My Mom, Joanne
The Face of Domestic Violence
September 22nd was a Sunday night many years ago, my teenaged brother had just left the house for his part-time job at Shoppers Drug Mart. Our youngest brother was out of town and at I was at a hockey game hundreds of miles away. I remember that night like it was yesterday.
Why? What makes this night different than any other? It was the night our Mom was murdered by her husband, Bob.
Every week in Canada two women are killed by their partner or former partner. Fifty-one percent of women and more than a million children are affected each year by domestic violence, no matter their financial status, ethnicity, or education.
I am one of those children. As a young adult my life changed, so much more than I realized at the time. I lived with a pain that I kept stored away deep in my memory for years. But I'm just one of a million children that are impacted by Domestic Violence every year in our country.
My Mom was murdered by her husband who is no longer in jail, he served under ten years. Today is that day, my brothers and I don't speak of. I usually spend time wondering what life would have been like if she was with us all these years. I still miss her, every day that goes by.
I choose to talk about Domestic Violence to honour my Mom, to keep her memory alive, to be a voice for those afraid to speak, and give courage to another child to speak about how they feel and to know it's not their fault.
My mother, Joanne, was a wonderful lady who worked a full-time job, took care of her three boys for many years on her own and who went back to school in her early 40’s to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. She was the strongest woman I knew. She was always there when we made a mistake, she taught us how to get back up every time we fell. Life for us wasn't easy, but she always made us feel special and grateful for what we had, each other. To me there were no barriers in this universe that could stop her. She taught us to have strength, to go after our dreams and make them happen. My mother, like all moms, was the rope that kept our family together.
I hear her voice often, reminding me that family is your safe place. “Your safe place”, that statement is ironic because it was in her safe place where her life ended one September evening.
Years ago I was in a federal prison board room, sitting less than 10 feet from my mother’s husband, Bob, who is also my mother’s murderer. I can’t explain the emotions, the questions running through my head. It was then I awoke to the reality of what this man did with his own hands. It was as if the room I had locked all my memories in just burst open. My brothers and I sat there and listened to him describe what he did and why it wasn't his fault. The emotions were hard to hide, but we were told if we didn't we would have to leave the room.
I realized the full impact of his actions that day. I saw how we protected ourselves from thinking about what happened. Ever since then it had been hard for us to sit down together and talk about the past, in fact, we never did, not even about fond memories.
The parole board asked him to talk further about what happened and why he took her life. The Board revealed his past abuse on partners, which we weren’t aware of. Each time, his abuse became worse — it started with shoving a girlfriend, then pushing his first wife, then punching her. That relationship ended but his pattern continued until finally he took a life … my mom’s life.
I learned that day she had previously called the police about his abuse. She had even gone to a shelter on a few occasions for some peace when my brothers were away from the house for a weekend or on a school trip. She never told us … then again, we never asked. We, like most people in the world, were blind to the signs, but we were young and she did everything to shelter us from that part of her life.
My brother told me of a sentence that continues to haunt him to this day. He said one night he was talking to mom before he went to bed. She apologized for the yelling he witnessed earlier and as she walked out the door my brother asked her, “Will you be OK?” To that she replied, “Sleep with one eye open…love you.” I see now that this is how she lived every day, sleeping with one eye open, as do hundreds of women today.
My mother was living in a personal hell, just as thousands of women are doing right now. The reasons she went back are very similar for all the women who have done likewise — fear of survival, fear of being unable to provide a home for their children, and sadly, fear of what would happen if they spoke out and told others…even their own family members.
Nobody wants to talk about the subject, domestic abuse, it's too personal. Nobody wants to admit to it - because of fear from their abusive partner and fear of what the community will think about them. I never wanted to tell anyone because of what they may think of me. I have experienced mixed emotions from people, even one person labeled me in a negative way, after all he was our step-father. Imagine how a young child must feel, one who is afraid to go to bed, who sleeps to the sounds of yelling or glasses breaking. Who do they turn to? Who do they call for help? The pattern of hiding your emotions begins.
I believe that all children of domestic violence feel the same, no matter their age, financial status or education. They feel as my brothers and I all felt — it was our fault. I was the oldest, I should have done something, I should have seen the signs. It was harder for my teenaged brother. He left the house that night for work even though my mom asked him to stay for supper. “Just stay and eat with us,” she said. It took so long for him to stop thinking things would have been different if only he had said yes to supper at home that night.
What's the message?
My Mom's murderer spent less than 10 years in jail. What message are we sending with such light sentences for a horrific crime? They know most men who murder their partners are released before serving 12 years. My mother’s husband — her murderer — was granted parole that day. The reason for his release? He doesn’t pose a threat to society … no not at all, just the women he dates.
My mother lived with abuse because she wanted to provide for her boys. In her very early 40’s she had just become a nurse. How could she tell the people she worked with, professionals, that she was being abused when she went home. How could she tell other people she was afraid for her life? She called the police, and was told, “If he does anything again, call us and we will make him leave.” She never had the chance to make that call.
The options for victims, both women and men, are limited. When I think about how all levels of government hand out money and tax breaks to the powerful I'm saddened by very small amount given to shelters in this country, embarrassing and shameful.
My mother Joanne did leave that house, but not the way she wanted. Her husband/murderer — explained at the parole hearing what he did, how it all happened and how he was the real victim. The abusers all start the same way — the woman makes the man angry and they lose their temper. There is a little yelling, then some shoving. That night, that pattern was being repeated, but this time it ended in my mother’s death.
After he killed her, he told the board he felt so bad that he went to the couch and had a drink to calm down. Once that was finished he called the police while my Mother's lifeless body lied on the floor of the master bedroom during this time. Our system treats him as the victim, provide treatment while in prison and give him passes to attend events, but for the children of the real victim, nothing. I remember the day, it was about a week after my mom was killed, the court granted him bail so he could return to work at the factory and back home, yes that home, until his trial date. The judge proclaiming, "He poses no threat to the public". What? My Mom was not considered part of the public? Was the court telling us, it's not that bad if you kill someone close to you? My Mom couldn't go back home. Did they offer to help us, the kids? No. In fact I had to go to the house where my mother’s life ended and gather up all my brothers’ personal items, as well as hers. While doing this, I had to step around the marks of death on her bedroom floor, all under a time constraint as he would be home and we were not allowed to be there.
Imagine, a man who committed murder sits in a hospital because of stress. At the same time the children of the victim are in a funeral home selecting a casket, and then being told that they had to decide how to deal with the bruises on their mother’s neck, because the make-up couldn’t hide them. As the man who committed murder applied for and was granted bail, my brothers had to pack up and leave, our lives changed.
End domestic violence
Sadly, my story, our story, is not special. Ours may be a little better, if that’s possible, because this happens to too many children much younger than we were. We must end domestic violence. We spend so much money on trivial projects that don't help people, but we can’t find ways to support the one million children of domestic violence. We’ll protest that the city has few bike paths, but nobody protests when a murderer is released to the streets of our communities after killing his wife.
Domestic violence affected my brothers and I in many ways. But, it didn't end with us, my youngest son walked up to me, upset, a few days after my return from the parole hearing and I asked him what was wrong. He asked me if his grandmother would have loved him. He looked so sad. He never met his grandmother. He’d only seen a photo of her. Of course, I told him she would have loved him … she would have loved all of her grandchildren. He then said he was scared. “Of what?” I asked. His reply: “He got out of jail right?” When I said yes, he looked at me and asked, “Will grandma’s husband come and kill us now?”
As you read this, two women may be murdered by their partner or ex-partner this week and you will never read about it.
Why did I choose to speak publicly? Because I want to let people know domestic violence has no boundaries. It’s not economical. It’s not a lack of education. It’s real. It has an impact on generations, and it’s a problem in our city, province and country.
Another shelter is not the fix for domestic violence. Tougher punishment, greater community support and reducing the victims’ fear of public perception are parts of the solution.
It’s time to end the silence. Let's stand with and help all victims. Tell them their not alone and make them feel safe.
We can make a difference together, we need to talk to young people so they will come forward. We need to share stories so people better understand the impact of domestic violence. We need to end the silence and we will save lives.
I know that women are not always the victims of domestic abuse, there are many men who are victims. If you're in a violent situation, call for help now please don't wait until it's too late.
PS. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Which sadly is true for so many others, even right here in Winnipeg. I urge you to break the silence. Let those around you know it's safe to ask for help.
Please consider donating to a shelter in our community. Given there are more than one, I applaud each of them, I would suggest a donation to the Manitoba Association of Women's Shelters, the link below will take you to the appropriate page.