The Truth About Domestic Violence From Family Left Behind

Antoinette White and her niece
By Erickka Sy Savané

3 or more women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands every single day in the United States. It's the type of tragedy you pray never happens in your family, and then it does. Antoinette White knows this story all too well because her younger sister Heather was brutally killed by her boyfriend who was also the father of her child (1 years old at the time), and a surrogate dad to her special needs son (age 3). For those who are left behind, life changes instantly. Here's how Antoinette's family were able to pick up the pieces.

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Antoinette w/Heather's kids
Hi Antoinette, first tell me, how was it decided who would take care of the children?
When my sister died I felt it was unfair that my mom would have to raise children all over again. My brother was graduating from high school and it was now time for her to live her life. However, she was adamant, saying that she was grieving the loss of her daughter and her grandchildren were the closest thing she had to her. Unfortunately, my niece’s paternal grandfather wanted custody too. He was trying to split the kids up and only wanted my niece because she was biologically his. So not only were we grieving the death of my sister, now we had a custody battle with the father of the man who killed her.

How did you deal with that?
We couldn’t believe it. Fortunately, the daycare that my niece attended found out about what was happening and one of the moms was a lawyer and took the case pro bono. So she represented my mom and hammered him. We found out that he had found a 24-hr daycare center that he was going to put her in because he only wanted the money. We didn’t even know daycares like that existed. It was a very difficult time, but my mom eventually got custody.

The home Antoinette and her family lived in
How did it work out with your mom having custody?
She got some help because her twin sister quit her job so she could help. I got my niece and nephew in the summer to give my mom a break. It was a lot because the kids (my two and my sister’s two) were all around the same age, plus my nephew was special needs, and required more care. As my mom began to get older I saw how her job was affecting her and she was tired. So after much convincing, she let me help, and moved to Virginia with me and my two, so I could help raise them. It was taxing, but when you’re in the midst you don’t really see it that way. You do what you have to do for family. I bought a house that I couldn’t afford, but, God made a way. Sometimes I would use some of my school loan refund to help make ends meet.

How is the relationship between your side of the family and your niece’s father's side?
It was a very difficult time because we had our anger and bitterness about the custody battle, but there was also anger towards their family for not getting my niece’s father counseling. As I mentioned in the previous article, he witnessed his mom getting killed by her boyfriend when he was a young boy, so this is something that he’d seen first-hand. Why didn’t they get him help?

It wasn’t easy, but in the end we chose forgiveness. My niece’s grandmother wanted to be in her life and we know that my sister Heather would have wanted that for her. Today, they have a great relationship. We’re on good terms. I'm also friends with my niece's aunt.

Speaking of getting help, did the children or anyone in your family receive counseling?
Yes, with my nephew we realized that even though he’s special needs, and was only 3 years old when the murder happened, it still had an impact on him. Once, when he was very young and taking a bath with my niece, he pointed a toy gun to her head and said, ‘POW.’ Then put the gun to his head, and did it again. We knew in that moment that he saw what happened and would need counseling. They both went to counseling when they were young, and should have gone back when they were teenagers because now they were dealing with a different set of emotions.

Antoinette and Quinn
How are they doing today?
The are doing fine. My 24-year-old nephew (Marquise) is adjusting to his life as a young special needs adult. My 22-year-old niece (Quinn) is still trying to discover herself and what career she actually wants. The deaths still affect her emotionally, and she struggles with the fact that her father killed her mother. She has a void in her life that we couldn’t fill, though we all came together to help raise her. She struggles with how she would have turned out and the morals her mom would have instilled in her if she was alive.

What advice would you give a family who is reeling from a tragic domestic violence situation like this?
The first thing I would say is be sure to get counseling for yourself and the kids or go to a support group. The support group will help the kids see they’re not alone and help with communicating their feelings. Embrace the different set of grieving emotions you will feel. Heal yourself because you don’t want the remnants of your bitterness to be taken out on the children. Do not put your life completely on hold. Continue doing the things you like to do, keep the kids active in community events and sports and surround them with positive people. Know that it’s okay to feel like you need a break or reach out for help. Finally, don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault, and forgive. The children grew up in a Christian upbringing and were taught to love their father despite what he did, they were taught to forgive.

Heather & Antoinette as teens 
What advice would you give a person who is in a domestic violence situation?
I’d say there’s only two ways out of the situation. You’re either going to end up dead or in prison for killing him. And no matter whether you stay in the toxic relationship or not, the children are going to be affected. So reach out for help. Call the domestic violence hotline so they can help you plan a safe escape because the majority of domestic violence murders, just like my sister, happen when a victim is trying to leave. The number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit the website.

Here Antoinette explains how we can help someone we suspect is a victim of domestic violence. 

Antoinette White is an author and a motivational speaker. Visit AntoinetteWhite.com for more information.

Do you know a family impacted by domestic violence?
Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife and mom, based in Jersey, City. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.comMadamenoire.com and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter and Instagram or ErickkaSySavane.com

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