Gentle John My Love My Loss

This is a story of love, death and grief. John Martin and Helene Chung met as students at the University of Tasmania in 1963. Thirteen years later, when he was a lecturer in history at the Gordon Institute of Technology in Geelong, and she an ABC television reporter in Hobart, she interviewed him on This Day Tonight — an interview that sparked a lifelong romance.

In 1991, when the couple were living in Melbourne, John underwent apparently successful surgery for colon cancer but, a year later, an inoperable tumour was found in his pelvis. In 1993 he was suddenly admitted to hospital again, with an obstructed bowel. Although John and Helene thought he would be home within days, surgery was needed and he proved too weak to recover. John died peacefully and painlessly, Helene by his side.

Overwhelmed by her sense of loss, Helene wrote Gentle John as a private memoir to cope with her grief. And as she says in An Afterword, written after her decision to publish with Hill of Content in 1995:

‘This … is my tribute to John, my gesture towards life, an attempt through exposure to heal my wound. And if this becomes a vehicle to transport a few others some way in their own painful journey through grief, my tears will not have been in vain.’

 

john

A While

Wednesday, 27 October 1993

I will put on my dancing shoes but not yet awhile
I will put on my dancing shoes but still I cannot smile
I will put on my dancing shoes and walk into the sun
but while my heart is freshly laden
I must quiet myself in the shade

The man I loved is no more
His gentle touch has gone
But though I am in grief
I see his smiling face
And feel his presence in myself

Gentle John My Love My Loss
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What the critics say

‘”You were very brave to tackle the issue. I grieve too. Nothing tastes or even smells any more.” This was one of the many letters journalist Helene Chung Martin received after her appearance … on radio … Most people will finish [this book] feeling as though they have shared a loving couple’s odyssey and have come to know them as friends.’

Pat Fraser
Albany Advertiser, 15 June 1995

‘It is extremely sad, but throughout it, the strength of love shared by the couple shines through.’

Janet Croft
The New Englander, 20 June 1995

‘a moving testament to the often inexplicable forces that bind couples’

The Weekend Australian, 1-2 July 1995

‘Helene Chung was devastated. She has disclosed the intimate thoughts of the last three weeks of her lover’s life, baring her heart and soul.’

Noel Shaw
The Examiner, 15 July 1995

‘Cancer was just a word to former Hobartian Helene Chung Martin – at least until her long-tine partner John Martin was diagnosed with it … a very emotional description of Helene’s thoughts, hopes, fears and memories in the last three weeks if her husband’s life.’

Mary Rose
The Mercury, 8 August, 1995

‘This is a poignant and powerful account of the author’s experience with her husband’s illness and death from cancer … valuable for families and the bereaved, in helping them feel a little less alone.’

M Skene
Cancer Forum, Australian Cancer Society, Vol 19, No 3, November 1995

‘Those who read Gentle John My Love My Loss will both enjoy the opportunity to be part of this moving story and yet be saddened by another life lost early … a well-written account of an individual’s experience with the death of a much-loved partner.’

Priscilla Nelson-Feaver
Nelson Bros Newsletter Summer 1996, Reprinted from Australian Funeral Director