Rose Grossi dedicated herself to caring for the dying
Mark Hare
Senior Editor
Rose and Raoul Grossi were deeply affected by the story of the death of a homeless man in New York City in 1982. "He had covered himself with cardboard, but he was found frozen to death on a heating grate," Raoul says.

"It bothered us a great deal," he says. "That someone would die like that in the United States seemed criminal. We wanted to do something."

It took two years to identify what that "something" should be. But in 1984, using $100,000 of their savings, the Grossis opened Mt. Carmel House on Lorimer Street in northwest Rochester. It was the first home for the dying in Rochester and in New York state — a two-bed facility that would provide comfort and compassion to terminally ill patients in their final days. Three years later, they moved Mt. Carmel to the empty convent at Most Precious Blood parish on Planet Street.

Rose Grossi, 98, died in November. She was born in Rochester, graduated from John Marshall High School and attended the Rochester Business Institute. She worked for 10 years as a medical secretary, but was forced to give up her work because of severe migraine headaches. She and Raoul were married 72 years.

In his youth, Raoul played alto and bass sax and clarinet in a dance band. The band leader's wife and Rose worked in the same building, and she introduced Rose to Raoul. "The rest is history," Raoul says.

He ran his own insurance brokerage for more than 30 years. And the two of them were active lay Carmelites, members of what is called the Third Order of Carmel, associated with the Carmelites order of religious priests and nuns. The first Carmelites were monks who lived on Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land, in what is now Israel. Lay Carmelites are expected to spend time daily in meditation and prayer and follow some other Carmelite practices.

"She was a very spiritual person," Raoul says of Rose. "I honestly think she was destined to be a nun." He, too, joined the Carmelites. But his spirituality "came to me by osmosis," Raoul says. "She had it, and it gradually made its way to me."

Rose was in frail health most of her life, Raoul says. Early in their marriage they thought about adopting children, but her migraines made it impossible. She had severe allergies — to dust and wool, among other things — that developed after a 1939 surgery. They rarely traveled overnight because of Rose's health, but it never mattered to either of them, Raoul says.

They felt compelled to do what they could to alleviate suffering. Before they settled on Mt. Carmel House, they thought about working to assist unwed mothers, the homeless, or substance abusers. But most of the lay Carmelites they would ask to volunteer are elderly and female.

"We couldn't do any of those things," Raoul says. A home for the dying was a good fit. It took two years to secure all the needed approvals, but a doctor they knew well agreed to take care of residents' medical needs, and Mt. Carmel House opened.

"For the first six or seven years," Raoul says, "Rose worked 60 hours a week — scheduling, ordering supplies, housekeeping, nursing. She did everything that had to be done. My wife and I were present for the deaths of the first 137 patients at the house. We just felt we should be there."

Within weeks of the opening of Mt. Carmel House, Rose's migraines stopped and never returned, Raoul says.

Rose not only trained, but also inspired the volunteers, says Joyce Carnevale, longtime volunteer and secretary of the Mt. Carmel board. The volunteers, she says, "learned a double dose of empathy and sympathy from her."
Rose set the tone. She made Mt. Carmel a home, not a medical facility. Rose wanted residents to come in the door, Carnevale says, "and smell the coffee, smell soup cooking on the stove. That makes it home. She encouraged people to bring something from home — a piece of furniture, a photo."

Hers was a gentle and peaceful presence. "She taught us that toward the end, dying people don't eat," Carnevale says. "Often the family wants to feed them, but Rose always told us to tell them that as death approaches, 'you are their food.'"

Managing 60 or 70 volunteers requires great patience and people skills, Raoul says. "You have different personalities, different standards." She knew how to handle all situations, he says.

"We were opposites. My wife was a really sensitive type; she touched people deeply. I'm more reticent," he jokes. "I hit them."

Caring for the dying was Rose Grossi's life. And it's so important, Raoul says. Rose saw the dignity in each person. "The dying come in here," he says, "and they are afraid, sick, alone. They come in as strangers and they become our friends."

Rose Grossi had Alzheimer's disease as her health declined. Raoul cared for her in their apartment, Carnevale says. "He was by her side every day. She died in his arms.”