Seven Years Later

Seven years ago today, Martha Corey-Ochoa jumped to her death from the fourteenth-story window of her Columbia dorm. In memory of her, and as a way of exorcising her ghost, I have just finished writing a memoir, After Martha

The first half of the book tells of Martha's life from conception to her last night. The second half tells of my seven years since, struggling with my grief and my own suicidal impulses, until at last I feel I have come to some kind of peace.


Martha and I shared many things in common--writing, madness, wild religiosity. One thing I didn't realize we shared until recently was that we were both in love with a ghost. She was in love with the Russian prince Aleksei, who died 300 years ago; and for the past seven years I was in love with her.


Martha wrote in her diary that her love for Aleksei was a species of complicated grief, that type of grief that can destroy the bereaved. Her complicated grief for Aleksei did destroy her in the end. For seven years I have been fighting not to let my complicated grief for Martha destroy me.


I think that fight is over, or at least one phase of the fight. I love Martha and always will. But she is dead and I accept that. Nothing I do can bring her back, and there are other things I want to do, more life that I want to live. She doesn't need to be part of my life for me to be happy. After seven years, I am finally saying goodbye to Martha. To explain how I got to that point, I would have to write a book about it, and I have. After Martha is that story.


When Martha was alive and we would say goodbye, we would always say "I love you" just before we parted, in case we never saw each other again. Seven years ago tonight, I had my last phone call with her, and, in keeping with our custom, the last thing we must have said to each other was "I love you." So I know she heard what was important, and so did I. The rest is just goodbye.

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Comments: 10
  • #1

    J.S. Mueller (Tuesday, 27 August 2019 10:48)

    Letting go is hard. There's something about it that feels a little like betrayal. It is not--it is moving forward, and life is movement, stasis death.

    For me, each 'I love you' has a shadow of 'goodbye.' When we say the words and mean them, we inherently know that it is the impermanence of things that makes us grasp them tightly, press people our breast as if they might disappear. We say 'I love you' because we know the absence of the beloved would be unbearable.

    But saying 'goodbye' to one we've lost doesn't mean we are turning our back on them or their memory. It means that we're ready to focus on the grace they brought into our lives and let go of the pain that came with separation.

    Let the ashes of what you've endured these last seven years provide fertile ground for the love and grace her life gave you, and something beautiful is bound to blossom.

  • #2

    Willa Goodfellow (Tuesday, 27 August 2019 11:12)

    God bless you.

  • #3

    George Ochoa (Wednesday, 28 August 2019 09:52)

    To J.S. Mueller: That's a beautiful comment. Thank you. You're right that "I love you" has transience built into it. It has an inherent sadness. And I've only just realized that it isn't in my power to betray Martha. She isn't here on Earth to be betrayed. Only the living are depending on me.

  • #4

    George Ochoa (Wednesday, 28 August 2019 09:54)

    To Willa Goodfellow: Thank you.

  • #5

    John Henry Dreyfuss (Wednesday, 28 August 2019 11:03)


    Your tribute is beautiful and is a way that Martha and your love for her will live forever. I am without the words to express my happiness that you have been somewhat relieved of this terrible burden.

    To J.S. Mueller: Thank you so much for what you wrote. You express things that we all should know but that few of us are able to see. You have taught us those things and shined light upon them.

    Having lost both of my parents and one of my dearest friends, Kent Berglund, within the past year I know deeply and personally of what you and George write.

    The best I've been able to do with my grief so far to is visit with these beloved lost people through the things that they loved and for which we shared a love. For my mother, I visit with her nearly every day when I see the wild rabbits in my yard and around my town.

    She always loved "bunnies," ask she called them. I visit with my mother through the bunnies and through the ferns that grow wild beneath the Japanese maple tree in my front yard. She loved bunnies and ferns as much as any things in the world. This year since her death the ferns have grown to more than twice their normal size and area. I feel my mother's spirit through them.

    My mother was also a public servant. She lived her life to serve others -- as a teacher, as a professor of law, as the President of Amnesty International. She achieved a special kind of immortality through her works and efforts to change the world for the better and to personally improve the lives of hundreds of students and prisoners of conscience.

    For my father and my dear friend, it's through music that I feel them. My father was a brilliant musician. He spent many years playing in a rock band but he was classically trained and recorded with some of the world's best string quartets. His music and recordings have given him his immortality. I traveled the world as a young child with my parents while he was part of that band. I spent countless nights in smoky bars and vast arenas listening to music so loud that my ears would ring for days. A normal childhood? By no means. An unforgettable childhood? Without question.

    It was through Beethoven's music and other music from the classical and romantic periods that my father shared himself with me. I visit with my father and my dear friend when I listen to the music that they loved and for which they imbued in me my own love, appreciation, and passion. My father loved, admired, and was fascinated by the last six string quartets that Beethoven wrote -- The Late Quartets they're called. They are exceptionally complex and endlessly fascinating. They are seen as pieces of music that enabled the transition from the Classical period of Mozart, Haydn, and many others, to the Romantic period of Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and many others. I listen to them with my father these days.

    I had loved and appreciated chamber music -- sonatas, solo pieces, trios, quartets and quintets -- since my father showed them to me with clarity. My friend Kent revered orchestral music. When he and I worked side by side for more than seven years, he would play recordings of the violin concertos by Beethoven, Shostakovitch, Brahms, Mozart, and Mendelssohn and we would rock out in revering silence, absorbing the indescribable beauty of these tunes, among many others.

    Today, when I listen to Mozart's unfinished Requiem -- the unfinished piece he wrote as his premature death and the end of his unfinished life approached -- Kent Berglund is with me.

    Love lives on for as long as the survivors remember it, and it can live forever when we write about it, as you have George, and when you share it with those who can understand and remember.

  • #6

    George Ochoa (Wednesday, 28 August 2019 14:53)

    To John Henry Dreyfuss: Thank you, John Henry, for your kind words and your memories of the people you recently lost. Your mention of your mother's connection to Amnesty International prompted me to find and read her obituary online. She was indeed a remarkable woman. I didn't know about your father's deep connection to music; that too is remarkable. Martha loved music, both classical and popular, and composed a violin sonata. One of my best memories of Martha is hearing her playing her violin in the playroom. Sometimes I think I still can almost hear it.

  • #7

    Alexander (Tuesday, 19 November 2019 21:57)

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us....

  • #8

    Rachel Enders (Tuesday, 31 March 2020 20:01)

    I was Martha's roommate at CTY in 2008. There's so much I wish I could tell her. I just turned 26 yesterday, and I wish I could talk with her. Thank you for creating this website, it means so much.

  • #9

    George Ochoa (Thursday, 02 April 2020 09:19)

    To Rachel Enders: Thank you for visiting, Rachel! It means a lot. Martha would be turning 26 on April 6 had she lived.

  • #10

    George Ochoa (Thursday, 02 April 2020 09:23)

    To Alexander: You're welcome, and thank you for visiting.