Four weeks after my 13th birthday, my dad killed my mum. He stabbed her in the chest 16 times using two bread knives. The murder was premeditated; he had brought the knives to the house with him earlier that day, and after he was arrested he confessed his intent.
That day I had come home ready to give my mum the fiver I had borrowed from her the week before. I was met by police officers. They didn’t say what was wrong. My friend two doors down came over and I knew by his reaction that something awful had happened.
The trigger for the murder was my dad hearing that my mum wanted a divorce. He simply couldn’t accept the marriage was over. As a committed Jehovah’s Witness, he believed the end of the world was nigh and only a few chosen people would be saved and so, inexplicably, he thought he had to kill his wife to ensure only he could have her in the new world. There was another motive: my mum had started to date again and this filled him with deep jealousy. He felt if he couldn’t have her, then no one else would.
My childhood had been fine until that point. My father was a hard disciplinarian but I never saw nastiness or violence.
My father’s monstrous crime shattered my family. Six of us – ranging from 11 to 28 – were left behind. The hub of the family, our mum and dad, had imploded in the most violent of circumstances. The wider family support network seemed to evaporate and we were left alone and ashamed. The press splashed the story across the front pages of our local paper, piling humiliation on top of grief. Nothing about the family seemed normal any more – “get-togethers” felt odd and contrived, weddings and birthdays seemed incomplete and tinged with sadness. Some siblings sought refuge in religion or cults and some, like me, have been plagued with recurring thoughts of suicide. Others preferred to live in denial or blot out the past with drink or drugs.
In the immediate aftermath I moved between two of my brothers’ homes. It was difficult; they were too busy dealing with their own grief and pain to care for a bereaved 13-year-old boy. Then I moved in with my brother’s parents-in-law who were very caring and looked after me until I left home. My life stabilised, I coped. I went to college, got a job and became a father myself.
My family still finds it difficult to confront our grief. Even now conversations about Mum or Dad are marked by awkward silences, as if we are the guilty ones in some way. Trite phrases such as, “We should move on” pepper our conversations. Perhaps the magnitude of the loss is too painful to dwell on, perhaps it is just easier to forget.
There are times when the sense of a painful and profound loss consumes me. I still miss my mum terribly. I wish she were back here and I could talk to her again. I wish I could have protected her from my dad that day. And most of all I wish she hadn’t died in the way she did.
My father pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 12 years. In prison he refused to co-operate with the rehabilitation process and once he had served his tariff he was repeatedly denied parole because he would not address the motivations of his crime, a condition for a lifer. He died in prison last year after serving a total of 26 years, more than double his original sentence. From what we can tell, he never confided to anyone inside that he had six children – his closest confidant knew of only one. Maybe he was in denial or maybe he didn’t care. We’ll never know.
After his death we obtained his prison files and personal effects. The files revealed that outwardly he was never contrite about his crime. He appeared to die stubborn and self-righteous. The files also contained my father’s previously unseen handwritten confessions to other, hidden crimes. The new information hit our family all over again – the sexual abuse of his youngest daughter, repeated rape of our mum and the attempted rape of a child in the next street. The revelations have reopened old wounds and inflicted new ones.
I long to meet my dad again on adult terms and let him know face-to-face the suffering he has caused. In these dreams, what I say makes him cry with regret, sorrow and shame.