Cecile Klein has survived the Spanish Flu of 1918 and the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. She has lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, and the joys of innumerable family celebrations.
And on June 15, Mrs. Klein woke up in her room at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre and greeted another extraordinary life event: her 113th birthday.
“Do you know how old you are today?” her Primary PAB, Conchita Crooks, asked Mrs. Klein that morning. “You’re 113!”
“So what,” Mrs. Klein replied. “That’s not old.”
Then she asked if she could swap her portion of milk for a glass of wine.
It was an auspicious start to a significant day. At a birthday party filled with balloons, cake, dancing and a musical serenade from the Maimonides parking lot, Mrs. Klein marked the milestone with five generations of family members and scores of well-wishers.
The longevity of this Canadian supercentenarian is attributed to good genes and an active life. But it is also a tribute to the staff of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, who have cared for Mrs. Klein at Maimonides since 2017, including through the upheavals of the coronavirus outbreak.
“This milestone birthday party would not be happening without the staff’s loving care and devotion,” says Harriet Nussbaum, Mrs. Klein’s daughter. She noted that throughout the pandemic, Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Kim Weippert connected her with her mother via Skype each week, ensuring a link when families were not allowed to visit.
“We were so blessed with the staff,” Ms. Nussbaum says. “They have treated her like she was their own grandmother or great-grandmother.”
That doting staff includes Ms. Crooks, who tends to Mrs. Klein every day, engaging in conversation and watching over her as she sits up on the side of her bed. Ms. Crooks describes Ms. Klein as “my sweetheart.”
“She’s funny and feisty. She’s a beautiful soul,” Ms. Crooks says. “This birthday celebration is like a big reward for me. She’s our hero.”
Mrs. Klein was born in Montreal in 1907. As a girl during the Spanish Flu pandemic, she accompanied her father to deliver food and essentials to those in need. Ms. Nussbaum says her mother must have a rock-solid immune system: She can never recall her getting the flu herself.
A curious mind and active lifestyle were constants in Mrs. Klein’s life. She travelled the world with her late husband, Erwin, and the pair backpacked across Canada and the U.S. in their 60s, getting around by bus. Mrs. Klein was also a regular at the Jewish General Hospital’s Mini-Med School lectures on medicine and health, receiving a cake in class on her 108th birthday.
The party at Maimonides for Mrs. Klein—now the oldest Quebecker—was a festive affair. The 113-year-old was brought out onto a balcony where, surrounded by balloons and attentive staff, she was treated to musical entertainment below.
Mrs. Klein wore a pin reading Birthday Girl, and Ms. Crooks made sure she wore her favourite purple jumpsuit. Afterward, staff gathered on the fifth-floor lounge and sang “Happy Birthday”, presented her with a bouquet of flowers, and danced. Ms. Weippert took Mrs. Klein’s hand. She said that she must be exhausted. “No way,” Mrs. Klein replied. She was ready for more.