A mother’s pain leads to helping others.
by Ginger Green as told to Sherri Langton
A sunny redhead, an honor student: Not the type of girl you’d expect to see lying still and pale in a coroner’s room. But on Monday, May 13, 1991, there she was — our daughter, Margo, dead at twenty-two. Murdered.
A few hours earlier, Margo’s estranged husband, Eric, had followed her to work, broadsided her car with his, and in full view of downtown commuters, shot her seven times with a 9mm automatic shotgun. Eric then knelt beside her, pointed the gun to his temple, and ended his life.
While these cold details numbed me, they couldn’t soften what I saw through the glass separating me from the coroner’s room. The instant I saw Margo, a spasm of horror stabbed me and I dissolved into sobs. Every fiber in me wanted to smash through the glass, take Margo in my arms, and cradle her. “Jesus,” I whispered, “hold her for me.”
I’d just seen Margo the day before — Mother’s Day. She’d given me a card with a handwritten message: “Thanks for everything — your endless love and giving.” Margo had modeled a new dress for her upcoming college graduation. She would graduate the following Saturday and file for divorce from Eric, with whom she’d had an escalatingly abusive four-year marriage, on Monday. I left Margo on Mother’s Day with a hug and hope for her new beginning.
That Thursday at the funeral, God gave me the strength to stay composed before the open casket that held Margo, dressed in her graduation dress. Had it not been for the prayers and support of friends and extended family, I couldn’t have endured it.
For days after the funeral, I clutched my last Mother’s Day card from Margo and wept. I thanked God that in the last few weeks of her life, Margo had committed her heart and hurts to God. But while I knew I would see her in eternity, I was still in the world — and aching with my loss.
As I mentally relived Margo’s teen years, I remembered when she first met Eric, the boy up the street. Margo had been fourteen at the time and Eric, twenty-one. He spent every spare moment at our house. Margo was flattered that an older guy paid attention to her.
Because Margo was so young, my husband, Chuck, and I set limits: no dating until age sixteen; curfews when dating begins; no boyfriends during our Sunday afternoon family time.
But when Margo started dating Eric at age sixteen, she saw him exclusively. Eric seemed to want Margo to himself. He spent so much time with her, she hardly saw her friends and us. When Eric was at our house, he spoke to Margo but avoided Chuck and me. While his behavior disturbed us, we never suspected anything dangerous would develop with this young man.
Over time, however, we saw a change in Margo. She began challenging the rules we imposed on her dating, as if she questioned our motives. “Eric says I should be able to stay out later,” she informed us. Margo had always been an obedient daughter; now it seemed Eric was turning her against us.
My uneasiness about Eric mushroomed into distrust on a rare evening when Margo went out with her older brother, Chase, Chuck, and me. Eric followed us in his car. Because Margo had told him we’d planned to stay out past her date curfew, he became infuriated and tried to run us off the road.
As Chuck tried to control the car, I tried to control my fears. What kind of guy was my daughter involved with? I was terrified, but Margo showed no fear. She tearfully pleaded with us to let her out of the car so she could calm Eric down.
Chuck and I never gave her the chance. That night when we got home, we laid down the strictest rule we’d ever given Margo: She and Eric couldn’t see each other for six weeks, and Margo couldn’t ride in a car with him for one year. We hoped that during this period Margo would find someone else.
But after their six-week separation, Margo drove herself to see Eric, and in about a year, they became engaged. Then Margo announced she would move in with Eric on her eighteenth birthday.
I wasn’t surprised at Eric’s behavior, but I felt sick about Margo. Although we’d tried to instill in her a love for God, we sensed no real commitment to Him. Now it appeared Margo was choosing a relationship with Eric, with whom we still had serious reservations, over a relationship with God.
Chuck and I agonized Should we try to force an end to their relationship? What will happen if Margo marries and the marriage goes bad? Are we being too hard on them? We desperately hoped the marriage would succeed.
Reluctantly and prayerfully, we released Margo to her plans, but refused to pay for the wedding. We warned her that if she married before finishing high school and at least one year of college, we wouldn’t financially support her education. But no matter what stand we took, Margo married Eric after she turned eighteen.
Control and abuse
Within two years after they married, Eric, a computer technician, began controlling Margo more. He repeatedly called her at her part-time job soon after she arrived and demanded she come home. He timed her drives home from work and checked the odometer to see if she had gone anywhere else. Eric limited their times with us to holidays and occasional visits that always ended abruptly with his temper tantrums.
Eric called Margo “dummy” and “stupid,” though she carried a 4.0 grade point average in college, and “fatso” despite her tall, slender figure.
Margo didn’t confide much to me about her marriage, but I suspected all was not well. Our once-bubbly daughter looked sad, bewildered, and hesitant. Margo told me later she tried to confront Eric several times about her deep hurt at his behavior, but he became angry and refused to listen.
I was incensed at Eric for damaging Margo’s self-esteem, and several times I confronted him without trying to make a scene. “Margo is my little girl,” I told him. “She deserves to be treated better.” But he laughed and ignored me.
Though Margo and Eric finally sought marriage counseling, Eric refused to recognize his wrong behavior. In January 1991, Margo separated from him, hoping to seek reconciliation, but she lit his anger instead.
One week after she moved out, Eric broke into her apartment at night, held her at knife point, and threatened to kill her and himself. My fears and anger swelled again, but I felt better the next day when Margo moved back home, obtained a restraining order, and made plans to divorce Eric. But Margo never had the chance to enact those plans. Eric was more volatile than any of us ever guessed.
Within two weeks after her death, I learned God could speak through my painful circumstances to help others like Margo. He first proved this the day Lucy Branch called from the University of Colorado at Denver, where Margo had attended college. As the school’s senior public information specialist, Lucy said the school wanted to start a free domestic violence lecture series in Margo’s memory. Would I speak at the opening session?
I held the phone receiver, knowing I wasn’t a trained speaker but desperately wanting to do something for Margo. God impressed on me that there were other women, some trapped in battered bodies and many with bruised emotions like Margo, who needed to learn that what ultimately happened to her could happen to them. The lecture series would be the perfect vehicle.
On September 26, 1991, the Margo Green Lecture Series on Domestic Violence began. The speech wasn’t easy to prepare: It forced me to relive emotions and reopened wounds that hadn’t healed. Nor was the speech easy for me to deliver: Had I not been so nervous, I would have cried.
I addressed those women — some with their mothers — remembering how naive our family had been. I’d learned the hard way that girls often don’t trust their feelings and parents don’t trust their instincts. I wanted my story to open their eyes to potential danger.
I spoke at the lecture series for several years. While it hurt to remember the pain, fear, and frustration of not taking Eric seriously, it helped me see the redemptive side of Margo’s death: that it can serve as a warning for other women in dangerous relationships.
For example, after my speech in September 1994, a woman in her early twenties approached me and said, “I heard you speak last year. I wanted you to know I got out of a bad relationship because of what you said.”
I stared at her as a bittersweet thrill raced through me. The hair was longer, the eyes a different color; but there stood a God-sent Margo, free from another abusive Eric.
For several years after Margo’s death I shared her story with churches, schools, and civic groups. I especially reached out to teenage girls who were beginning to date and needed signs to look for of a bad relationship. I’m grateful that each time I spoke, I saw God take the pain I didn’t think I’d survive and use it for someone’s good.
Margo has been gone nearly ten years. The same Jesus I cried out to on the day of her death still walks with me today. I know He will continue to work His good through my pain until I see Margo again.
This article first appeared in Today’s Christian Woman January/February 1996.
About the Author
Ginger Green is director of women’s ministries at Denver First Church of the Nazarene, Englewood, CO.
Sherri Langton is associate editor of the Bible Advocate Online and print version.