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Rita’s robes: A gift of dignity and pizzaz

Rita Palombo, a Cranston boutique owner and the mother of four—Karla Misto, Caroline “Cal” Kitson, Kris Cicchetti, and Anthony Palombo—was known by her large extended family and a wide circle of friends for her zest for life and love of “bling.”

“Our mother was always doing little things for people,” her daughter Karla said. “She would leave a wreath on her granddaughter’s doorstep before Christmas, find a scarf that was perfect for a friend, decorate t-shirts for the Patriots’ Sunday games. She would even laminate birth announcements or obituaries and give them to friends as mementoes.” Her passion for making others feel special developed into two clothing and accessories businesses, with every item chosen specially by Rita.

“Our mother was so hard working. She taught us from an early age what it meant to be responsible, independent, and to work for the things you really want,” daughter Cal shared. “When we were young, you would have never missed a family dinner. Family was so important to her. We didn’t have a lot and being together meant everything.”

An experience with hospice makes a difference

In 2016, Rita’s husband of 39 years died. “My stepfather had serious health issues, but his passing was still a shock. In the morning, he and my mother were having pancakes and by the end of the day, he was at the Hulitar Hospice Center,” Cal shared. “But thank goodness she knew about HopeHealth. He passed away with us sitting around him, singing and celebrating him.”

The family could see Rita’s light slowly begin to fade with the loss of her husband and her own health issues. In 2019, diagnosed with diabetes and pancreatic cancer, the family realized their mother needed more support and connected again with HopeHealth yet again. “Everyone from HopeHealth was amazing,” said Karla. “The nurses, the aides, the chaplain who came twice a week to pray and talk with mom. They gave my mother everything she needed – equipment, medicine, and most importantly, support. It was reassuring to know she was getting the right care at the right time.”

“We believed that our mother would have wanted us to make sure that other patients felt special as well.”

In February 2020, after a serious fall, Rita was admitted to the Hulitar Hospice Center for her final week of life. Her family was comforted to know that Rita was receiving the care she needed, and that they could stay at her side in comfortable, quiet surroundings. “But when we saw her for the first time in that enormous hospital johnny,” remembers Cal, “she looked so tiny, not like the force she was.” Karla was saddened. “She would have hated to be seen that way. She always wanted to feel beautiful and to be surrounded by color.”

Out of care for mom, a special project is born

To help her mom feel more like herself, Karla bought her beautiful lace-trimmed nightgowns and refashioned them into patient gowns. The revamped gowns allowed Rita’s hospice aides to easily bathe and care for her, while she was able to maintain that same pizzaz in her attire. This was the spark for a very special project. Said Cal, “We believed that our mother would have wanted us to make sure that other patients felt special as well.”

Rita died on February 15, 2020, but, even though she was gone, it was if she were orchestrating everything. The four siblings researched companies that could produce adaptive patient gowns in beautiful fabrics with lace and other embellishments. They set up a charitable donation website so that friends and family could support their idea. They called the project “Rita’s Robes,” in their mother’s memory.  Friends gave generously so that the family could place an initial order of 120 gowns. Each gown is beautifully packaged with a warm message to the patients and families who receive them. “It has made us feel so good to give back to a place that did so much for our mom and continues to do for our entire family,” said Cal.

Rita’s Robes capture the spirit and light of Rita Palumbo and, her children believe, are exactly what Rita would have picked. “These are a gift from our mom to yours. Something that will make her feel special, beautiful, and cared for,” states the enclosed message. Rita’s Robes are designed for bed-bound patients and will be available to hospice patients who request them.

Postscript: Rita’s brother-in-law, Norman O’Brien, died the same day as Rita, just down the hall at the Hulitar Hospice Center. The siblings hope someday to supply HopeHealth with “Norm’s Nighties,” thoughtfully made men’s gowns, so that fathers, brothers, uncles and sons can feel that same comforting and dignified embrace.

Donations of all kinds support patients and families who need hospice care, palliative care, home care and grief support. To find out how you can help, call the HopeHealth philanthropy department at (401) 415-4206 or donate here.

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