malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: May 2010 (page 1 of 2)

A Good Death

This post is the twenty-sixth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.  He died 12 years ago on Memorial Day, May 26, 1998.

It had been a long night with little sleep as the sun began to rise on Memorial Day in 1998.  My stepmom had come into the bedroom several times where I was sitting next to my father.  She apologized for not being able to relieve me as she knew it would not be long before my father died.  It was too hard for her emotionally to sit and do nothing.

I reassured her that she was the one who had done the hard work over the last four years.

She was the one who had gotten up with him at 2:30 a.m. when he was confused and thought it was time for breakfast day after day.  She would respond with a smile and say, “Lewis, if you want to have breakfast right now, we will get up and have breakfast.”  No cereal for him, only a hot breakfast.

It was my stepmom who had given him baths, and made sure that he took his medicine correctly every single day.  She was the one who drove him to weekly doctors’ appointments that she lovingly referred to as their “social calendar.”  She was the one who made sure he had healthy nutrition and all the love a man could want.

“It’s ok, Jimmie,” I said.  “You come in and out of this room anytime.  This is where I want to be.  I’ll do this part.  Thank you for all that you have already done,” I added.

I put my head on my father’s chest and began to slowly recite the 23rd Psalm:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.  He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .”

And in the moment I said the word “death,” he stopped breathing.  It startled me and I sat up.

I remembered what the hospice nurse had taught me the day before that often when a person is close to death, he or she will stop breathing and then after a few seconds will start breathing again.  Sometimes this will repeat a few times before the last breath is taken over several minutes.

I lay my head back on his chest and continued.

And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.  Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil, my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I encouraged and coached him as best I could, “It’s ok Daddy for you to go to be with Jesus.  We will be ok here.  You go, it’s ok.”

And then, it was so.  And there was peace, an amazing beautiful peace.

I was thankful there was no more confusion, no more weakness, and no more struggle.

My father had taught me so many lessons with his life.

And now he was teaching a new lesson in how to have a good death.

I am thankful for Lewis Marler’s life and death.

Peace.

My father taught me so.

***

What about for you?  Have you ever had witnessed a good death of someone you loved?  What was the difference for you?  How did this impact your grief in the months ahead?  Will you share in the comments below?  (If you do not see the comments, click on the title of this post and scroll to the bottom.)

A Peace Beyond Understanding

This post is the twenty-fifth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.  He died 12 years ago on Memorial Day, May 26, 1998.

On the Sunday before Memorial Day, my father became weaker and was not able to respond verbally anymore.

His breathing was shallow and he slowly slipped into a coma.  The hospice nurse came by and made sure that he was not in any pain or discomfort and adjusted his morphine drip.

As the night hours stretched into the early morning, I sat by his bed wondering what I could do besides hold his hand.

I decided to sing some of his favorite Gospel hymns at the bedside.  I apologized before I began, and said, “Dad, I am going to sing, but you know that singing isn’t my best gift.  But I figure if it is from my heart you won’t mind much.”

And so I began singing just above a whisper, “Amazing Grace.”  I sang one of his favorites, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” because he had requested it in church services.  I got even closer and pressed my forehead against his and sang softly “Jesus Loves Me.”  I learned this song in church as a little boy.  The words came from my memory bank.  I quoted verses from the Bible he had taught me like John 3:16, and others.

I put my head on his chest and closed my eyes, listening to his heart beat.

The next thing that happened is difficult to describe.  For what seemed like a second or two, a crystal clear image flashed through my mind.

I observed my father in his hospital bed with me sitting at his side.  We were in a room, almost like a gymnasium with a running track suspended above us.  The track was filled with family and friends standing motionless shoulder to shoulder, leaning over the rail watching.  I thought I saw my mother, my grandparents, my father’s siblings, and many others whom I recognized had gone before him.

No one said anything, and I wasn’t frightened. I felt peaceful like they were waiting and that my father would be with them soon.  I opened my eyes and wondered at what I had just experienced.

Now I know some people will read this and scoff at this description.  But it really doesn’t matter to me.  I do not need to justify or interpret it.  The image gave me peace, and I am thankful for it.

It was a peace that was beyond understanding.

And I realized . . .

My father taught me so.

Coaching for Life

This post is the twenty-fourth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.  He died 12 years ago on Memorial Day, May 26, 1998.

As part of the hospice care at home for my father, we stopped all of his twenty-four medications except for those that helped to control his pain. Our goal was to keep him as alert and comfortable as possible.

On Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend in 1998, we were given a gift.

The veil lifted that had clouded my father’s mind and we had a window of opportunity for communication that was present for about 36 hours.  I have no doubt the dozens of medicines that he had been prescribed by six specialists over the last few years had contributed to his confusion.  But most of all, I was thankful for the opportunity to have deep, meaningful conversations with my dad.

I pulled out one of my childhood scrapbooks and climbed into the bed with him. I sat him up and held him against my chest like he used to do for me when I was a little boy when he would read to me in bed.

As we turned the pages, we remembered when I was in the sixth grade and he volunteered to substitute for my football coach in a game when my coach was sick.

He added specific details like, “I remember telling Craig Kenmore what kind of play I wanted us to run and Craig would know which play was like it in your playbook.  He would run into the huddle and call the play.  He chuckled and added, “That was a lot of fun.  And we won that game.”

There were many light, giggling moments for us to share and laugh together.

We also talked about sad and challenging times in our lives like my mother’s death, or when he made the decision to accept a new job in Gardendale, AL just before I would have entered high school in Montgomery.  We both agreed though despite those hardships, having Jimmie come into our lives and my experience at Gardendale High School worked out better than either of us could have imagined.

We apologized and asked forgiveness of one another for the times we both fell short in our relationship over the years.  We acknowledged the shortcomings without discounting them, and forgave each other fully.

I turned him in the bed so that I could see his eyes and said, “Do you know how much I have always loved you?  You have been such an incredible father to me.  Thank you.”  Tears streamed down both of our cheeks.  I felt so alive.

My father was an encourager and life coach to me.  He encouraged me to be myself, to discover my own gifts, and to choose my own destiny.

And now it was his turn.  I coached and encouraged him as best I could.

It was the natural and loving thing to do.

My father taught me so.

Last Days

This post is the twenty-third in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.  He died 12 years ago on Memorial Day, May 26, 1998.

My father’s physician called a local hospice and my dad was headed home from the hospital in an ambulance.  A hospital bed was delivered along with oxygen and other equipment.  It was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend in 1998, like today, and I was prepared for a long stay at my parent’s home.

Later that evening, the hospice nurse sat down with Jimmie (my stepmom) and me in the living room.  After going over some of the services provided, she put down her pen and said, “I don’t know how long Mr. Marler will live, but I think it will be days rather than weeks.”

At that moment, I made a personal decision that I was not going to be a chaplain to my dad.  Instead, I was going to be Lewis Marler’s boy during these last days.

I was going to feel all of the experience for however long it lasted.

There were no goodbyes when my mother suddenly died. I vowed this time would be different.  I was determined to walk into this experience with my eyes, ears, and heart wide open.

I knew it was going to hurt deeply, but with God’s help I was going to feel it.  I wanted the experience to soak into the pores of my skin so that I would never forget it.  I wanted to walk through this valley with him.  And somehow I knew that we would be ok.

The next couple of days with my dad were the most sacred, spiritually healing experience of my life.  Why?

I saw him walk through the valley of the shadow of death and not be afraid.

I experienced his love when I needed him most in my life without holding anything back.

It was time for us to walk these last days together.

My father taught me so.

Hospice Time

This post is the twenty-second in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.  He died 12 years ago on May 26, 1998.

It was approximately a week before Memorial Day when my stepmom called to say that my dad had been admitted to the hospital, again.  I drove the familiar route to the hospital and met them there.

Over the previous three years, my father had been hospitalized at least four or five times per year.  He had significant dementia related to congestive heart failure, and each hospitalization left him weaker until he could no longer walk.  Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and blood clots were just a few of the illnesses he battled.

As I walked into the hospital room, the doctor was giving what I instantly recognized as the “hospice talk.”  The doctor looked at me as I entered, nodded his head, and continued talking to my stepmom.

We can run more tests, and we can try more treatments, but I cannot tell you they are going to help Rev. Marler at all,” the soft spoken physician said.  “I believe he is tired, and doesn’t want to fight anymore.  I can’t say I blame him.  He has been through a lot these last few years.”

He continued,  “Hospice can help him be comfortable, free of pain, and be at home with his family.  Think it over, I will do what you want me to do.  He may only have a few weeks, or a few months at most,” he added as he slipped out of the room.

I had been in on dozens of these discussions with other patients, families, and physicians in my work, but because it was my father, it took my breath away.

On one hand, I had convinced myself somehow he would rebound.  Even with my training as a chaplain, I wanted to grab the doctor by his starched white coat and say, “You don’t understand.  This is my father, Lewis Marler.  We can’t give up.” As if my father was different than any other hospice patient.  But I had been too close to the situation and had fooled myself.

On the other hand, I began beating myself up for not seeing this sooner.  I wished I had more discussions with my father about his final wishes before he started getting confused, just like I had told everyone else to do.

When the doctor left, my internal struggle was interrupted by my stepmom’s question, “What should we do Malcolm?  What should we do?”

I looked at her and walked over to my dad’s bedside, leaned over close to his face so that he could hear me and hopefully understand what I was about to say.

I spoke clearly and slowly, “Dad, how do you feel about going home from the hospital but doing it different this time?  How would you feel about not going to any more doctor’s appointments, not taking any more medicine except that which keeps you comfortable, and never coming back to the hospital again?”

I was about to give the other option of continuing we additional treatments.

He turned his his head towards me, looked me in the eye and said with a smile, “That sounds pretty good to me.”  That was all I needed to hear.

“There is our answer,” I said.  And that is what we will do.

I called my work and told them I didn’t know how long I would be gone, but I wouldn’t be back until after my father’s funeral.  Thankfully, I had the personal time and a supportive boss.  And I went home with my parents to stay until my father died.

It is hard to let go and focus on comfort care.  But quality of life is more important than quantity.  This is a personal choice, of course, and it makes it a lot easier when you know the wishes of the patient.

In fact, as I write this, I am realizing this conversation needs to happen with my stepmom as well so that I know what her wishes are.

I was fortunate, we had a caring doctor who recognized it was time, and my own father who could say, “”That sounds pretty good to me.”  And so it was.

Time for hospice is never an easy decision, but it can be the most loving decision we ever make.

My father taught me so.

***

More information about Hospice can be found at:

  1. National Hospice Foundation
  2. Hospice Foundation of America
  3. Mayo Clinic’s Description of Hospice

Dear Dad

This post is the twenty-first in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.  He died 12 years ago today.

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking about you tonight on the twelfth anniversary of your death.  I am on a 16 hour night shift responding to a variety of crises at the hospital where I am a chaplain.

One family just lost their mother and grandmother.  As I walked up the stairs to be with them, I remembered again that your shoes touched these same steps twenty or thirty years ago when you visited your church members here.  I stopped in the stairwell and thanked God for the thousands of hospital visits you made in your fifty-year ministry in Alabama.  Another young woman’s father was dying and I tried to be comforting to her.  I know what it’s like to lose a father.

I wish you were here to visit these families with me.  We would have fun together.  I would love to hear your soothing voice and watch you make eye contact with the family members as you gently entered the room.  In fact, I thought I heard your voice in my own a few minutes ago when I gathered the extended family of twenty persons around the bedside of their beloved who had died as we all held hands, and I prayed while they whispered their own prayers to God to help them through this difficult time of grief.

I also wish you were here so that you could know Mary, Brendan, and Kiki.  You would love them so much, and I have no doubt they would love you.  They came into my life about four years after your death.  Brendan and Kiki are both in college  and doing well.  It is so much fun to watch them grow into responsible, loving adults.  They are a gift from God.

I want you to know that all those prayers you prayed for me when I was going through difficult times in my first marriage were answered.  Not only did I get through that time, but now I have a happy, healthy marriage with my soulmate, Mary Sullivan.  I have never been happier in my entire life. You would be so proud of her in the way that she guides people to connect with God in her vocation as an author, facilitator and spiritual companion.

Thank you for modeling for me what it means to be a good husband and father.  I’m trying to do the same.

Finally, I want to say thank you for loving me the way you did. You helped me to believe in myself and to believe in a loving God.  Your legacy of love lives on.  I am proud to be your son.

I love you,

Malcolm

P.S.  I’ve enclosed a picture of the four of us in Brendan’s dorm room at Auburn.

Peace within Chaos

Sometimes days go by, maybe weeks or months, where there is routine and predictability in life.  There is a rhythm that feels natural and right.  We even fool ourselves into thinking we are in control of our own destiny.

And then something shifts, and we wake up and realize that our life has changed.  Sometimes it is temporary, sometimes it is for the rest of our life.

Someone we care about is sick and it means adding a daily or weekly responsibility to our routine.  We lose sleep and we try harder.  But we get more exhausted.  Additional things happen to people we care about and we do what we can to support them, but we realize we cannot do it all.

Limitations are hard to accept. We are not in control.  We cannot do everything.  Though we try.

But know this deep in your heart.

Do what you can today, and trust that it is not your job to do everything.

If we can let go at this point, take a step back and trust, a new lesson about peace is just around the corner.

Even in the chaos, peace is possible if we will remember that we cannot fix it, and that it was not our job from the beginning.

Peace be with you.

A Liberal Conservative

This post is the twentieth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

My father was a conservative Baptist pastor in the sense that he was traditional in most of his theological beliefs.

On the other hand my father also rejected being called a fundamentalist. He had many close friends who embraced this label for themselves, but not him.

Persons who called themselves fundamentalists during the end of my dad’s career in the 80’s and early 90’s, were black and white in their beliefs and my dad was a much lighter shade of gray.

Don’t get me wrong, my father certainly preached about heaven and hell.

But when it came to condemning an individual he chose love instead.  He drew the circle wider and more inclusive than many of his friends who were pastors.  When some of them would challenge him, he would say “it’s not my job to judge, that’s God’s job. I’m just suppose to love people.”

All of this is to say he chose love over hate, gentleness over damnation, and forgiveness over blame. Every time.

When I became a chaplain in an HIV/AIDS clinic in 1994 and worked with hundreds of persons who were gay, I asked him what he thought of it. He said without hesitation, “Malcolm, everybody needs love and forgiveness.”  That part was easy for him.

My conservative father taught me to be a liberal. Liberal in love and liberal in forgiveness.

My liberal loving father also taught me to be a conservative. Conservative in judging others and conservative in drawing the circle too small.

Thanks be to God.

My father taught me so.

Humble Roots

This post is the nineteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

My father was a “country boy” who grew up in Tuscaloosa and Hale counties in rural, west Alabama as the youngest of seven children.  His father was a sharecropper during the week and a pastor on the weekends.  His mother cared for the home and children, tended the garden, made their clothes, and canned food for the winter.  She could kill a chicken by hand and prepare it for dinner when needed.  Everyone had chores.

As a young boy, my dad learned how to plow straight rows in the field behind a mule and his “weight lifting program” was pitching the 60-100 lb. hay bales from the back of the wagon into the barn.  He milked the family cows by hand with his brothers.  He walked a couple of miles daily to catch the school bus.

By the time my father was in high school at Tuscaloosa County High, he wanted to play basketball and football.  The problem was the late school bus that left in the afternoon to take the players home didn’t travel as far as my father lived.  When my dad’s high school coach saw his potential, he convinced my grandfather to let my father stay in a room at the gym with another boy in the same situation so he could play ball and not have to come home.  A widow who lived near the school provided his dinner each evening.

When my dad graduated from high school, that same coach put my dad in his car and took him to Samford University (called Howard College at the time) in Birmingham, and walked into the athletic department offices.  He must have been persuasive because by the time they left, they asked him if he wanted to play football and basketball there.  He said yes and started in both sports all four years.

I believe the first twenty-one years of my father’s life taught him about humility.  Anyone who knew my dad would say he was a humble man.  He was always quick to share the credit with others and he lived with a spirit of gratefulness.  He knew and remembered his roots.  His feet were firmly planted on the soil in which he walked and he understood that everything he had was a gift from God.

As Lewis Marler’s son, I fall short in this area of humility. I have had so many more advantages than my father had growing up.  I was a suburban boy who walked one block to elementary school, and my father drove me the three blocks to junior high school each day.  He bought me a car for my sixteenth birthday.  He came to almost every athletic event I ever played in.  I never worried about being hungry, or having enough clothes, and I never doubted I was loved.  I got almost everything I ever wanted.

And still, I want to be more like my father and keep my feet firmly planted on the ground and be grateful for every gift as though it was from God.  Because it is.

My father taught me so.

***

How about you?  What have you learned from others by who they are/were?  Will you share your story in the comments section below?

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Living with Depression

This post is the eighteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

When my mother died in 1965, my father battled with various levels of depression off and on for the next thirty-three years until his death.  I do not mean he was incapacitated by his depression, because he was able to work and be effective as a pastor in three congregations.

And for some persons who knew him as their pastor from 1965-1994, this might surprise them.  But I do believe his deep grief and family history presented him with one of the biggest challenges of his life.

The first time I heard about his depression was when we met in Nashville, TN and my father poured out his heart in a way I had never known before.  It was during that discussion that I understood how painful and how deep this struggle was for him.  He told me that he had been seeing a psychiatrist for awhile and that he had been on medications.  He added that he also supplemented that support with counseling from a therapist.

I was a seminary graduate by this time and had done my residency in a psychiatric unit of a hospital, both inpatient and outpatient.  I had an understanding of mental health issues and told him I was glad he was seeking help.

But like many persons today, Dad came out of the “old school belief” that mental health issues were a “weakness” rather than something that could be treated medically, emotionally, and spiritually.

He didn’t believe this to be true for other people as he referred many persons to counselors, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals over the years.

But he also thought that somehow if he prayed hard enough, that he should not have to take medicine personally or see someone for it.  But the important thing is he did get the help he needed.  Because deep down, he knew better.

We had this conversation about getting support for his depression many times in his life.  I am thankful that he talked to me about it and I am glad he got the help when he needed it.  This support from doctors and counselors made it possible for him to help hundreds of other people through their own grief during his ministry.

Depression is the most treatable mental health illness of all.  Encourage loved ones to reach out for the help they need.   If you struggle with depression, see a counselor and talk about it.  Talking really does help, and the right medication can make all the difference in the world.

Even though my father struggled with depression at times, as well as getting the help he needed, thank God he got it.

I hope you, and those you love, will too.

My father taught me so.

Resources for Depression:

  1. From Google Health
  2. Depression Resources
  3. Web MD
  4. MedicineNet.com
  5. National Institute of Mental Health
  6. Mayo Clinic

***

How about you?  Do you find yourself having a double standard for yourself and others in regards to getting help?  Do you believe it is ok to get help for depression and other mental health issues?  What are some barriers for you to get over in order to be able to do so?

Will you share your story with us in the comments section?  Or contact me by email?

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