"Death never takes the wise man by surprise; He is always ready to go."
-Jean de La Fontaine
It's one of those quotes that makes sense in principle, but is just so hard to put into practice.
"There is such apprehension surrounding death that we often assume the end comes with great discomfort and distress, so we fear it," says Charles Vialotti, MD, medical director of Holy Name Medical Center's Villa Marie Claire. "We try not to think about it, and we certainly don't talk about it."
Villa Marie Claire is a freestanding residential hospice and palliative care facility in Saddle River. One of a kind in New Jersey, Villa Marie Claire espouses a profound belief that quality care can be achieved at every stage of life. The Villa is changing end-of-life care with its mission to make every patient's last days, weeks, or months about living not dying.
November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, which is dedicated to helping people understand that death doesn't have to be as scary and lonely as we may assume. The term "hospice" can be traced back to medieval times when it referred to a place of shelter and rest for weary or ill travelers on a long journey.
"Typically we think of hospice as a program that offers people death with dignity, but hospice is really about life," says Dr. Vialotti.
Villa Marie Claire's goal is to provide patients with their best quality of life at the end. "Not just for patients, but also for their families, because as long as there is life, there is hope," explains Dr. Vialotti. While hope means different things to different people, to Dr. Vialotti and the Villa's staff hope replaces despair even at the end of life.
Nestled on 26 acres, Villa Marie Claire is like no other hospice in the New York City metropolitan area. Every room offers a sweeping view of bucolic grounds, which include a bountiful lawn, walking gardens, and an in-ground swimming pool. High ceilings, wood floors, and fireplaces create an elegant, homelike ambiance throughout the sprawling estate.
Everyone who resides at Villa Marie, no matter where they are along this inevitable journey, is treated with tremendous respect and dignity. "Through many conversations with patients we find out what their hobbies are, what brings them joy, what are their talents, and their beliefs," says Dr. Vialotti. "We then incorporate these things into their time at the Villa."
With great joy, Dr. Vialotti tells the story of a current 88-year-old resident, who is an accomplished artist: "The Villa sponsored an exhibit of about 12 of her paintings. This is what she loves, this is her passion, and the other residents and families are enriched by her artwork."
There have been several weddings at Villa Marie Claire. "The most recent a couple who was dear friends with one of our young patients," says Dr. Vialotti. "She was just 31 years old and losing her long battle with illness, but she was determined to witness her friends' nuptials. So we had the wedding in our library. The next day, her family hosted her 32nd birthday party with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. She came dressed with flowers in her hair. Those were two wonderful days, celebrating her life, not death."
Patients with advanced illnesses are relieved of burdensome symptoms and given the opportunity to spend quality time with loved ones. Villa Marie Claire features the ambiance of a home-like environment with the peace of mind of having a specialized, around-the-clock care team.
"When a loved one is cared for at home, it can be hard on relationships," says Dr. Vialotti. "The caregiver is often exhausted; the patient often feels guilt. Hospice removes that stress and restores the relationship between husband and wife, mother and children, so the family can focus on what's really important."
At the Villa, every patient resides in a private room with a private bath, internet, telephone, and flat-screen TV. Each patient receives 24-hour nursing care and daily holistic services. With 12 guest rooms, overnight accommodations for a loved one are also available, alleviating concerns about being away from the patient. Even pets are welcome.
"Patients can rest easy knowing their loved ones are offered months of bereavement counseling and other support following their passing," says Dr. Vialotti.
Planning for death, like anything else in life, can actually help ease apprehension. Studies show one of the most common regrets from hospice patients and their families is that they delayed the decision to choose hospice care.
"Villa Marie Claire is a haven where people are able to accept that all of us will die but that it doesn't have to be an isolated process," says Dr. Vialotti. "You will find comfort and satisfaction with those you love, and make the last days of life about living."
To learn more about what it's like to live your life at Villa Marie Claire, please call 201-783-8870. You can also find out more on our website: villamarieclaire.org Staff are happy to develop a care plan that meets your individual needs.