Season of Crisis, Season of Growth


It had been a difficult winter. Leaving our cold, dreary, run-down apartment in Roselle, New Jersey, for the pleasant garden apartment in nearby Elizabeth seemed for me like leaving a bad dream behind. I had no inkling then of what lay ahead. In a few short months, a nightmare would begin that would test to the utmost my emotional and spiritual strength.

We were barely settled into our new home in late June 1979 when I received the news that Grandma had died. With her went many memories of warm cherry pies, the farm she and Grandpa had owned when I was little, and the many kindnesses and great love she had shown to me.

I remember seeing Grandma laid out in the funeral parlor, and making the long, long trip to the cemetery in New York. As was our family custom, one by one at the gravesite each member of my family—mother, father, aunt, uncle, and all of us grandchildren—threw one flower apiece into the grave, a final tribute of love and respect.

No one imagined that day that two weeks later my father—tired and grey himself—would die suddenly of a heart attack. The family, still saddened by Grandma’s recent death, reeled in shock from Dad’s unexpected passing. He had always loomed larger than life as a prominent wild animal importer and exporter. How I longed to be a child again, to climb on my father’s lap or listen to him tell animal stories from his long and interesting life. I was deeply grieved. It was a hard time for me, and my family was very concerned about my health, since I was eight months pregnant.

The summer rolled on—hot, humid, and sunny. I often thought how sad it was that Dad had not lived to see my first child born. But sadder still, I thought, was that my child would not know the loving arms of his grandfather and would grow up with no memories of him. I was comforted by my knowledge that we would all be together in the afterlife.

For the present, the baby’s birth would be a bright spot in a very sad summer. I looked forward to that day in August eagerly. John often admired my spreading middle and talked to “Junior,” as we affectionately nicknamed our unborn child. Finally, the baby turned into the birth position and we began counting down the days to the due date. I was anxious for John’s arrival each evening in case I went into labor a few weeks early.

One night in early August, John was about an hour late from work. I was doing the dishes when the front door creaked open and John staggered into the apartment. His shirt was torn and his normally cheerful face was filled with horror.

“I was mugged,” he cried.

John seldom cried, but now he started to weep. He described how he had been attacked and beaten by several men who had stolen his wallet.

Frightened, shaking, and nine months pregnant, I drove my injured husband to the hospital, where we met his parents. We waited while John was examined. He was bruised on the head and neck, but there were no broken bones or permanent physical damage. However, he did have periodic nightmares, reliving the beating. We both were fearful for his safety during his daily commutes.

The stresses of the summer had taken their toll; I was upset and depressed. I went to the doctor’s office for an extra check-up, but the physician in the obstetrical group told me the baby and I were just fine. August 12, just five days away, was the baby’s due date.

On Friday, the 11th, I noticed that the baby was rolling and turning violently. I was puzzled. Then, over the weekend, the baby was unusually quiet. Monday I went in for another examination.

One of the older doctors searched my swollen abdomen slowly and carefully with a stethoscope. His face sagged in distress. There was no fetal heartbeat. I had carried this child nine long months in loving anticipation, only to have a stillbirth! I was never to hold this tiny boy or watch him grow. A knot in the umbilical cord had cut off his oxygen supply, robbing him of life.

If the baby’s anticipated birth was to have been the high point of my dismal summer, his death was my agony. Emotionally, I felt as if someone had put my heart in a vise and was physically crushing my chest. It hurt to think, and it hurt to breathe. I cried not just for my child, but for the misery of the whole summer.

The delivery was a wretched experience. The doctor who delivered the baby was rushed and indifferent. He gave me little attention and an overdose of the labor-inducing drug. After twenty minutes in labor, my body convulsed in a titanic contraction. My husband recognized the emergency and ran to fetch the nurse, who reduced the intravenous drip of medication. But in those minutes of crisis, the physical pain I endured pushed the indicator of the labor monitor off the scale. I hovered on the brink of heart attack and fatal rupture, but, miraculously, it did not happen, and somehow I remained calm. That I lived uninjured through the ordeal is a testimony to the power of the blessing I received through the priesthood shortly before I went into the hospital.

That night, I wakened to find I had been crying silently in my sleep. After that, it was as if part of me was shut off. For days, even weeks, I hardly noticed what went on around me. It seemed I had forgotten how to be happy.

When I did think, I did not blame God or myself or the doctors for the baby’s death. It was an accident of nature. But the void in my life created by the loss of my grandmother, my father, and then my baby left me needing something fulfilling to occupy my hours, to keep me from brooding. My mother, ever sensitive, suggested I find a part-time job. Willingly I searched for one, and through a friend I obtained an interesting position as a tutor. Starting in late September I worked four mornings each week at the local state college tutoring students in remedial English.

The first few weeks I had trouble adjusting to my new job. I came home exhausted after each work day. Often I would sit down on the couch and cry, or fling myself on my bed and fall into deep sleep, an escape from my fatigue and sorrow. I had not prayed in weeks, because expressing how I felt was so painful. Finally, deeply troubled by my grief, I reached out to the Lord in prayer. I wept and prayed for him to send the Comforter to end my misery.

The answer did not come immediately. But the despair I felt eased remarkably during the following weeks as I accepted the death of my baby and felt renewed faith flowing into my heart. My despair was replaced by a feeling of peace and calm, and with it my perspective on life altered dramatically. Things that would have bothered me prior to that summer seemed unimportant. The urgency to do this or that no longer tugged at me. It was as if by accepting death I had caught a glimpse of eternity beyond mortal life. I was drawn to read the third chapter of Ecclesiastes over and over again.

My mind opened, and I understood.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven;

“A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

“A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; …” [Eccl. 3:1–4]

I felt that time was not meant to be measured by a clock or a calendar; these things were merely tools to help us in our daily existence. Rather, time was meant to be marked by the significant events in our lives, both sad and happy. It is our lot to endure hardship when it comes and realize that this too shall pass. Waiting for the wounds to heal is, perhaps, the hardest part of all. What is significant is how well we succeed in enduring, and what we learn from the experience.

The good that we do, the love we give, and the things we learn through hardship mature and guide us in our eternal progression. These are the things by which our time on earth should be measured, rather than by minutes, days, and years.

Parenthood offers the finest opportunity in life to do good. In the loss of my baby, parenthood was deferred for me. However, I was given another opportunity, through my job, to learn and grow by teaching. As the semester progressed, I watched my students’ language skills improve. My pupils became my friends, and some even looked on me as a big sister. I knew that my time and efforts were spent in a worthwhile endeavor.

My progress came slowly, and I still grieved in spite of my new job and new friends. But as the days went by, my prayers for solace were answered. The Comforter entered my life with the balm of God’s love. It came, filling the emptiness left by the loss of my baby, my father, and my grandmother. It soothed my anxiety as I watched John go to work each day. I knew that the Lord loved me through all my troubles, and this warm feeling permeated my soul and spilled over onto everyone around me. After my brush with death, I knew that death is not the end. But I appreciated life more. Instead of drowning in misery, I floated over the turmoil as if the Lord had given me his hand in love, while he walked upon the waters.

Much has happened since then. I went back to college, and worked, during an internship, for the dean of a community college. Success in work helped me gain self-confidence.

We were blessed with parenthood after five years of marriage. Our son Daniel was born in September of 1980, and Matthew was born in August 1984. Both are normal, healthy boys. I know John and I are better parents because we lost our first child. We are more appreciative, more playful, more joyful, and more loving as a mother and a father. I am eternally thankful to the Lord for giving us these beautiful spirits to care for.

I have become closer to my family, and I have become closer to the Lord; I am grateful for all the love and strength He gave me during that time. In surviving grief, going to work, and becoming a parent, I learned that joy can indeed emerge out of sorrow—in a wonderful variety of ways.

[photo] Photography by Jed A. Clark

Marlene Trefflich Mullarkey is a member of the Moorestown Ward, Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake.