When I first finished reading Martha Long’s first book, Ma, He Sold Me For a Few Cigarettes, I didn’t think any other book would resonate so powerfully with me. And so far, I’ve been right. While all of Martha’s books are powerful, that first one is very hard to top.
Then I read Ma, Jackser’s Dyin’ Alone. I began reading it with the expectation that it would tie up all the loose ends and questions that were lingering from the other books, with the added bonus of reading about the death of the person who had caused Martha so much pain. I expected to feel a sense of satisfaction with the death of Jackser, feeling like I had been through all those terrible times beside Martha. She began her story talking about the joy she would feel now that Jackser was finally at the mercy of the world. Finally the man who had terrorized her and her siblings for so many years was going to suffer. She planned on having a hooley and spitting on his grave. Which would have been alright with me!
Then things started to change, and that’s when the book really started to get to me. Inside Martha Long, this woman who had grown up in unspeakable hardship–mostly at the hands of Jackser–she possessed the most selfless kindness I’ve ever heard of. Here she was, keeping vigil day and night by the bedside of Jackser, ensuring he was as comfortable as possible. Keeping his forehead cool, ensuring his pajamas were kept clean and dry, and making sure he received the medication he needed to ease his pain and suffering. Jackser…the very man who had made her life a living hell from the time she was six years old.
In this, her final memoir, Martha Long shows her readers the true meaning of forgiveness and selfless love. The death of Jackser brings back all those painful memories of a childhood she’d tried to erase. It also brought back some memories of a few happy times that she’d almost forgotten. It brings out the truth about Jackser, the Ma, and her siblings. She shows us all what it means to truly forgive someone. She shows us you can’t hide from your past–who you really are–no matter how hard you try. With compassion and understanding most people never experience, she realizes why Jackser was so terrible, and in the end, she forgives him. She even feels sorry for him–the life he led, the abuse he endured, and the suffering he’s experiencing in his death. Finally Martha is forced to face the truth–the truth about her childhood, about Jackser, about the people she surrounds herself with. This is the point when Little Martha, the street kid she once was, refuses to remain silent any longer.
In reading this story, the reader learns what true forgiveness is, what true acceptance is, and sees one of the most amazing, beautiful stories of human compassion ever recorded. I’ve had people hurt me so much I think I’ll never be able to forgive them. They have done things to me that hurt me deeply to this day–even though it was years ago! Then Martha is able to forgive Jackser, who hurt her FAR worse than anyone has ever hurt me. If Martha can do that, there is no excuse for me not to be able to forgive those who have hurt me. This book shows you that you must consider the whole person, not just the bad things they did. You must realize that many factors go into the making of a person. Jackser was evil because he was abused. Mental illness denied him the ability to live a happy life. He was stuck in the hell he experienced growing up with the Christian Brothers. While Martha experienced equally terrible abuse, she had the intelligence to overcome it–and she didn’t have a mental illness plaguing her thoughts and keeping her from finding happiness.
Another thing this book does is takes the mask off mental illnesses. It’s so important what Martha shares. Jackser was ill, as well as some of Martha’s siblings. Rather than letting that illness define Jackser and her siblings, Martha sees them as human beings who happen to have a mental illness. She doesn’t let that illness define them. Mental illness is widely misunderstood, and people who suffer from mental illnesses sadly pay the price for this misconception. Thanks to Martha’s ability to love her siblings for who they were, and seeing their illness as only a small part of them–rather than as WHO THEY ARE–she is able to help Dinah and Gerry, and through them, she helps her mother as well. This book will open your eyes. It is the story of a person who has GENUINE love and compassion in her heart. Despite never having a good example of parenting to look to, Martha is able to successfully raise her three children with lives surrounded by love. Her children have every advantage. Sadly that isn’t the case for children raised by people who have been abused as children. Of all her books, Ma, Jackser’s Dyin’ Alone shows best what a truly kind, wonderful person Martha Long is. Her ability to love and forgive is amazing and truly inspiring. She’s an incredible woman.
If you haven’t read Martha Long’s books yet, I highly recommend that you do. Her books can be purchased online through Amazon and Mainstream Publishing.