I think it is Queen Elizabeth that is credited with saying “Grief is the price we pay for love,” and what a terrible price it is. I do not have advice for those who are in mourning, but share my lifetime of feeble attempts to do it right.
I have lived 78 years, have been fortunate to have loved deeply, and have lost people most dear. At times, I think I have grieved poorly, letting the world and my own weaknesses get in the way of this restorative process.
My first experience with major loss came with the death of my mother in the mid-1980s. She had been unwell for years following a series of strokes, regressing to a childlike state, not recognizing me when I visited from Michigan.
When Dad called my Detroit office to tell me she had passed, I went to the restroom and cried for 15 minutes. I foolishly thought that was enough; after all, Mom was now beyond suffering and Dad’s burden had ended. I freshened my makeup and reported to an Executive Meeting on time.
I cried again at mother’s funeral and choked back tears to read an elegy, and then went on with my roles as business woman and mother. Years later an ocean of grief poured in on me as I finally began to deal with Mother’s death.
In 1998, I met and later married Michael Martin, a “soul mate,” to use a worn phrase. We were inseparable, happy to the point of giddiness. In March of 2001, just six months before 911, Michael suddenly died and I was thrown into a deep sorrow. I ignored the pull of business, attempted no useless rationale — just allowed the pain to wash over me.
This loss was too large to ignore. During this period I leaned heavily on the counselor who became my guide, on family and friends, and without apology I let the grief take over for a year.
In 2012 I returned to Texas to give support to my ailing 92-year old father. It was a sweet time for us, going on explorations and family visits, watching sports on TV. It also gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my son Terry Mann, who lived in a nearby town.
In late fall of 2016, Terry was diagnosed with a fast-moving small-cell lung cancer and Dad had a heart attack that left him on oxygen, with limited mobility. I moved into Dad’s household and took over management of all his health support (doctors, PT, meds, diet etc.) and despite his frailty, made sure he could still enjoy life.
It was harder to support Terry. Dad’s daily medical demands and the hour’s drive to Terry’s helped separate us, and my stress and exhaustion from the two tragedies left me numb. There was no hopeful prognosis for Terry and his own family was with him or nearby, but like any mother I ached to hold him close and kiss away the pain as I had when he was a small child.
I was able to hold Terry’s hand when he passed days before Christmas 2016, and I cried at his funeral, but real mourning was delayed, for every day required my alertness and attention to Dad’s critical needs.
August 31, 2017, Dad succumbed to another heart attack, just a day before he would have turned 97. I was there with him when they removed his life support and I said my goodbyes to his sleeping soul. I have been sad at his passing but I also know he wanted to get beyond his suffering. I felt like I had spent a year loving and laughing and grieving him as he waned.
But I know a tidal wave of grief is coming for Terry. Someday I have to take down my defense mechanisms and give into the pain of this terrible loss, for if there is one thing I have learned about grief – it is inevitable.
— Jonnie Martin