by Kimberly Amador, The WIP's Associate Editor
Saturday June 14th, 2014 was a beautiful, sunny day in my hometown in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California. At just after ten in the morning, my brother, my sister, and I gathered together to spread our mother’s ashes and say our final goodbyes.Our mother died nine and a half years ago on January 7th, 2005 from heart failure. She was only 40 years old.
My mother was one of the most intelligent, kind, and generous women I have ever met. She was willing to lend a hand to those in need and always provided a shoulder to cry on. While we never had much money, I remember nearly every Christmas she would buy Christmas gifts for a poorer child, and she would explain to my siblings and me that if we could help someone in need, we should.
My older sister Julie says, “When thinking about mom the very first thing that comes to mind is her laughter. She was great at making you laugh. She could find humor in anything.”
My older brother, Joe, recalls days he would come home from school. “She would always ask me how my day was. She was always really caring and concerned.”
While these are the memories my siblings and I prefer, our mother’s life had a darker side. My sister recalls the tears our mother shed. She says these were “tears that should never have fallen. Tears she [our mother] shed because of the abuse she suffered her entire life.”
Our mother was a victim of domestic violence most of her adult life. This violence shaped my siblings and my childhood and future. While domestic violence is perpetrated towards men and women, women like my mother are more likely to be victims than men. Domestic violence is often referred to as Violence Against Women or VAW.
My brother, sister, and I witnessed firsthand much of the violence our mother faced and we all tried to get her out of the abusive situation. I cannot remember the number of times we left our home to get away from her boyfriend’s abuse. But, what I do remember clearly is that we always went back.
Witnessing domestic violence in the home shaped our lives and influenced the adults we have become. My sister and I can both remember one specific moment in our lives that marked a turning point. Joe, on the other hand, does not have one particular moment, but believes that spending his childhood around violence “opened [his] eyes to realize that it [domestic violence] happens and that it isn’t just stories you hear.”
For Julie, her turning point was at her 10th birthday party.
“I was told to take a piece of cake to her [mom’s] boyfriend. As I was trying to hand him the cake I got ‘crumbs’ on him. This caused him to hit me. That night turned ugly from there. After us kids went to bed I remember laying there, my face stinging, listening to the yelling, crying and the sound of people hurting each other physically. All I could think was why? Why did we just not kick him out? Make him leave? People should never hurt each other like that! I had been taught that from day one, and here I was seeing and hearing it happen. From that day on I tried to get my mom to leave. While it never worked, I learned that I was not going to be someone who lived like that. I knew I could never let someone treat me or my children like we were being treated.”
For me the turning point was age eleven. It was 2001 and the last time my mother’s boyfriend beat her before she died. My mother – who was already disabled due to slipped discs in her lower back and neck from previous abuse – came out of this beating with more spinal damage and brain damage so severe she developed epilepsy. Once again we were living in a shelter for battered women and children. My sister had run away to live with her boyfriend to escape the violence, and my brother and I had to learn what to do when our mother had seizures.
The seizures were terrifying. All we could do as our mother convulsed was turn her on her side and pray that this one would be the last one. She would come out of the seizure deeply confused and often would not know who my brother and I were.
This sparked a change within me. It made me wonder why my mother always went back to her boyfriend after he beat her. I looked at the other women at the shelter and was told by counselors that many women return to their abusers because they believe they do not deserve any better. What the counselors did not tell me is that many women return or do not leave at all because of the danger they face when leaving the abusive situation. Statistics show that up to “75 percent of women who are murdered by their batterers are killed when they leave or after they leave the relationship.” Additionally, many women - particularly women who have children - face economic instability. Lack of benefits available to them, lack of work experience, and the higher rate of poverty among women exacerbate the fear of leaving.
I knew by age 11 I wanted to change this. I knew something many battered women never learn: no one deserves to be abused. Every person is worth so much more. I felt at my turning point that if I could make at least one person believe this, then I would have succeeded.
Our mother never got to the point in her life where she was strong enough to leave her abuser. My sister agrees, “I think that she knew life was not supposed to be like that, but had no idea how to be strong enough to make the changes she needed to.”
My brother adds that perhaps she never realized how much the violence affected us. “Maybe if she realized how much it was affecting us, not physically, but mentally, then maybe she could have been able to leave.”
Though our mother’s boyfriend never abused her again, he was still violent mentally and emotionally. The dynamics changed. My sister was no longer there, and I was no longer afraid of him. Whenever he raised his voice to my mother, I would step in. I would threaten to call the police – a threat he took seriously as he believed I was the one who called the police the time his beating led to a yearlong incarceration. Preventing him from hurting her again was all that I could do, so I never gave up.
After my mother died in 2005, I lost my way for a few years. I dated a guy who was emotionally abusive and it took months and the constant urging of one of my best friends to realize I was in a volatile relationship. A year later I saw Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. The play reminded me of the dedication I had made to myself years before. When I saw an auditions flyer in college, I jumped at my chance. I was cast as one of the performers for the opening monologue. The experience changed my life. I met many amazing women who had experienced the same things that I had and were dedicated to fighting domestic violence.
I was in the show for three years, and every year I met more and more women who reminded me of what I was fighting for. Together we fought back against violence within our community by raising awareness and donating the money we raised to local charities that benefit women.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the United States “one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.” The World Health Organization found that worldwide, up to 35 percent of women will be subject to intimate partner violence during their lifetime.
My brother believes that we must continue to spread the word about domestic violence because “domestic violence is not just something you read about in the paper, it is a real thing that is getting worse every day.”
My sister’s advice is to tell someone suffering abuse “‘You are going to be OK. You are worth it. You are special. You are loved.’ These [words] should be said often. It takes a long time for them to sink in sometimes.”
Spreading our mother’s ashes marked an important turning point in the healing process for my brother, my sister, and me. We have all come to the realization that while our mother is no longer with us, her stories live on in all of us; and by telling others about her, she will never really leave us. So when we gathered together last Saturday to spread her ashes, we told her four beautiful grandchildren stories of hope, love, and laughter about the Nana they never knew and the mother that we were fortunate enough to love.
For a directory of domestic violence hotlines from around the world, please visit the Hot Peach Pages International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies. For country specific websites on domestic violence, please visit The Pixel Project. You can also post a message of hope to raise funds for domestic violence.
About the Author: Kimberly Amador earned her B.A. in Global Studies from California State University Monterey Bay and her M.S. in Gender and International Relations from the University of Bristol in England. Her interests include feminism, politics, and literature. She is a strong advocate against domestic violence, and is pursuing a career combating violence against women. Kimberly is The WIP's Associate Editor.