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  May 14, 2000

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Memories of Owen

DIFFICULT TIMES ... Martha Hart and her children Athena and Oje are struggling to put their lives together a year after the death of a loving father and husband. -- Sun files
By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

 In the garage sits a 1965 Mustang they used to smooch in during high school.

 Upstairs is a brightly-painted bedroom which would have housed their third child -- a treasure they planned on having this month.

 Outside, on the edge of a meticulously-kept yard, is a sitting area where they would have held each other while their two adorable children giggled in the background.

 Although the house is devoid of wrestling paraphernalia, everywhere Martha Hart turns in her Elbow Valley dream home, she's reminded of the nightmare she's been living since a tragic wrestling stunt killed husband Owen almost one year ago.

 After years of planning and construction, the 5,000 sq. ft. house was five days away from becoming their home when a Sunday evening phone call informed Martha she'd have to carry on without her one and only true love.

 "I still cry every day," said Martha, wearing the wedding ring Owen placed on her finger 10 years ago.

 "I'll be driving and I'll think 'I can't believe this is my life.' Everything I do, even if I'm happy at the moment, I'm broken inside. When I'm alone with my thoughts, those are my darkest hours. I can't believe how great everything was in my life a year ago and where I am today. This house went from being so exciting to meaning nothing without Owen."

 Buoyed by the love of eight-year-old son Oje, four-year-old Athena and the ongoing support of her mother and sister, Martha has shown incredible strength through a very painful, very public grieving process.

 Compounding the pain of her husband's eight-storey plunge in Kansas City is the wrongful death lawsuit Martha filed with Owen's parents against 13 defendants, including WWF boss Vince McMahon.

 Spending countless hours witnessing depositions for what promises to be a lengthy court case slated for Feb. 5, 2001, Martha is clearly committed to the vow she made at Owen's funeral, promising "a day of reckoning" for those responsible.

 And now, in a gesture that speaks volumes of the unsavoury business that killed her husband, Martha is being sued by the WWF in Connecticut for the breach of Owen's contract.

 Showing exemplary class and savvy, Martha refuses to badmouth the WWF, which she has every reason to abhor. Nor will she be goaded into a war of words with various Hart in-laws who have sadly chosen sides in the conflict.

 Somehow in all this, the 33-year old widow has gone from not only being a victim to being a target.

 "I was a private person and now I feel like I've been thrown into a lion's den," said Martha, who spent 17 years by Owen's side. "I really believe if Owen could see everything -- all the madness and everything I've had to go through -- he would cry. He would cry for me."

 Through it all, Martha has found salvation through writing poetry as well as her frequent trips to Queen's Park Cemetery, where Owen rests. Sitting quietly on a graveside bench she donated to the site, Martha watched her children pay their respects last Sunday, which would have been Dad's 35th birthday.

 "I want them to be able to heal, but also to remember him when it's appropriate," said Martha, who rarely brings the kids to the cemetery. "Athena was so excited to go where her father was. She said 'I never want to leave here' and when it was time to go, they both hugged the tombstone and kissed the picture. That was really hard for me to see."

 Martha's month won't get any easier today -- Mother's Day -- nor will it be a happier time on May 23, which marks the first anniversary of Owen's death. Somewhat appropriately, she'll be in Kansas City that day meeting with lawyers.

 Four days later, the WWF will further disrespect Martha's wishes by breezing into town for a Saddledome show which was originally scheduled to include a tactical tribute to Owen's father Stu.

 "It will always be a tough month for me because I'm re-visiting a time that was so painful," said Martha, who never has, and never will, allow her kids to watch wrestling. "Some days, I feel like it will never get better, but then I think back to my frame of mind (last year) and I realize I've really come a long way. I realize it's just a few steps on a long road. When I heard about Owen's death, the world changed for me. The way that it happened so suddenly... no goodbyes."

 While her kids are at school, Martha occupies her time working on her U of C psychology degree, teaching water fitness at a local pool, working for the post office and volunteering for the Youville Women's Residence.

 "I was always very empathetic for the girls and I always wanted to do something to help them," explained Martha, who often saw the troubled women at the pool as part of their therapy. "After Owen died, I'd still see these girls at the pool and sometimes they'd cry and be comforted by one of the counselors that didn't know their history or background. Here, I am so alone and empty, but I'm not destitute and I have people who support me."

 Martha still meets with a grief group and takes solace in the fact she can look back at her life with Owen without regret. She cherishes the memories she has of him and will forever see his likeness in the piercing blue eyes her children inherited from their famous father.

 While Athena often speaks of her Dad, Oje says little. Aside from a school project on famous Canadians he chose to do on his father (which included a touching endorsement his father was, 'The Bestest Wrestler'), the active eight-year-old shies away from the subject.

 "When Owen left for the airport the last time, he took Oje and had a real good talk with him," said Martha, who learned of the conversation from Owen the next day.

 "Owen told Oje that when he was gone, he was supposed to take care of his mother and not cause her any problems. He also told him that he was a big boy and that he should be nice to his mother and sister. It was like a pep talk. I think it's amazing that's his last memory with his Dad."

 Similarly, Martha's final words to Owen were 'I Love You', as they were every time they finished a long-distance conversation.

 Peering out the window at the clouded horizon, Martha pondered which direction life will take her without Owen's love, humour and guidance to make the journey fulfilling.

 "My life is full, but not of what I want," said Martha. "I can go out and I can socialize and I can function but there's such an emptiness. I don't burden people with it but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I don't know how I'll ever resolve that."

 Downstairs the kids play alone, the Mustang collects dust and the baby room is as empty as Martha's heart.

 Only Owen could change all that.

 And that's a hurt that may never go away.

More on Owen Hart