Not once had Mark Morris considered the prospects of his wedding day without his father at his side.
“He’s my best friend,” the 44-year-old Orangeburg resident said of the life-long bond with his father, Rallie Melton Morris. It’s a bond that was nurtured on a mutual love of hunting and fishing the two have shared since Mark Morris was a child. “He started taking me out then I was 2 years old. I shot my first deer when I was 7.”
Little has changed in 40 years. “We hunt and fish every day except Wednesday and Sunday,” Mark Morris said.
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The regular hunting trips were interrupted a few months ago when the elder Morris fell in his bathroom. The fall left the 75-year-old with a neck fracture and bleeding on the brain, and he eventually had to be placed on a ventilator.
But in the immediate weeks following the fall, the younger Morris was still counting on his father to be his best man as he and his fiancée looked forward to a summer wedding.
The father was initially was taken to Dorn V.A. Medical Hospital, but he was transferred shortly afterward to Palmetto Health Richland, where he has been receiving care in the trauma intensive care unit. In the past several weeks, his health has continued to decline and the hospital staff has begun helping the family transition to end-of-life care.
Mark Morris married the love of his life, Charlene Grubbs Morris, Saturday afternoon during ceremonies in the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital chapel before a small gathering of family, friends and hospital staff.
His father was at his side.
Mark Morris said when it became apparent earlier in the week that his father probably wouldn’t live until the summer, he and his fiancee decided to move their summer wedding date to this weekend so his father could be there. They asked the hospital staff if that would be possible.
“I wanted to have a 15-minute ceremony in his (hospital) room so he could be my best man,” Mark Morris said. “The hospital said, ‘We’ve got a much better place for that.’”
Palmetto Health staff members, indeed, had balked at the idea of a simple ceremony. Instead, they pulled together a full wedding with traditional invitations, flowers, refreshments, music, photography and cake – all in two days – while making special provisions to have the elder Morris transported back and forth from the trauma intensive care unit to the hospital chapel for the ceremony.
Some staff members came in on their day off Saturday to provide the needed additional medical assistance. Others from dietary and food services prepared food for the reception held outside the first-floor chapel. Hospital volunteer Steve Crout, who regularly plays piano for seasonal events, provided the wedding music. Rosewood Florist donated the bridal bouquet and boutonnieres.
“There often are so many sad stories here, so it was great to be able to give a small piece of happiness to somebody,” said Sarah Griese, a registered nurse in the trauma intensive care unit.
It was Griese who largely orchestrated the event after learning about the Morris family Thursday from Dr. Catherine Loflin, a surgery resident at Palmetto Health. Griese said planning for the wedding began around 11 a.m., and within three hours all the major details had been locked down.
But she said many others had played a role in bringing it all together.
“It makes our job satisfying,” Griese said. “It’s why we’re here.”
The Morris family and others close to them said the outpouring by the hospital staff had infused an extra dose of joy to the day. And while some family members occasionally shared brief, private and emotional moments on Saturday, their public discussions focused on their blessings and not on what could have been.
“We have just been so overwhelmed with what this hospital has done for us,” said Dot Morris, the mother of the groom, who was beside her husband on the front row during Saturday’s ceremonies. “Just for Melton to see his son get married is a wonderful sight for me.”
Pastor Kevin Ard of Rivelon Baptist Church in Orangeburg officiated Saturday’s ceremony.
“This has really uplifted the spirits of the family,” Ard said. “They have been at his side for weeks.”
The bride, Charlene Morris, said she couldn’t have imagined another script for the couple’s special day.
“That’s a family of love,” she said. “I’ve been with them since the beginning (of Morris’ decline). I was overjoyed to do that.”
Mark Morris said that kind of selflessness was easily the greatest wedding gift and just one of the reasons he fell in love.
“She’s my new best friend,” he said.