First he killed her dog. Nine months later, Bonnie was dead from two gunshots to her temple, murdered in her sleep by her boyfriend and father of her 6-month-old son.
I worked with Bonnie Bassett at the business school at UNC Chapel Hill for three years. Born and raised in Montana, Bonnie was in her late 20s. Tall, broad shouldered with big sparkling eyes, she had a quick wit and an infectious laugh. After spending an intense six-months preparing for the opening of the new McColl Building, our staff’s sense of teamwork left us feeling like family. We did not – or could not – see her pain.
Bonnie’s death left us shell-shocked. We didn’t know how to mourn or recover from such a trauma. After her memorial service, we tried our best to pretend it never happened.
Five years later, I spent a weekend with a dear friend and mentor. Let’s call her Melinda. After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill Medical School at 42, she’d accepted a job at a hospital in west Texas. Twice that weekend, Melinda made references to her boyfriend, saying he didn’t like her wearing certain clothes. I remember it struck me as odd that a woman as bright and accomplished would tolerate such comments. Since she was more mentor than friend, I never considered giving her advice nor did I hear it as a reality check or a cry for help. Months later Melinda’s boyfriend tried to choke her over Labor Day Weekend. Her boyfriend? A well-respected surgeon at the same hospital.
What I learned is domestic violence is as common in middle and upper-class families as low-income families. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of race, age, ethnicity, education, sexual orientation or economic status. I also learned it is a myth that victims of domestic violence suffer from low self-esteem. Domestic violence is not a women’s issue. Its impact on children is serious and undeniable.
Only now can I forgive myself for not recognizing the warning signs. I simply did what many do when they experience trauma. I stuffed it and moved on. I was not prepared to embrace my own fear or feelings of powerlessness, nor did I wish to witness a person’s shame about her circumstances.
My journey as a donor to Safe Alliance was fifteen years in the making.
Maybe it had something to do with turning 50 and finding my voice.
Maybe it took hearing Jimmy Carter say that violence and injustice against women are the most important human rights cause of his lifetime.
Maybe it is the cumulative impact of my eight-year mediation practice that allowed me to fully feel the grief and powerlessness, knowing that self-compassion and forgiveness are the only answer.
What I know now is that I finally found the courage to care.
What I know now is I’m ready to be part of the solution and support nonprofits that provide safe places for women who have the courage to leave their abusers.
I share these stories as a reminder that it often takes years to make sense of the traumas and difficult experiences in our lives. While much of year-end giving is a reflection of our gratitude for our blessings, we must make sure it also speaks to the alleviation of suffering and our need for healing.
As you consider which charities to support, I invite you to reflect upon the painful experiences in your life or the lives of loved ones. Find the courage to care, and I can promise you will experience a greater gift – knowing you helped a mother who is determined to give her children a brighter future.
Chris McLeod is the president of Giving Matters Inc. of Charlotte.