End of Life Wishes

VITAS Team Helps Treasure Coast Patient Celebrate 105th Birthday

September 23, 2020
A collage showing the VITAS team with Reese and his wife, and the cake that VITAS brought for his birthday

When VITAS patient Reese Forrest turned 105, his care team knew they had to do something special for him.

How do you celebrate someone’s 105th birthday? Cake, presents, and friendly faces are always a good place to start.

The VITAS team serving Florida’s Treasure Coast followed that tried-and-true formula when they rang in patient Robert “Reese” Forrest’s 105th year. When Shawn Brown, team manager, learned that Reese was nearing a landmark birthday, she coordinated a group effort to ensure he and his wife Jackie enjoyed a celebration to remember.

VITAS Representative Kimberly Pierre, Hospice Aide Viviene Anderson, and Chaplain Josias Andujar joined Shawn in the effort. Each member of the team volunteered to bring something for the party: Balloons, gifts, ice cream, and a cake–with a design created by the VITAS marketing team–would make the day special for the centenarian and his wife.

‘He Never Really Had Anyone Celebrate’

On September 4, the team arrived at the continuing care retirement community where Reese and Jackie reside in a private home, with gifts, food, and decor in hand. Everyone was looking forward to the event–but perhaps Jackie most of all.

With his wife and care team at his bedside, Reese kisses an angel statue he received as a gift

Reese, a devout Southern Baptist, kisses a statue of an angel that his VITAS team gave to him for his birthday.

“Jackie was very excited,” Shawn says. “Reese’s mom died when he was three years old, so he never really had anyone celebrate his birthday, and Jackie knew that. She was so joyous that we were there to celebrate.”

The team set out balloons and served cake and ice cream to kick things off. Then, Shawn presented her first gift to Reese: a list of spiritual songs and a performance using her well-tuned vocal cords. A devout Southern Baptist, Reese requested “Amazing Grace,” and Shawn put her soul into it.

After the touching performance, the team gathered round as Shawn gave out the other gifts: a small ceramic angel, three books of Christian poetry, a prayer box, and an ever-practical manicure kit. Reese immediately gravitated toward the angel figurine, clutching it tightly and kissing its tiny head.

“This event was not a one-man show,” Kimberly says. “Everyone chipped in their special talent, whether it was the planner, the purchaser, the designer of the cake template, or our very own singer. We could not have made it so special for Mr. Forrest and his wife without each other.”

Related: Providing Spiritual Care near the End of Life >

‘Extra TLC’ for Patients and Their Families

When it was time for the team to go, the happiness they left behind was apparent. Although their presence that day had no clinical purpose, it was no less a true act of hospice care: an effort to support and celebrate a patient and his family in the moments that matter most near the end of life. “It was so joyous,” Shawn recalls.

“This is the nursing you hear about in school,” she says. “The fact that I’m given the time to give my patients and their families extra TLC, to go that extra mile–that’s what draws me to hospice, to patient care.

“That’s what draws me to VITAS.”