused on her abilities, not her limitations.

At the beginning, Michele painted acrylic paintings of vacations. With the progression of the disease came the need for adaptation.  When she could no longer use her hands, she found new ways to inspire and engage her family and extended circle of friends. She sparked the ideas and directed the art process.  

“Michele carried a spirit of teamwork with her through the art therapy visits,” Holly recalls. “Her vocation as a teacher shone through. She recruited everyone.  Her husband, son, daughter, grandchildren, friends, relatives, volunteers... Pretty much everyone but the mailman would stop by, and were ‘all in’ on the creativity,” she relates with a smile.

 “Michele enjoyed offering guidance and a metaphorical pat on the back to family and friends. This maintained her sense of purpose, and exercised her brilliant mind, even when her body failed to cooperate.”

An excerpt from a letter that Holly received from Michele’s family reflects the lasting impact of the art the family created together:  “We miss her greatly, but we kind of smile when we look back. We left nothing unsaid. We cherished our time, and we know she is doing great things up in Heaven.  Thank you for everything you did. She loved her time with you.  Her legacy lives on through the art completed and the creativity learned.”