Ahlam El Birani is a mother of three. She was born in Lebanon and raised in London, ON Canada. She has always had a love for writing, specifically poetry, and her favorite writer is Kahlil Jibran.
What If? Why We Need to Change the System
"Domestic Violence." Such a simple term. Other words that followed that term for me include "murder," "trial," grief," post-traumatic stress syndrome," "depression," "stress related chronic illnesses," and more. The list just keeps getting longer and longer.
Almost five years ago, my mother was murdered in cold blood by my father. After a marriage of 29 years and three daughters. I am the eldest of the 3. My name is Ahlam. Domestic violence, specifically un-recognized domestic violence, cost me my mother, my children’s grandmother, and my best friend. It wasn’t recognized as violence by anyone around us, to the point where it even took us so long to see and admit that it was there.
I would like to introduce you to my mother. She was beautiful, inside and out. Her eyes were the colour of emerald jewels and they sparkled through all the pain they carried. Her skin was so soft, and her hands were so elegantly beautiful. I miss her hands. She was a teacher early in her career and later went back to college to get a second degree in early childhood education. She then shifted careers and became a daycare worker, helping many mothers to raise their young children. Six months before she was killed, she began a job with the London Middlesex Health Unit, spending her days helping families. A family newly arriving in Canada that needed help finding resources, maybe a new mother feeling overwhelmed, needing a helping hand or some encouragement and guidance. Sadly, she was not able to do it for long. She was strong yet delicate, confident yet so humble, kind and so so wise. She was a loving daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, teacher, and caregiver. She was so much to so many people. She was my best friend and my hero.
My father was diagnosed with depression when I was 6 years old. I still remember the events and incidents in the days leading to his diagnosis. That diagnosis became the excuse for every act of abuse by my father to my mother and to my sisters and I. Depression became his excuse, his family’s excuse, his doctor’s excuse, the community’s excuse and, worst of all, our excuse. As women, we tend to take on the task of being burden bearers. It’s what we do best: accommodate to everyone’s needs. And that’s what we did. Our mother took on every responsibility that falls on both parents. If our father was mean, it was his depression. If he was angry, it was his depression. Whatever the form of abuse, it was always excused. For us, it was a diagnosis of an emotional illness. For others, it is something else, but there are always excuses made.
As I grew older though, I started to recognize that that was all they were: excuses. I was now an adult that was sometimes depressed myself, but I didn’t feel like I had a right to terrorize people around me. I started to see my father as the abuser he was. My mother and I had also grown to be best friends. She would tell me things that were happening at home. I saw all the signs, and I voiced that opinion to as many people as possible that would listen. I told members in my father’s family that I believed he was capable of killing my mother, yet they laughed in my face.
I live in Lebanon, and have lived here for almost 18 years now. I remember shortly after the murder, many people would ask me, "Why didn’t she leave him? Women have so many rights in Canada," but I knew that it wasn’t the lack of rights my mother had that kept her in an abusive relationship for 29 years. In order to carry out an act, you have to have the will plus the means. What abuse does is it gradually kills your will. I watched the abuse - emotional, verbal, and eventually physical - destroy my mother’s will long before she was killed. Every avenue we took for help, lead back to the same place. Telling ourselves it’s not so bad, if we can just make it through this tantrum. Then that became, ‘if we can only make it through this week of bad moods.’ Eventually you stop asking for help because you give up the hope that help exists, and you make yourself believe that this is what your fate is and it’s not as bad as you think it is, as you feel it is.
We tried family, friends, the police, and the courts, all of which kept telling us we had to do more. What a request to ask of someone that is so broken already: to do more to save their own life. Everyone failed us, and we failed her: we couldn’t save her and we will carry that burden forever. The effects of domestic violence carry on and seep into almost every aspect of a survivor’s life. It doesn’t just end when the victim’s life ends. So much damage is done to so many lives. The system we have doesn’t work. Not just the system in Canada, but also the system universally, which fails victim after victim. As a global community, we have to raise awareness. There must be stricter punishments for domestic abuse.
My father was arrested 7 years before the murder with abuse charges, was jailed for a weekend and ended up back home. I'll always wonder if the punishment for beating your wife and 3 adult daughters with a wooden stick had a jail sentence of more than 48 hours, if maybe my mom would be here today. Maybe he would have changed, maybe having him locked up would have given her the courage to start a new life with no connections to him. Maybe by the time he got out, she might have been stronger and able to keep him out of her life. I'll always wonder, but I'll never know.
I miss my mama, and often times we get so deep in the issues we forget the victims. My mother was my best friend and my hero. But.... she was broken, and she needed help. We weren’t able to save her, but I hope our story will save someone else's daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, caregiver, or someone else's hero.