on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

An Open Letter to My Mother

Note:  On August 5, 1965, Malcolm Marler’s mother (41) died suddenly.  You can read more about that here.

Dear Mama,

Martha Lou Marler in her early 20's.

Martha Lou Marler in her early 20’s.

It is hard to believe that 48 years ago today you took your last breath on this earth when I was 10 years old.  You would be 89 if you had lived this late in life.  I want to give you an update on how things are going, but most of all to say thank you.  This will be the first of several letters because there’s just so much to cover. All of this comes from unspeakable gratitude for what you gave me in ten short years.

I want to focus on three themes today:  love, faith, and how to connect with others.

First, thank you for the way you loved me unconditionally.

As a psychology major in college, I  learned how important it was/is for a child to experience love early in one’s life.  I already knew this intuitively from my life experience.  The love you gave me was planted deep within and your death could not take it away.  Holding and hugging me close to your breast repeatedly throughout my first decade of life planted a seed in my soul that has grown over the years.  You taught me how to hug full bodied with both arms, and how to forgive others by the way you forgave me.

You held my face in your hands and told me how much you loved me.  I believed your encouraging words when you said, “you can be anything in the world you want to be.”  Your son is still dreaming new dreams at 58 years old.  Thank you.

Second, thank you for talking about your faith with me, but most of all thank you for living it.  I heard your prayers, but I also saw your love for people regardless of skin color or one’s socioeconomic status in the early 60’s in Alabama.  I noticed how you listened to others going through difficult times.  I remember how you loved to write, how you were creative in everything you did, and how your belief in a loving God was the foundation for your life.  Thank you for showing me what a loving God is like through the way you parented me.  All these years later, I believe in a loving God who will never leave me, and One who will sustain me through any difficult times in my life.

Finally, thank you for the way you showed me how to connect with others.  I saw this in the way you loved my Daddy.  I noticed the way you looked at and loved my father with that spark in your eye.  I remember the times I caught the two of you hugging one another in the kitchen, or saying kind and loving words to the other in front of me.  And thank you for the way you related to the family of God from the youngest children to senior adults with your natural warmth, gentle humor, and humility.  I’ve tried to learn that from you.

I wish you could have known and connected with my wife, Mary Bea Sullivan.  Oh my, the two of you would have loved each other’s company so much!

I know that you audited every course with my Dad in seminary because you desired deeply to have the same  theological education, but couldn’t get academic credit for your hard work due to women not being treated equally.  I want you to know that Mary Bea is finishing her Master of Divinity degree this year to become a pastor.  I know you would celebrate that accomplishment with her as if it was your own.

Most of all, I want you to know that I am married to the love of my life and I have two amazing, loving children who are now 21 and 22 years old headed towards careers in the helping professions.  I am a Chaplain in a hospital in a job that I love where I get to help people when they are going through hard times and believe that this is where God has called me to be.

I am the happiest I have ever been in my life.

I’ll write more later, I love you,





  1. Glenda Greene

    As a Mother, I can tell you she would be so very proud of the man you are. Moms know these things!

  2. Drexel Rayford

    Malcolm, this is great stuff. You got me thinking about the ways in which my mom influenced me and have inspired me to tell her. She’s still around at 94, and you remind me that quite often, we take our blessings for granted. As I neared the end of this letter, I found myself profoundly hoping that your mom, at some level, is aware of these words and finding tremendous celebration in them. I just have to imagine that she is!

  3. kathy thomson

    Thank you for this and I hope you and Mary Bea will post more often! I, also, believe your mother is aware of these words and finding celebration in them. What a gift she was and that you and Mary Bea are to so many people.

  4. Sandra Langsfon

    Thank you, Malcolm. How well you learned your mother’s love in 10 short years.

  5. donna faye rogers

    Malcolm, here is a p.s. to my previous email. Do you still have the clipping which reported you getting your head stuck between the wrought iron railings of the porch? The fire department had to be called to free you! I believe you all lived in Selma still,your age was about one and a half to two! Years later my baby son Michael did the same thing at our house! Although he did not make the paper,nor did we have to call the fire dept., I thought of your incident”,and remembered how we all chuckeled at your adventure! Love,DF

  6. Malcolm

    Yes I do Donna Faye. I’ll have to scan and share it sometime. Thanks for asking.

  7. Donna Gooch

    What a beautiful tribute to your precious mother, Malcolm. I’m certain her sweet spirit guides you today, even after so many years. I know you’ve experienced this eternal love and I’m sure she had a hand in bringing you and Mary Bea together. A mother’s love never dies. You are so special to have such wonderful memories of this sacred lady.

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