SEBRING — One month before he died in December 2012, Dennis Heston, 52, donned a tuxedo and joyfully escorted his daughter, Alaina Heston Pattillo, to the dance floor for the traditional father-daughter wedding dance.
As it happened, the Kenilworth Lodge ballroom, where the dance took place, had been decorated for a reception that day.
Heston, a Navy veteran battling Stage 4 lung cancer, did not get another chance to hold his only daughter in his arms at her wedding reception four months later.
But his spirit — and the memory of them dancing cheek-to-cheek to The Temptations’ “My Girl,” — lived on in a 3:31-minute video the family hastily put together, knowing Heston would not live long enough for the nuptials.
Alaina and J.J. Pattillo’s wedding guests were not the only ones who shared the special moment in March 2013.
The video has since gone viral and now is featured in a national public service campaign designed to raise awareness of hospice care.
Heston had been receiving treatment at the Somers Hospice House. His strength was failing and he had to sit down a lot for the dance, remembered Brenda Weldon, his widow who has since remarried.
To prepare him for that day, Good Shepherd Hospice staff helped control his pain and his symptoms and got him into a tux. He did his own choreography and some of his playfulness comes across in the video, as he danced not just with his daughter but Weldon — for the very last time.
“It was a kind of a spur of the moment thing,” Weldon remembered. “My daughter came to me saying, ‘My only regret is that dad won’t be there for my father-daughter dance.’”
They knew they had to put something together.
Alaina Pattillo borrowed a gown, and her cousin, Caroline Maxcy, who videotaped the dance, managed to shoot it at the Kenilworth Lodge, which had been dressed for a reception.
“It took several takes,” Weldon remembered. “He was getting tired. He had to sit down.”
Everything went off without a hitch. It’s almost like God had planned it, she said.
The day after the video posted on Vimeo, a video sharing website, there were 7,000 hits, Weldon said.
The video also was picked up by Godvine .com, which posts “family-friendly inspirational videos.”
Weldon estimates it has received more than 300,000 hits since then and inspired people from Australia to Malaysia.
To Weldon, the video shows people to slow down and take life seriously. “You are not promised tomorrow,” she said.
❖ ❖ ❖
When Good Shepherd Hospice approached the family about including the video as part of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s public awareness campaign “Moments of Life: Made Possible by Hospice,” they were all for it, said spokeswoman Patricia Klein.
The campaign’s purpose, in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of hospice care in the United States, is to show that “families can continue to experience the joys of life after a life-limiting diagnosis,” a news release states.
The wedding dance is also showcased in a corresponding public service announcement.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization contacted hospices across the nation to gather videos that show patients and families “experiencing the benefits of compassionate end-of-care.”
“In this campaign, these real-life stories illustrate patients’ abilities to ‘do more’ as a result of hospice care,” said Anita Brikman, the group’s senior vice president of communications. “These videos demonstrate to America that even when you’re dying, there is still a lot of living to do.”
A veteran’s visit to the WWII Memorial, the opportunity to bring an infant daughter home, an afternoon tea party with grandchildren are some of the other moments hospice has made possible, a news release states.
Klein said locally they also fulfilled a hospice patient’s wish to ride in a race car at the Sebring raceway. In Polk County, a mother got to share a special moment with her daughter on a balloon ride.
Weldon and Pattillo are now advocates for high quality and compassionate end-of-life care, Good Shepherd says. “I witnessed such great care,” Weldon said. “Everyone was so wonderful.”
Becky McIntyre, Good Shepherd Hospice chief clinical officer, who approached Heston’s family to see if they wanted to share the wedding video with the nation, said some may hold a misconception that hospice patients are merely lying in bed, waiting for the end to come.
“That’s so incorrect,” she added in a news release. “As this awareness campaign shows, for many families, hospice is about living as fully as possible.
To see the video of Alaina’s dance with her father and other videos in the NHPCO public awareness campaign, go to http ://www.momentsoflife .org.
To see the entire wedding video, go to https ://www.youtube.com /watch?v=QE6bsjm-syI