After tucking me in, my mum Barbara snuggled down beside me. Then she continued with the story she’d been reading the night before – Shakespeare! The fact she was so unique was one of my favourite things about her.
Mum had taken me to plays since the age of three, then to tap dancing and singing school later on. She and my dad Gerald would come to all my shows. When Dad wasn’t working, we’d go for walks on the beach and bike rides.
My childhood wasn’t always that idyllic though. In fact, a lot of the time I felt scared. While Mum and Dad doted on each other one moment, they’d have ferocious fights the next.
Dad even had a gun and would take me to an illegal target practice area near our home in New York.
‘A family that shoots together, stays together, right Bren?’ he’d chuckle.
At night he slept with it under his pillow and he kept it tucked into his belt around the house.
When I was 21, Mum told me that Dad had once held the gun to her head.
‘Why are you with him then?’ I pleaded with her.
‘I love him,’ she said.
It was as if they couldn’t live with or without each other.
In time, I moved away and got engaged. Then when I was 30, my parents came to visit. For the first time, they actually seemed happy.
‘Whatever your mum wants to do, we’ll do that,’ Dad smiled throughout the trip.
Maybe things are better now, I thought.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Less than a week after they got home, Mum called.
‘We’re separating,’ she told me. ‘But we’re going to continue to live together.’
I was confused after I got off the phone and thought I’d speak to her about it another time. But a few days later, before I had that chance, I arrived home and my fiancé sat me down.
‘Your mother is dead,’ he said gently.
I was in so much shock, I didn’t even cry. Mum was only 56. She was my best friend.
That wasn’t all though.
‘She’s been shot and your father was involved,’ he added.
Dad hadn’t been arrested so I went to see him to ask what happened.
‘We were fighting for days,’ he said, pacing up and down. ‘I didn’t want to hear it anymore. I went upstairs to bed. Next thing I knew she was on top of me. I don’t know who pulled the trigger…’
I loved my dad and wanted to believe it was a tragic accident. But police told me Mum had been found with a gunshot wound to the head. She’d been shot at close range execution-style.
I didn’t know what to think. The house was a crime scene, so Dad moved in with Mum’s sister Jeanette. Even when he was charged with Mum’s murder Jeanette allowed him to continue living there.
Desperate for answers, I visited again.
‘The past is the past,’ Dad sighed.
‘Do you even think about my mother?’ I snapped.
Next time I went there, I noticed Jeanette was wearing make-up and had dyed her grey hair. Then Dad dropped a bombshell.
‘Will you come to my wedding?’ he said.
Feeling suspicious, I asked whether he was marrying my aunt.
‘No, it’s no-one you know,’ he said.
‘But Mum only died a few months ago,’ I replied, distraught.
‘You should be happy for me,’ Dad argued.
I couldn’t bear to listen to him. Storming out, I didn’t speak to him again until his court case, almost a year on.
My dad, Gerald Allen Adelman, accepted a plea deal, admitting manslaughter in the second degree. He was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 16 months to four years.
While he was behind bars, he wed Jeanette. It was sick.
He’d killed Mum then married her sister!
I was angry, grief stricken and full of shame. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone and my own relationship broke down.
Dad was released in 1999, after three years in prison. As he moved on with his life, I focused on acting classes.
During one, we were set a personal story exercise. I was terrified I’d be judged but I decided to share what had happened to Mum.
Nervously, I performed a short piece in front of 100 people. Afterwards, I got a standing ovation. One director even wanted to turn it into a full show.
With her guidance, I played 11 characters in the show, which ended with a question.
‘Will I ever be able to love and trust again?’ I asked the audience.
To help me heal, I began studying spiritual psychology. Through that, I learnt about forgiveness. I realised if my heart was closed to Dad, it was closed to other people. And I wanted to love again.
In order to move on and no longer feel like a victim, I have to forgive him, I thought.
Later, I performed my show again. This time I rewrote the ending.
‘And now I have forgiven,’ I said wholeheartedly.
Afterwards, a minister suggested I hold workshops on forgiveness. So I started speaking to people who had been abused or had family issues. I taught them to love themselves and even gave lessons in how to perform a one-person show.
Since then, Dad has passed away.
Now, I’m a freedom and performance coach, helping people all over the world to share their stories and let go of their past.
I miss Mum every day. But now that I’ve forgiven the unforgivable, I’m free.
This story originally appeared in that's life! Issue 7, 16 February 2017.