This post is the eighth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.
I graduated from seminary in December, 1980, and I was fortunate to get a job at a large church in Louisville, KY as the Minister of Pastoral Care. At the same time, my father was the senior pastor in a similar size church 350 miles south in Alabama.
About a year into my new job, I got a call from my father. He said, “Why don’t we both drive 175 miles tomorrow and meet halfway in Nashville and have lunch together just for the fun of it. Can you get off work?” It was an impromptu opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. “That sounds great,” I answered, “where can we meet?” He suggested a restaurant at the Grand Ole Opry Hotel.
We met the next day and sat down in the restaurant and began talking. The conversation flowed freely. Before long, I asked him to tell me stories about my mother who had died suddenly when I was ten years old. As you can imagine it was an incredibly traumatic experience for my family. She had died at home without warning at 41 years old, a few days after a hysterectomy. A blood clot broke loose and went to her lung.
“How did the two of you meet?” I wanted to know. “How did you know she was the one you wanted to marry? Tell me again about her personality? Do I remember correctly that she took every course in seminary with you but couldn’t get credit because she was female? Tell me, tell me.”
He became misty eyed as he talked about my mother and apologized. I encouraged him to keep talking and reassured him he could cry all he wanted since we didn’t know anyone at the hotel or in Nashville anyway.
The waitress grew tired of our two hour lunch and we finally paid our bill. I wanted to hear more. “Let’s sit down in the lobby,” he suggested. Three hours, four hours went by. It started to get dark. “Do you want to check into a room and get some dinner? I’ll buy.” he offered.
“Yes, I would love that,” I smiled. We both called our wives and told them we wouldn’t be home that night because we were going to stay with one another at the hotel.
We had all the time in the world to talk without interruptions, and both of us chose to be vulnerable and honest with the other. I realized we had both kept our grief about my mother bottled up for sixteen years. Sixteen years.
We talked through dinner. We went to the room and stretched out on the beds and talked until 3 a.m. He poured out his heart about the grief he had carried. I was the counselor, he was the client. And then we intuitively reversed roles. He asked me to say a prayer for him at one point and we held hands in the hotel room and prayed out loud.
It was the kind of opportunity that parents and adult children rarely have, and even more rarely take advantage of. We were real with one another and held nothing back about the most painful time of our life. Adult to adult.
As hard as it is to imagine, we had never talked about my mother in great detail after she died. It was an unhealthy way to deal with grief. My dad had tried to be “strong” for his two kids (not cry in front of them), and my sister and I had tried to be “good” so as not to upset him. We loved and encouraged one another over all those years, but we had never talked in detail like this.
I learned during the weekend he had sought therapy and medication for deep depression over the last 16 years because of the grief. My father heard for the first time how I had stuffed my grief and withheld a portion of my heart in relationships. Eventually, I too would need years of counseling to unpack my own grief.
He had lost the love of his life when she was 41 years old. I had lost my mother who was my whole world as a 10 year old boy. My father and I had both been lost, and that weekend helped us both to find a new way. Sixteen long years.
The next morning we had breakfast together, walked to our cars, hugged and drove back to our homes. It was a life changing experience for me.
Ironically, my father had helped hundreds of people through their grief since my mother’s death. And I had developed a passion in doing the same in my work. We teach what we need to learn, don’t we?
When it comes to grief, my father and I both had to learn the hard way. We needed to get help and to find companions in the journey.
My father taught me so.
And what about for you? Have you had grief in your life through a death, a divorce, or other areas? And what have you done with that grief? How have others helped you through it? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
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