Life Matters Media
Quality of life at the end of life

Chrysalis Rooms Lend Families Support

Hospice volunteer Loretta Downs wants all nursing home patients near the very end of life to have a comfortable, sacred space for their families and close friends to congregate.

The common, two-patient nursing home room complicates the dying process, Downs says. Such a setup sometimes creates a hostile environment for family and friends holding vigil.

“While visitors surround their dying loved one, helpless roommates must suffer the sights, sounds and smells of death and grief. Even worse is to be trapped on the other side of a flimsy curtain, where the dead body of your roommate lies alone, awaiting removal,” Downs writes in her blog, End of Life Inspirations.

Nearly 25 percent of U.S. deaths occur in nursing homes, a number expected to rise as the population ages.

Downs was inspired to create a “Chrysalis Room” during the decline of her mother’s health; she spent six years in the Fairmont Care Center nursing home in Chicago.

When I proposed this idea to Fairmont, I found an unused storage room to convert into this special space for patients,” Downs tells Life Matters Media. “Using my background in fashion, I worked with the administrator to create the first Chrysalis Room.”

Each summer, Downs raises Monarch butterflies in an incubator at the nursing station for Fairmont residents. The term “chrysalis” refers to a butterfly at the stage of growth when it is becoming an adult. “I couldn’t think of a more fitting name to represent life’s second most significant transformation,” Downs says.

Loretta Downs and her mother receiving hospice care

Loretta Downs caring for her mother. Family photo.

In 2006, her mother died in Fairmont’s Chrysalis Room while receiving hospice care. Downs says the cool, peaceful space allowed for friends and family to share memories and to bring food. Other patients even came to say goodbye, and the room was decorated with her mother’s favorite possessions.

Often, Downs says, nursing facilities become patients’ new homes; they do not want to leave to die in a hospital. “Keeping vigil is a lost ritual, and it’s very transformative,” she adds. “Sitting with someone who is dying for a few days changes you forever, and anyone who has done it will say so. Most people say they are not afraid to die anymore. Unless you provide a space, the opportunity doesn’t even arise, and it makes death that much more difficult for the family.”

A good Chrysalis Room will feature soft lighting, a view of nature, cool colors, couches and a media player for music or video.

Visiting The Central Baptist Village Nursing Home

Dawn Zimmerman, administrator of the Central Baptist Village in Norridge, Ill., says its new Chrysalis Room was designed with green accents to help patients and families feel comfortable.

Zimmerman and Downs relax in the Chrysalis Room

Zimmerman and Downs relax in the Chrysalis Room

“There is a feel to the room, we keep calling it our ‘sacred space,” Zimmerman says.

The Village Chrysalis Room provides a couch for family, a refrigerator with drinks, natural artwork and a closet with coloring books for young children. “It gives patients and family privacy, there’s not a caregiver making noise with another resident,” Zimmerman adds. “Our artwork was specifically selected to help visitors connect with nature. We didn’t want abstract art, we wanted everything to be real.”


Soft lighting, an adjustable bed and a garden view

The room has been used by a dozen patients since its launch about one year ago.

“A lot of families may not get along, but it’s amazing that they come in and can get along for the resident,” says Pamela Novielli, a nursing home caregiver. “When it finally comes down to it, they are able to be here. They know it’s okay, and it takes the pressure off them.”

Loretta Downs is an expert contributor to Life Matters Media
To learn more about the benefits of a Chrysalis Room contact Loretta Downs at