My Mom, Joanne. The Face of Domestic Violence
September 22nd was a Sunday night decades ago. My teenage brother, Duane, had just left the house for his part-time job at Shoppers Drug Mart.
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 yearly by domestic violence, regardless of their financial status, ethnicity, or education.
I am one of those children. My life changed much more than I realized then. I lived with a pain that I kept stored deep in my memory for years. But I’m just one of a million children impacted by Domestic Violence every year in our country.
My Mom was murdered by her husband, who is no longer in jail. He served very little time for taking her life. That we don’t speak of. I usually spend time alone each year, wondering what life would have been like if she had been with us all these years. I talk to my mom still today during difficult times, wondering if she can hear me. Even after all these years and decades, I miss her daily.
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 full-time, cared for her kids for many years as a single mom, and went back to school in her early forties 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, no barriers in this universe could stop her. She taught us to have strength, stand up to bullies, to go after our dreams and make them happen. Like all moms, my mother was the rope that kept our fractured family together.
I hear her voice often, reminding me that “family is your safe place.” That statement is ironic because it was in her safe place where her life ended one September evening.
Many years ago, I was in a federal prison room, sitting less than 10 feet from my mother’s husband, Bob, who was my mother’s murderer. I can’t explain the emotions, the questions running through my head. At that moment, 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. We 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 that we would have to leave the room if we didn’t.
I realized the full impact of his actions that day. I saw how we protected ourselves from thinking about what happened. Since then, we have never sat down together and talk about the past. Not even about fond memories.
The parole board asked him to discuss what happened and why he took her life. The Board revealed his past abuse of partners, which we weren’t aware of. Each time, his abuse worsened — it started with shoving a girlfriend, 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 that my mom had previously called the police about his abuse. She had even gone to a shelter occasionally for a little peace. She never told us … then again, we never asked. Like most people, we were blind to the signs, but we were young, and she did everything to shelter us from that part of her life.
My brother, Duane, told me about a sentence that continues to haunt him to this day. He said that he was talking to Mom one night before he went to bed. She apologized for the yelling he had witnessed earlier, and as she walked out the door, my brother asked her, “Will you be OK?” 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, like so many women today.
My mother lived in a personal hell, just like thousands of women. The reasons she went back are very similar for all the women who have done likewise — fear of survival, 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 family members.
Nobody wants to talk about the subject of 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. More than one person has negatively labelled me even recently. On social media, I have been challenged. People are too quick to judge. After all, he was our stepfather. Imagine how a young child must feel, afraid to go to bed and sleep to yelling or glass breaking. To whom do they turn to? Who do they call for help? The pattern of hiding your emotions begins.
I believe all children of domestic violence feel the same, regardless of age, financial status or education. I have long felt it was my fault. I was the oldest. I should have done something. I should have seen the signs. It was harder for my brother, Duane. 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 little time in prision: What kind of message are we sending with such light sentences for such 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 the very small amounts given to shelters in this country.
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 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 lay on the floor of the master bedroom during this time. Our system treats him as the victim, provides treatment while in prison and gives 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 go back home, yes, that home, until his trial date. The judge proclaimed, “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? No. I had to go to the house where my mother’s life ended and gather up all personal personal items. 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 sitting in a hospital because of stress. At the same time, the victim’s children are in a funeral home selecting a casket and then being told 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, while we had to pack up and leave, and our lives changed.
End Domestic Violence
Sadly, our story, is not special. Ours may be a little better, if possible because this happens to too many children younger than us. 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 child victims of domestic violence. We’ll protest that the city has too few bike paths, but nobody protests when a murderer is released to the streets of our communities after killing his wife.
Domestic violence affected me 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 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 in danger of being 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 that domestic violence has no boundaries. It’s not economical. It’s not a lack of education. It’s real. It impacts generations and is 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 they’re 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. Men and seniors can be victims. If you’re in a violent situation, call for help now — please don’t wait until it’s too late.
– Kevin Klein
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Sadly, domestic violence is true for so many others. 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.