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‘A Meal to Remember’ for Cleveland hospice patients and their families

Tuesday, November 15, 2011    
By Margaret Bernstein, The Plain Dealer  
Hospice patients treated to an evening of fine dining

Lisa DeJong, The Plain Dealer
 
Steve Graves, 73, looks over a family picture taken during “A Meal to Remember” at the David Simpson Hospice house inside the Hospice of the Western Reserve on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011. From left behind Steve Graves is great-granddaughter, Tiffany Storrs; daughter, Renea Graves; and granddaughter, Tamika Storrs. (On far right kneeling is great-granddaughter Shylah Kemp.)
 
CLEVELAND, Ohio — This was a meal Steve Graves will remember fondly.

A dozen of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren surrounded him Tuesday night at the David Simpson Hospice House, a residence for terminally ill patients that sits serenely on the edge of Lake Erie, on East 185th Street.

The 73-year-old Cleveland man, a prostate cancer patient, was one of about 100 residents and their families who enjoyed a dinner prepared by 10 of the Cleveland area’s top chefs.

Graves said it was sad for him to contemplate the reason why he’s in hospice care.

“But I’m very glad that my family could get together tonight, that’s the happy part,” he said. “As long as they enjoyed it, I enjoyed it.”

Plate in hand, the hospice guests and their families nibbled on gourmet pizzas, butternut squash ravioli and chocolate desserts from each of the 10 food stations, each manned by a different chef. The buffet-style event, called “A Meal to Remember,” was held in the hospice’s rotunda.

Beyond the exotic appetizers, the event itself provided comfort, several said.

“This was a pleasure and a half,” said ovarian cancer patient Harriet Karsh, 58, seated in a wheelchair with an array of elegantly plated hors d’oeuvres in front of her. Although she wasn’t really hungry, she proclaimed the food fantastic, and a cut above the usual hospice fare.

“The energy is nice. It’s about staff and patients and their families mixing together,” she said. “There’s a lovely feeling of camaraderie. I’ve seen people here tonight that I’ve never seen — and I’ve been here six weeks — because they’re always tucked up in bed.”

Local restaurateurs say they receive so many invitations to help out with charity events that they usually have to say no.

But when Hospice of the Western Reserve called, many answered yes.

“Literally, it required two seconds — yeah, we’re in,” said Derek Clayton, corporate executive chef for Michael Symon Restaurant Group, who dished up a shaved root vegetable salad, dressed with red wine and dill vinaigrette.

The Symon Group joined with Fire, Greenhouse Tavern, Grovewood Tavern and six others to cheer families with an elegant selection of hors d’oeuvres.

“When they said they wanted [to offer patients] an opportunity to sit down as a family, that really spoke to me,” Clayton said. “When I was a child, we sat down for dinner literally every night of the week. Food to me has connotations of family and togetherness. It was an easy decision.”

Bill Finn, chief executive officer of Hospice of the Western Reserve, thanked the restaurateurs for providing some quality time for families whose lives have been turned upside down by a terminal illness.

“For our patients and families, that’s often something they lose — the ability to be together around the meal,” he said.

More meals are planned. Next year, the restaurants spotlighted at Tuesday’s event will each host a monthly dinner at the David Simpson Hospice House.

Ruth Levine of Bistro 185 in Cleveland, whose hearty corn and lobster chowder drew its own fan club, said she’s glad for a chance to give back to Hospice of the Western Reserve.

“My brother was here several years ago, so I know what kind of wonderful care they give people,” she said.

Graves had the biggest entourage at the event.

On his lap, he carried a copy of “Born Whole, a fiction book he wrote and self-published two years ago.

“I thought I’d bring it out so folks could see it and realize I’d written a book,” he explained.

Granddaughter Tamika Storrs, 32, said the family, which has camped out at the facility around the clock since her grandfather was admitted, appreciated the fine food and drink .

“Everyone’s having a great time, and I feel good to see it,” she said.

But she added, “I get chills when I think about it, because you don’t know if this is your last one or not. We’re just going to have faith and surround him with love.”

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