'Time to grieve': Jonassen finds hope after family loss
The death of her father Ray earlier this year left an indelible hole in the heart of Jess Jonassen, but some time away, the imminent arrival of a new family member, and an exciting Aussie calendar has helped refresh and rejuvenate
Laura Jolly previously wrote for News Corp Australia and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and is now cricket.com.au Women's Cricket Editor providing dedicated coverage to all aspects of the women's game
After enduring the toughest months of her life, Jess Jonassen is finding solace in the calm of a winter spent at home surrounded by those closest to her, as she resets her body and mind for a demanding summer ahead.
The Australia spinner lost her cherished father Ray, the man she credits as being the greatest influence on her cricket career, in February following a years-long battle with cancer.
His passing was the primary reason for her withdrawal from the inaugural season of The Hundred, where she had been set to line up alongside national teammates Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney at Welsh Fire.
All but one of her fellow Australians have since followed suit due to the crammed schedule ahead and uncertainty surrounding overseas travel, but for Jonassen, it was a decision made to give herself the space she needed to process the world-altering loss.
"It wasn't long after losing Dad and (the idea of) being in a bubble environment that was a long way away from home and not really knowing what I was going over to with the COVID situation also, there were a lot of different factors that all culminated in making the decision not to go," Jonassen told cricket.com.au.
"The potential for burning out going from bubble to bubble and having some things I wanted to work on in my game also factored, but primarily it was where I was at with my personal life.
"I needed time at home, time to grieve and time to spend with family and loved ones after that year."
1 year ago today...a day I will never forget 🤍🐞 #IWD #family pic.twitter.com/cMu7WYwkvP— Jessica Jonassen (@JJonassen21) March 7, 2021
Just weeks after farewelling her father, Jonassen departed for Christchurch with her Australian teammates for their limited-overs tour of New Zealand in March.
Daily training sessions and her university studies provided the distraction she sorely needed during a fortnight in hotel quarantine.
Looking back, she can see she was operating on autopilot throughout the month-long tour. The fact she played every game and finished Australia's second most prolific wicket-taker in an unbeaten campaign – maintaining her position as the world's top-ranked one-day bowler in the process – is a testament to the 28-year-old's resilience and strength of character.
"Returning to uni came at a good time in that respect … if I didn't have uni to focus on when I was sitting in the hotel room, it could have gone a different way for me from a mental perspective," Jonassen noted.
"Things were tough, but I think having that as a distraction in those down times really helped me get through that series.
"It probably wasn't until that final game that I let it get to me and I had a nice cry, and then I was able to come home and actually process what had happened."
To my harshest critic, fiercest supporter and # 1 guy. Happy 1st heavenly birthday. My heart is still broken but I will continue to look back on all the memories with a smile. I know you’ll be up in the stands today, as nervous as ever. I love you and miss you like crazy dad 🤍🐞 pic.twitter.com/jusSee5AZU— Jessica Jonassen (@JJonassen21) February 26, 2021
When Ray's health took a turn for the worse at the start of the year, Queensland Cricket granted Jonassen the flexibility she required to travel back and forth between Brisbane and her family's home in Rockhampton, spending precious time with them between domestic 50-over matches.
The left-arm spinner was likewise grateful for the shift in the women's Big Bash season that came several years ago; with the tournament – and her confinement in the Sydney hub – done and dusted by the end of November, giving her the chance to spend Christmas at home.
"In the few months leading into dad's passing I was up and down quite regularly and it took its toll in the end, but I wouldn't have changed it," Jonassen said.
"And I would have been devastated if the WBBL had kept running concurrently with the men's schedule – missing Christmas would have been hard."
During the six-week break granted to the Australia contracted players through April and May, Jonassen was able to return to Rockhampton, this time in happier circumstances; a baby shower for her sister, who is due to give birth to a daughter later this month.
"That was first time I went back since Dad passed away ... It was nice to go back there for something that was positive and starting to create positive memories again from up there," Jonassen continued.
"Having the focus on a new baby arriving soon has helped … she'll be the little ray of sunshine we need as a family.
"It's been tough, I'm not going to lie.
"For me as well, living away from my family has been one of the hardest things … but we keep in regular contact and we're probably doing as well as expected and trying to make the most of things."
The break was also a chance for a much-needed holiday to Far North Queensland with her fiancée Sarah; and importantly, Jonassen had the time and space to grieve.
The allrounder knows there is no long-term relief to be found in hiding from the pain, or in trying to ignore the gaping hole left by the loss of her father.
What she can do is the same thing she has done throughout her nine-year international career, and throughout her entire 28 years to date: she can keep making her dad proud.
"(We're) allowing ourselves to feel what we feel when we feel it ... which is one of the most important things I've taken from it all," Jonassen said.
"Otherwise, it'll come up when you least expect it or want it to, and it'll hit you really hard.
"We have our days, but other times we try and continue on with life and try to continue to make Dad proud."
A 2021-22 season featuring two Test matches, an Ashes and an ODI World Cup in New Zealand, alongside Jonassen's domestic duties as Queensland and Brisbane Heat captain, will provide ample opportunities for her to fulfil that desire.
Ray and Jonassen's mother, Jayne, closely followed their daughter's and Australia's fortunes during their incredible winning 2020 T20 World Cup campaign, sitting among the 86,174 people at the final at the MCG.
After the COVID19 restrictions of the 2020-21 summer, Jayne hopes to attend as many matches, on either side of the Tasman, as border closures will allow this season.
"It does make a difference especially when you're away from home, knowing you've got a loved one up in the stands," Jonassen said.
"Just that feeling of having them there I find really valuable."
For now, she is throwing herself wholly into preseason with her Queensland teammates and looking ahead to a busy summer. The top priority for the allrounder is improving her fitness, ensuring she is up to the rigors of multiple Test matches and more one-day cricket than the Australian team have experienced in recent years that have been dominated by the shortest format.
"I'm trying to get a lot more kilometres in my legs, do a lot more running-based stuff, even a walking program to cover a lot more kilometres," Jonassen explained.
"I want to give myself the best possible chance from a fitness perspective.
"I know there's a lot of improvement I can make in those areas, so I'm putting in as much hard work as I can to get through such a busy and demanding schedule.
"I want to be there for the big series, the goals at the end are the ODI World Cup and then the Commonwealth Games.
"To have those carrots dangled there, I want to give myself the best possible opportunity to be part of those squads."