August 1, 2014

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Last wishes granted to hospice patients

Before he died, Richard Mills, center in scooter,got his wish to perform with South Shore Four, from left, Ken Foisy, Dick Toth, Don Flock and Harold Long.

WESTLAKE — Before he died, Richard Mills was granted one last wish.

And it all came about as the result of a comment, made almost in passing.

But the Westlake Village resident isn’t the only one who has had his wish granted.

Hospice of the Western Reserve tries to fulfill unfinished dreams as part of its life-enrichment program.

A 91-year-old hospice patient wanted to visit the new Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland after it opened. Before she went into hospice, the woman used to travel regularly to Las Vegas with her daughter.

The agency arranged for her to fulfill her dream of “playing the slots” at the Cleveland casino, said Laurie Henrichsen, a hospice spokeswoman.

A pediatric patient with an inoperable brain tumor wanted her stepfather to adopt her. She had never told her family, so they didn’t know. The agency was able to work with a Cleveland judge to have the adoption expedited.

Another pediatric patient was a huge sports fan who loved the Cleveland Browns. The agency arranged a private visit with players at the team’s Berea training facility, where players gave him a pair of shoes and prayed with him.

He later said, “It was the most unreal moment of my life,” Henrichsen said.

“It really runs the gamut,” she said. “Whatever they want to do, we do our best to make it happen.”

In Mills’ case, it was singing with a barbershop quartet again.

The Cleveland attorney had once performed regularly with Dixieland bands in New Orleans and wanted to perform again.

Hospice contacted the Golden Crescent Chorus South Shore Four, which was only too happy to oblige. The Golden Crescent Chorus, Lorain Chapter of the National Harmony Society, is a 60-man a cappella group that performs for civic organizations, nursing homes, retirement centers and an annual fall show.

“We want to help people live the best quality of life they are able to based on their present condition and make the remainder of their life as positive as possible,” Henrichsen said. “It means so much to them sometimes.”

An elderly patient, also a Browns fan, was able to go to training camp last summer. The players gave him a football.

“We found out later he slept with that football every night,” Henrichsen said. “It meant that much to him.”

For Mills, singing with the quartet was significant.

“I was so surprised when he passed,” South Shore Four baritone Ken Foisy said. “When he came in on his little scooter, he was so happy to see us and to find out we were in a barbershop quartet. He joined right in and had a hardy voice. He was quite dynamic.

“He spoke quite a bit and had a big smile on his face,” Foisy said. “He talked about his love of music and told us how much he enjoyed (singing with us).”

Hugh Mills, a Cleveland police officer, was there when his father performed and said his father was clearly enjoying himself, laughing and talking with the members of the quartet.

He was glad hospice was able to do that for his father, but he was even more grateful for what they did for him before granting Richard Mills’ wish.

“They allowed him to stay in his apartment,” Hugh Mills said. “The thing with the barbershop quartet was a neat little thing, but by layering the hospice care on top of the nursing-home care, he was able to stay where he was comfortable, and that was really the biggest quality-of-life thing.”

Mills described his father as a “character,” “an old-school attorney” and a “barrister.”

In recent years, the one-time track star began having mobility problems and over time other ailments arose.

Still, Richard Mills never lost his love for life, according to his son.

Twice a week, he would play poker at Westlake Village, go back to his apartment and have one beer.

“He scheduled everything around it,” Hugh Mills said.

The elder Mills had no idea he would be performing with the quartet. One day, he was showing old photos of his singing days to a social worker, and she remembered. When he went to lunch a few weeks later, the quartet was waiting.

Richard Mills died about a week later.

“People tend to think of hospice as a last resort, for the last few days of someone’s life,” Henrichsen said, but patients can be in hospice for weeks or even months, she said.

But in some cases, the granted wish can bring a kind of peace.

“It’s the one thing they wanted to do,” Henrichsen said. “It’s like they are waiting or looking forward to that. It’s a life-closure thing.”

Contact Christina Jolliffe at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.