Cecile Martin

In this brave StoryCorps story, Bodyworks owner and director Cecile Martin balances honesty, directness, understanding, and kindness in telling her story.

This is what you do, right? You marry, you have children, and you live happily ever after.

I married at the age of 20 and left behind a small dairy farm in St. Wendel, Indiana, where faith, family and hard work were the creed we lived by.

Shortly after our wedding Tom and I moved to a farm in Kentucky where we shared a love of country life and animals. We grew plentiful food in our garden, had goats for entertainment, and started a family. Our first son was born, and slowly, without any announcement or asking permission, my husband and the father of our son began slipping into another world.

Our daughter was born when our son was two, and my life became babies and my husband’s whiskey bottles. I loved my children, I loved my husband, but I didn’t like this out-of-control feeling. I found myself buried deeply in a grave of chaos and confusion, dodging his outbursts.

Words like alcoholism and addiction began infiltrating our lives like water in a dry sponge. These were not words I was familiar with or understood. All I knew is I wanted the scream in my heart that never silenced to stop. Holding on for dear life became my life. Then our third child was born.

One night our oldest son, then 4, snuggled next to me and in his sweet little Kentucky voice said, “Mama, you don’t have to live like this, ya know?” And everything changed.

The next morning I woke with a clear sense of what I needed to do, terrified and energized at the same time. I called my husband at work and said, “We are gone.” There was nothing else I could do. We had tried everything. I had heard “it will never happen again” so many times I still hear it in my head.

I strapped our four-year, two-year, and six-month-old children in the truck with a bag of clothes for each and drove off. I had no plan, no idea of what was going to happen or how it was going to happen, but it was going to happen. Sometimes it’s safer to set sail into the unknown than to stay in what we know.

Time passed. My husband was broken, and I was turned inside out. We worked through the practicalities of living apart. It was not pretty and it was not fun, but we did the best we could at the time. We were both surrounded by dear souls who recognized pain and realized potential. We were swimming in two separate oceans, meeting on land to share in the lives of our precious children.

I found good schools and stable employment. He found a tribe that understood alcoholism and addiction. Our children received a rich education in experiencing two very diverse lifestyles, mine of yoga, meditation and massage, and his of motorcycle rallies and NA hotdog roasts.

I am now 61 years old. With persistence and determination, I have established a business that has stayed alive for 20 years. People come and they go. Loved ones die. I have learned to hold memories lightly and look at them tenderly, though I can’t always do it. Memories live in our hearts and are expressed in who we are and who we will become…memories like my four-year-old’s truth and insight all those years ago.

Tom passed in February of 2012 and left a legacy of stories and aphorisms. I see his expressions and mannerisms in his children, who have grown up with good hearts and quick-witted life management and parenting styles. Our grandchildren, though some have never met him, are carrying on with his blood in theirs. Mine too.

And it makes me smile.

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In the piece below by Robin Church, the retired spiritualist shares her belief that signs provided in nature point to immortality. Here she honors her son, Gary.

The day I had been dreading for 24 years had finally arrived and I was drooping at the kitchen table trying to figure out how I would get through it. Granted, July 20th was always a challenge to endure, but this year my son had been out of his body for as long as he had been in it. Although the acute anguish of the first days…months…years had eventually subsided, the missing of Gary never went away-the yearning for sparkly blue eyes, the scent of his cologne du jour, mischievous “Hee, hee, hee’s”, curly hair tickling my cheeks during hugs…

Suddenly, a rather frantic fluttering outside my window snapped my head up. A hummingbird! But I had no feeders and despite my ever increasing number of flowers, had not spotted one since I moved here three months ago. Well, there was nothing to do but go see what he wanted.

Although still fairly early, the sauna we in Evansville call July had already been turned on. The hummer was nowhere in sight, so I decided to go ahead and do my watering; the coleus and hydrangeas and impatiens were wilting before my eyes. By the third or fourth plant, something large was fluttering around me, but it wasn’t the hummingbird. It was the biggest dragonfly I had ever seen! At least three inches long! And I had never seen a dragonfly in ANY of my gardens! Ever!

What was HE doing here? I’m not near any bodies of water, unless you count my birdbaths, and surely the spray from the hose didn’t lure him in. But he followed me from yellow marigold to red geranium to bluish ageratum. My other homes’ garden colors were more pastel, but at this place I’d planted pretty much bright primaries.

When I finally reached what I call my “Grandma’s Garden,” I needed to stand for a while to give everything a good soak. The dragonfly perched on my bamboo bird cage and watched me. By this time I was starting to realize Nature had conspired to help me not only endure, but actually rejoice in this day the Lord had made: The katydid orchestra was warming up, accompanied by birds trilling out their morning “Hallelujahs!!!” and my flowers clapping their hands as loudly as roses, daisies, and salvia possibly could.

So I decided to have a little chat with my new friend.

“I have a feeling you’re not a normal dragonfly. I don’t know if you are a messenger from Gary or are how Gary decided to visit me in spirit, but I am so glad you’re here! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

The day that had begun like a dirge had become a parade around my smallish new sanctuary as the dragonfly and I finished our rounds. These unexpected backyard angels had invited me into to their buzz of life and helped me realize I could feel immense peace and joy at the same time my heart was aching so for Gary–one of the best lessons my heart has learned in this past quarter of a century. And although I may be 24 years farther away from his physical presence, I am 24 years closer to being with him forever in heaven’s garden.  What a forever celebration that will be!

The dragonfly took off over my fence as I walked across the patio. But as I neared my back door, my feet as light as my heart, the hummingbird reappeared, circling my head like a shimmering benediction of grace and healing.

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