By Mercy's Brad Haller
On a Saturday in late August, a room in Mercy’s intensive care unit was white as snow, dressed with draperies and fresh flowers, glowing beneath twinkling strands of lights. Jack Miller sat eagerly in his hospital bed as nurses constructed a makeshift wedding chapel on what was soon to be the “happiest day” of his life.
“There were definitely a lot of tears that day, both happy and sad,” said daughter Lindsay Miller Goodison, who traveled to Springfield, Missouri, from Washington, D.C., a week earlier to be with her ill father. “At that time, dad’s situation was growing more serious, so there was absolutely no question I needed to be there.”
From the moment she arrived, Lindsay joined the rest of the family – her mother, Beverly Miller, as well as her brother and sister-in-law – holding tight to Jack and their memories of him in his healthier days. It was hard not to, considering Beverly and Jack’s 46th wedding anniversary was quickly approaching.
“Jack’s nurses in the cancer unit on 7D overheard him say he was sorry for not being able to get me an anniversary gift this year,” Beverly said. “So they made big plans for us; it was so kind. They made a card and got flowers, and even bought a bracelet so he’d have something to give me on August 22.”
But before Mercy co-workers in the cancer unit could watch their special anniversary plans unfold, Jack’s prognosis faced some unexpected complications. He was moved to the ICU, where discussions about his treatment became more serious.
“It was clear that he was struggling,” Beverly said. “But Jack told us he had some things to fight for, like seeing his grandchildren one more time, and watching Lindsay, our daughter, get married.”
Coincidentally, Lindsay was already incredibly close to tying the knot. “I had a hunch that my boyfriend Sean was about to propose,” she said. “It turned out, after we started talking more about fast-tracking a wedding, that he’d been planning for a while to pop the question the very same weekend as mom and dad’s anniversary. We thought, ‘why don’t we have the ceremony in dad’s room, that very day?’”
Not wanting the Millers to stress about rushing into a wedding, Jack’s ICU nurse, Jonnie Harrell, chimed in. “Oh, I had it planned out in my head before they even asked if it was possible,” she said. “I called a friend of mine who makes cupcakes and checked out some flower shops to help make the day as beautiful and special as possible.”
“Jonnie told me not to think about it for a second, and that she had it all covered,” Beverly added. “Then nurse Jill [Cotner] hung lights and decorated with white sheets over the chairs and monitors in the room. There were lights from the gift shop strung along the ceiling and beautiful flowers. They even got a boutonniere for the groom. It was magical.”
“It was an honor helping Jack get ready for his daughter’s special day,” said Cotner. “The bride couldn’t believe her eyes when she walked in. It was so emotional and beautiful. Obviously it brings you to tears.” Cotner and other Mercy co-workers were glued to a monitor outside the room as a handful of guests and the minister arrived for the ceremony.
“Jack was very aware of what was happening in front of him,” Beverly said. “And he even said a few words during the wedding. He said it was the happiest day of his life, and the nurses made it that way.”
Lindsay closed out the ceremony by reciting a quote by Mercy’s founder, Catherine McAuley. Inspired by a plaque posted near her father’s room, Lindsay read aloud, “this is your life, joys and sorrows mingled, one succeeding the other.”
“There were a lot of signs that we couldn’t ignore,” Lindsay said. “From hearing horrible news just two days before, it meant the world to me and my husband. And hearing that it was my dad’s happiest day, it became mine, too.”
A reception was held in a nearby waiting room, complete with cupcakes and chocolates, which were hand-delivered by Jack’s cancer unit nurses who made good on their anniversary plans. “They came down to see us again, like we were family,” Beverly said. “They had a heart, and because of them, everything came full circle.”
“They have been a real source of inspiration to us and our dad,” said Lindsay. In the meantime, Jack has more support, from a newly-grown family. “He’s still aggressively fighting this cancer. After the wedding he told doctors he wasn’t ready to go, so he’s going to keep fighting.”
No matter what happens, they’ll always have August 22.