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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Never Acceptable

The other day I was marveling over the fact that the year has gone by so quickly. Suddenly, it was the end of August, with the Labor Day holiday just around the corner. This is a time of the year that sometimes makes me dwell on thoughts of the past. You see, 49 years ago today an immigrant woman died in Chicago, Illinois. According to a newspaper article I found, John, aged 52, was charged on Sept 2 with the murder of his wife Theresa, aged 41, after her death in Columbus Hospital. She had been taken to the hospital on the previous day with a skull fracture, and John had been charged with aggravated assault at that time. According to the detective on the case, John had indicated that he woke to find himself hitting her in the head with a hammer.

There are things that are not mentioned in this article. Perhaps they were considered unimportant. John and Theresa left four children essentially without parents. Their children were Margit, aged 16, John, aged 14, Liz, aged 13, and the girl who would come to be known by the name of Katrina, aged 7. All four children had been left in the home by their father to discover their mother when she screamed for help in the early hours of the morning. All four children saw her in the aftermath of her bludgeoning, and all four children have borne the scars of this experience.

The older children were allowed to see their mother in the hospital; the youngest was not. My last two memories of my mother were both traumatic. There was the memory of rushing into the bedroom to see her in agony and covered in blood. The next was to see her in her casket. Looking back, I wish that I could have seen her before she died. (I have been told that she asked Liz to forgive her father for what he had done.) When I saw her in the casket, she didn't look remotely like my mother. She was wearing a filmy nightgown and her face was covered with things like lipstick, eye shadow, and other makeup. I'd never seen my mother wearing those things before.

When I read the archived news article several years ago, with the description of what my father had told the police, it filled me with anger. It was as if he was trying to dismiss his actions by saying that he committed the crime in his sleep. Although the charge was murder, John, my father, was instead imprisoned for manslaughter. I know on an intellectual level that it has to do with technicalities about whether or not a crime was premeditated. On an emotional level, all I can think of is that whether it was planned or not, my mother is no less dead. Less than five years later, he was free. Reading that part of the article reminded me that in one of the few telephone conversations with our father after his release from prison, he tried to suggest that my mother was an unfaithful woman. A feeble attempt at excusing or justifying his actions. I can tell you with complete certainty that she was not unfaithful. And even if she had been, that was not a viable excuse. 

Some people reading this might think that I am dwelling on the past, living with constant thoughts of what happened all of those years ago. This is not the case. The simple truth, however, is that what our father did all of those years ago changed his children's lives forever. We will never know who we might have been if this terrible thing had never happened. It breaks my heart when I realize that my chances in life grew out of the destruction of my family. I came into an environment that, while hostile, held opportunities that I would never have had otherwise. Try living with that kind of confusion and guilt for a while, knowing that the worst thing that ever happened to you broadened your horizons and created possibilities that would never have existed for you otherwise.

What I want you to get from reading this is very simple. Domestic violence of any kind is never acceptable. Whether it is against a child, spouse, partner, girlfriend/boyfriend, or whatever descriptor is involved, abuse will never be okay. The worth of a human life, the impact of a human life, is more important than any anger or frustration you might have in life. I'll never know why my father committed this terrible act. But one life was ended, and other lives were changed forever. If you see this type of situation brewing in your own family or in a relationship near to you or your heart, please do what you can to help. It's better to lose a friend to anger over your concerns than to lose them like we lost our mother and father. And it's better to walk away from someone forever than to hurt them or let them hurt you.