Villa Marie Claire

From Volunteering to End of Life with Dignity


In their 60 years of marriage, Paul and Esther Baker didn't think much about hospice care until a friend suggested they visit Villa Marie Claire. They were considering doing some volunteer work so they toured the Saddle River former estate.

"Hospice or end of life just wasn't something we talked about," Paul said from the lounge at the Villa. "So we came here and met some staff but more importantly, we walked the halls. Many of the patients here are wide awake and everyone was very welcoming of a visit. We have a toy poodle who we figured would be much more attractive than us to the patients so we asked if we could bring her."

Paul and Esther began periodic visits with little Minnie, greeting patients and sharing their poodle with anyone who wanted to pet her. Esther soon took advantage of the time when Paul was playing golf to continue visits by herself.

"It showed how comfortable Esther was at the Villa that she would come here on her own," Paul said. "But then, as they say, life is what happens while you're planning it."

Esther had a massive stroke and ended up in intensive care. Though Paul and Esther were happy to volunteer at the Villa, they never thought they would need the facility for themselves. But Esther wasn't expected to survive and Paul knew immediately he wanted her at the Villa.

"Everyone was very efficient in moving her and only two or three hours later I was able to sit at her bedside here," Paul said. "The room was dimly lit and very very quiet. The staff had just finished administering to her and I felt this tremendous sigh of relief. She was at peace and I felt she was safe. All the tension and anxiety of being in the hospital drained away."

Paul said the staff was extremely gentle and compassionate with Esther, which gave him comfort knowing they were taking care of her so well. As the hours passed, he was kept informed about how she was doing and told what to expect.

In the short time Esther was at the Villa, family and friends came from as far away as Virginia and Florida. They visited with Esther in her room, went to the lounge and reconnected with other family members, and ate in the dining room.

"It was just a very civilized experience," Paul said. "Rather than equate hospice with dying, I would say hospice at the Villa is end of life with dignity. People need to know there are different ways to die and end of life doesn't have to be terrible. You want it to be comfortable."

Esther never regained consciousness after the stroke but Paul is sure she would have been happy to know she was at Villa Marie Claire. "And I still come here with Minnie. I really have to thank Holy Name Medical Center and particularly Mike Maron for making this possible."