Villa Marie Claire

Richard Laguna - At the End, Beauty and Comfort

Richard Laguna served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and then worked as a delivery man for a good portion of his adult years. But Richard had some physical and mental impairments and life was getting more difficult for him.

Then one day he collapsed. After being rushed to a hospital near his Suffern, N.Y., apartment, Richard was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was a particularly aggressive form of glioblastoma and he was given one to two months to live.

His sister, Michelle Kalschmid, was determined that Richard's remaining days be filled with love and comfort and she moved him to Villa Marie Claire, a residential hospice in Saddle River. The serene estate sits on acres of lush grounds, with a private room for every patient and overnight accommodations for loved ones.

"By the time Richard got to the Villa, he couldn't walk or get dressed by himself," Michelle said. "But still, the diagnosis was shocking – he had one large tumor, another smaller tumor and several lesions. The cancer was spreading. Five doctors agreed surgery wasn't an option and chemotherapy and radiation would be ineffective and make his remaining time miserable."

Richard's tumors were as aggressive as the physicians had indicated. But for the first two weeks at the Villa, he was able to take in his serene surroundings.

"He said he never lived in such a beautiful place," Michelle said. "He had been suffering with bad pain in his head but once he got to the Villa, they gave him medication, made him comfortable and he was no longer in any pain."

Richard sat in a wheelchair, admiring the rolling lawn, in-ground pool and pristine landscaping. He was calm, having accepted his diagnosis and the knowledge that he was in hospice. And during the infrequent times Richard did get agitated, he persuaded the staff to bring him outside and allow him his cigarettes.

"He got so sick so quickly – after only two weeks – and then couldn't get out of bed," Michelle said. "There's an army of angels who work at Villa. They couldn't have made his life any better. And not only did they take great care of Richard, but they took good care of the whole family, especially Richard's son, my nephew. They alleviated my fears and worry – they are amazing."

Richard passed away in August 2018, six weeks after moving into the Villa and only seven weeks after being diagnosed.

"My nephew was able to sleep there and was with Richard when he passed," Michelle said. "I'm so glad my brother wasn't alone and had such comfort at the end."