This post is the thirteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.
On August 4th, 1965, my father, sister, and I went to peek in my parent’s bedroom where my mother was asleep. She was resting comfortably and we decided not to wake her to kiss her good night as we had done previous nights. She had come home from the hospital a few days before following a hysterectomy.
During that night I had a dream. I dreamed that someone close to me was slowly, gently moving away from me. I remember reaching out to them and felt frightened at first, but I heard a voice in the background that was calm and reassuring that said, “Malcolm, you are going to be alright. Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be ok. I will take care of you.” And I can remember being at peace and relaxing in the dream.
The next morning, August 5th, I was sleeping like any ten year old kid would be at 8 or 9 o’clock on a humid, August summer morning. I got up, walked down the hall to our den and opened the door. I looked up and saw a woman from our church on the phone. She saw me and had a worried, startled look on her face. I quickly returned to my room trying to figure out why she was there. I learned later she was making phone calls to other church members and friends.
It wasn’t but a few minutes later that my father came to my room and picked me up out of bed and said, “Malcolm, let’s go into the den.” We stopped and got my twelve year old sister, Marcy, up from the bed in her room and the three of us went into the den and sat down by ourselves.
My father sat very close to us, took a deep breath, looked us in the eyes and said, “Malcolm and Marcy, I have some very bad news to share with you. Something happened to Mama this morning and she died. We don’t know if she had a heart attack or what, but it was very sudden. I am so sorry.”
Marcy began to sob understandably, and my father held her close to his chest and cried with her. I sat there stunned, in shock, and confused. My dad reached out to me with one arm and told me it was ok for me to cry, but at that moment I couldn’t. I wanted to but I couldn’t. I would eventually cry myself to sleep for months later.
All I knew was that the person my daily life revolved around, my “Mama” as we called her, was dead. She was my life anchor, the one who always made it ok when something bad happened to me. But she could not this time.
For my sister, Marcy, who was adopted into our family before I was born, had been through a traumatic experience of being in several foster homes before my parents brought her home, had now lost her second mother. Her biological mother had given her up for adoption, and now the only mother she knew was no more.
For my father, Lewis, he had lost the love of his life. His forty-one year old beloved was gone. She was the one who could light up a room and relate to any person young or old. She was the one in their relationship who was the extrovert while he was a bit shy and reserved. And for him, he was thrust into the role of a single parent in the blink of an eye with a large church to pastor while he grieved himself.
What did my father teach me through this crisis? What was the lesson or lessons I learned?
He starting showing up for Marcy and me. He showed me that a father could be present. I don’t know how he did it, but he rearranged his work so that he could be there for us when we needed him. He asked lots of mothers in our church to help us, and they stepped forward too. That is another story in and of itself how I was mothered through my grief. But I was also “fathered through my grief.” And when he made mistakes in parenting, he would sit us down and apologize, and ask for forgiveness.
His deep, abiding faith was authentic, soothing, and encouraging. And he held me close to him, a lot, at night. That one act by itself, the holding me close, as well as the open affection and kisses he gave me, is what helped me to survive. More than words. It was a tenderness that is often reserved for mothers and their children. If he had withdrawn and not been there physically for me, I don’t think I would have made it.
It was not until fifteen years later in Nashville, TN when I finally told my father about the dream I had the night before my Mama died. He listened, he nodded his head as tears rolled down his cheeks, and he asked me what I thought it meant. I told him I didn’t know for sure, that it was a mystery to me, and that it wasn’t as important for me to know who the voice was or the exact meaning of it anymore.
What was important about the dream was that the message had become true for me. The voice was right. I really was going to be ok, I really was going to be alright. I really did not have to be afraid.
Thank you Lewis Marler, for being there in my grief, even when you were grieving yourself.
My father taught me so.
- What did this story remind you of in your life?
- Has someone been there for you during a time of grief?
- What dreams have you had that have come true in your life, whether they were night or day dreams?
- Will you share with my readers in the Comments section below?
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