On Valentine’s Day, a father kept his sacred promise.
Grace Justice and James “Christian” Christian said their vows in the chapel at Poudre Valley Hospital, an unlikely wedding venue, but a place where so many have poured their hearts out in prayer, in hope and in love.
On that day, the angels were busy.
UCHealth flight nurse, Kristen Rush, took wedding photos. A patient representative, Fran Culler, arranged flowers. Jessica Purkal, a certified nursing assistant, did the bride’s hair and makeup. The niece of oncology services program manager, Kathleen Michie, made a cake and Powder Valley medical oncology unit Nurse Manager Tara Shaw became a wedding planner.
And Paul Justice, father of the bride, was busy too, keeping a promise that he made when Grace, now 19, was just a little girl.
No matter what, no matter where, he always told her, he would walk her down the aisle. On Valentine’s Day,somewhat weakened by brain surgery and chemotherapy, Paul Justice kept his vow.
Like so many couples these days, Grace and Christian met on Instagram. They became best friends, it seemed, overnight. And as days turned into months and they reveled in their passion for yoga, the outdoors and their moments together, Grace and Christian became more than friends.
Christian was away at college in Virginia in January when he got a call from Grace. Something had happened to her dad. A 58-year-old retired Texas police officer, Paul had fallen forward onto the tile floor at his home. He seemed ok, but he had also had blood in his nose the past couple of weeks and he was concerned.
“It wasn’t like a bloody nose, this blood was solid,” he recalled.
Justice had been going to the VA hospital and decided he would ask about it on his next visit. But two days later, Kelly, his wife and Grace’s mom, awoke at 3 a.m. and found her husband making gurgling sounds. He was unresponsive. She called 911.
UCHealth EMS rushed Paul to UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital where he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma. He was then taken to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies. There, he had emergency brain surgery to release pressure in his head that was building from blood collecting in his skull.
The waiting game
While Grace and Kelly waited for Paul to come out of surgery, they met Medical Center of the Rockies Chaplain Terry Skov, who has been a pastor for 25 years and currently preaches at Hope Centered Church in Johnston, Colorado.
“Terry came in and was so helpful; it was amazing,” Grace said. “He was a gift from God, honestly.”
Skov assured Grace and her mother that miracles happen every day at the hospital and they prayed together.
After treating the pressure on Paul’s brain, doctors diagnosed him with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
Initially, Paul considered not treating his cancer with chemotherapy, but acute lymphoblastic leukemia usually gets worse quickly if untreated. On Jan. 31, Paul was released from MCR. Kelly drove him to PVH, where he began treatment for cancer.
The PVH chapel
Grace talked with Christian, and the two decided that Grace could not lose her chance to have her dad to walk her down the aisle. They decided to marry on Valentine’s Day.
Uncertain whether her father would still be hospitalized, Grace went to the chapel at Poudre Valley to see if having the wedding there would be an option. Her request was received by the chaplain, who passed it along to volunteer services, who then reached out the hospital’s leadership.
“We were like, ‘let’s make this happen — it’s a request and let’s honor this,’” said Tonya Gilmore, senior director for medical services for UCHealth in northern Colorado.
Grace had only one request: Could Chaplain Terry Skov officiate?
Paul is the kind of father who keeps his word. Parenting Grace and her two brothers, and being married to their mother for 21 years, has been astonishingly rewarding. As for parenting, he said, it’s akin to the care it takes when planting a tree.
“The roots are the most important part,” Paul said. “Then it’s going to grow where it wants to. You can chop off a limb, but it is pretty much going to do what it wants.”
“Her roots are strong. That’s going to be the difference,” he said.
When his daughter, practically skipping, bounded into her dad’s hospital room earlier this month to tell him that she would be married in the hospital chapel and that he would walk her down the aisle, Paul beamed with pride and confidence for Grace.
On Valentine’s Day, the angels gathered in the hospital chapel to revel in a sacred promise kept.
Update: The wedding
Photos by Kristen Rush Photography.