Brenda Adelman’s mother, an award-winning artist and photographer, was shot and killed in her home in Brooklyn, New York, in 1995. Brenda’s father pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served two and half years in prison.
I had a very close relationship with my parents; perhaps too close as I fulfilled the emotional needs they couldn’t fulfil for each other. In 1995 I moved away from New York to live with my fiancée in California and during that first year my parents visited several times; on their last trip they seemed to be getting on a lot better. So I was surprised when my mum called to tell me they were separating. She sounded OK although she told me my father had been cheating on her.
A few days later, as I returned from a weekend workshop, my fiancée broke the terrible news. He said there’d been an accident with a gun and my darling mother was dead.
It was eight hours before the body was discovered, by which time my father had a lawyer in place, there had been a clean-up in the house and no gun was found at the scene of the crime. I immediately flew to New York and went with my half-brother to see my father who explained they’d been fighting and one of them pulled the trigger.
Within days my father had contacted my mother’s older sister who ended up being there for him in a very peculiar way. He moved in with her and sometime later they got married.
In the meantime my father was charged with second degree murder but because the weapon, his gun, was never recovered, his sentence was reduced to five years in prison for Involuntary Manslaughter. He got out in two and a half years for good behaviour.
At first, unable to bear the thought of losing both my parents, I wouldn’t accept my father had meant to kill my mother. My brother disagreed and because he felt the system hadn’t held my father/ his step father accountable (2 ½ years for what he believed was cold-blooded murder) he decided to pursue the only other avenue he had which was a civil law suit. I disagreed and as a result my brother and I stopped speaking to each other for six years.
After my mum’s death I felt a deep sense of shame and despair. What did it say about me if this is what had happened to my parents? The only thing that helped transform these negative emotions was writing my story. I was doing an acting course in LA at the time so I wrote and performed a 15-minute personal piece and at the end of which I noticed people crying. I was amazed because instead of being judged for what I’d revealed I received a standing ovation and so much empathy and compassion.
While my Dad was in prison I wrote to him several times asking “tell me what happened”, but he ignored my questions and in the end we stopped communicating. Later when he was out of prison he contacted me again. I was pleased to hear from him until I realised he was only interested in getting his hands on my inheritance money. I realised then that he was toxic and decided to pursue the civil court case with my brother, I was still desperate for my father to tell the truth and assumed he would have to take the stand.
I really thought he would show up at court, but he never did. He skipped town to Florida and transferred his money into off-shore accounts. My aunt also disappeared. Although we won the case – winning a judgment of 2.2 million dollars for the Wrongful Death of our mom – my brother and I never collected a cent and I ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars in fees to my lawyer.
To help me deal with the pain during all this time I was trying to forgive. But I didn’t know how as I assumed forgiveness was about reconciliation and I didn’t want my dad back in my life. However, during the process I realised forgiveness also meant resolving inner conflict and clearing my heart of hate; it meant that if I thought about my father my day wasn’t wrecked anymore.
I still felt a deep level of anger at myself for ever trusting my father, which was demonstrated by my over-eating. I had so much self-judgement and you can’t really forgive someone else unless you’ve forgiven yourself. It was while taking a course in spiritual psychology that I recognised how with each negative thought directed at my father I was re-wounding myself. Suddenly I had an insight into the oneness of ‘us’ and I was inwardly guided to go to the top of a mountain in Los Angeles and carry out a ceremony of release using one of my father’s hats which I threw over the mountain side. With this simple ritualistic gesture something was released inside of me. From that moment I wasn’t burdened anymore.
As for forgiving my aunt, that has been much more difficult, but I strive to be able to let go of any righteousness I may feel about her because I know that this little bit of righteousness will only hurt me more.
In 2004 I received a letter in the mail from my aunt’s attorney with a copy of my father’s death certificate saying he’d died of a heart attack. It was a relief in a way, because I realised there had been a part of me trying to get my dad back but now reconciliation was no longer possible. At that point something settled in me and for the first time since my mother’s death I was able properly to grieve.