on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

When Tragedies Happen

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

I never knew my oldest sister. But my father told me about her.

She was born approximately three and a half years before I was born.  My mother had a couple of miscarriages in her first two pregnancies, but finally was able to deliver their first daughter in Selma on January 2, 1952.  My father told me what an amazing experience it was when I was an adult.

Those were the days when fathers paced outside the delivery room waiting for the news.

He heard her cry when she was born and the nurse came out to tell him they had a beautiful healthy baby girl.  He got to see her and hold her for a few minutes.

He drove the few miles home from the hospital and began making phone calls to his parents, brothers and sisters, my mother’s parents, and church members.  The celebration began.  After praying for the possibility of having a child, their prayers had been answered, or so they thought.

And then the phone call came. It was the doctor and he said to my Dad that he needed to come back to the hospital as fast as he could.  “Something has gone wrong and we don’t know what it is,” said the physician who was a friend of my parents.

When my dad arrived he got the terrible news. Their only child, their little girl had died.  Both of my parents were in shock and were grieving as you can imagine.  What was a celebration one moment changed quickly into mourning.

She never had a name. But she has affected my life because she had an impact on my parents.  My father described it as one of the darkest moments of his and my mother’s life.  He said the grief was overwhelming.

Back in those days, couples were not encouraged to name the child if they died so quickly.  We know better now.

So today, April 17, 2010, I am going to name my sister for my own sake, and call her Maria Marler.

Somehow my parents got through the experience as they were told they could not have any more children.  It would be “too dangerous for my mother,” was the counsel from her doctor.

And so they eventually adopted my sister Marcy, who was born on October 25, 1952, but wasn’t brought home until some nine months later in the spring of 1953.  Much to their surprise two years later I was born without medical problems.

One of the things my father taught me was that tragedies happen in everyone’s life.  God can help us through anything we face, even losing a child.  My dad and mom took that life experience and had a special ministry to reach out to friends, and friends of friends, over the years who had similar grief over the death of their child.

“God gave us a lot of opportunities to care for other people who felt like they couldn’t go on.  We understood what they were going through and it also helped us to help them,” he told me after I was grown.

He told me one day, “I don’t believe God caused our little girl to die. God is a God of love.  It just happened because of what we learned later was a RH-Negative factor in her blood.  But I do believe that no matter what happens to us, God never leaves us, and he grieves with us.  And if we are open to it, he can use even our tragedies for good in our lives.”

My father did not believe in a God of punishment who says one day, “Hmm, what tragedy can I give this person so s/he will learn a lesson?”  Instead, he believed in a God who says, “I’m so sorry this has happened.  I will give you strength to get through this, and then we can see how we can use this in your life to help others.”

I have held on to that lesson.

And now my parents are buried next to their daughter.  And I try to remember, that God can take anything that happens in my life, and can cause good to come from it, if I am open to it.

My father taught me so.


What does this story remind you of?  How has God taken something that was difficult for you and some good has come from it?  Will you share in the comments below?

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  1. Sherry Smith

    Mal, I lost two sister and one brother. One of my sisters was older than me and her name was Joy, she only lived a few hours and the oxygen ran out and she died. My brother died in my mom’s womb and we let the hospital keep him to do some studies on him, then my last sister was born prematurely and only lived a few hours.

    I asked my father if we could bury my sister and he said yes, so she is buried by Little Joy here in Mississippi. We were unable to name the last two and Carraway did not allow that. I called my little sister Deborah. Thanks for asking. This was probably the hardest times of our lives. My mother and father had five children and only two lived. They were wonderful explaining death to my brother Carl and me .Thanks for asking. Love ya Mal and enjoy the blogs.

  2. Malcolm

    Dear Sherry, thanks so much for sharing your story about your brother and two sisters. That was a lot of grief in your family as well. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know about your siblings who are no longer with us. I’m amazed at how folks get through these times.

  3. Charlie Kinnaird


    I am really enjoying your series on Lessons from your father. Your Dad was very wise and sensitive in his understanding that God is present and grieving with us.

    I lost a twin sister when were three days old. When I was old enough to learn about it, I felt that it became a shared grief since I would always wonder “what if…” When I became an adult, my mother would talk about it when I asked her. Once when my wife asked my mother about it, we could tell that there was still grief after all those years. I don’t recall my father talking about it, but that was the way he dealt with things – don’t talk about it and carry on with life.

    I didn’t fully realize the depths of my own grief until as an adult I gave a clinical presentation in my nursing class about dealing with the death of an infant. By this time I was married with a child of my own, but as I prepared for the presentation I became acutely aware of my own grief over the loss of a sister I never knew.

  4. Malcolm


    Thank you for sharing about the loss of your twin sister. Isn’t it amazing how powerful that grief is? It can remain for decades. I’m thankful you are able to feel it because it can teach us so much.

    Thanks for taking the time to share with all of us about your experience, and I am encouraged by your story personally.

    Take care,

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